SCHENECTADY — Gary McCarthy remembered Election Nights past as he spoke Thursday morning at St. John the Evangelist Church.
Republicans and Democrats from Schenectady’s Second Ward would gather at the former Westminster United Presbyterian Church at Avenue A and Mason Street and wait for poll numbers.
McCarthy said people inside the church were not divided by party affiliations. They gathered as neighbors and friends.
“The man that set that collegial atmosphere was Mayor Frank Duci,” said McCarthy, Schenectady’s current mayor. “He was the mayor, but everybody was an equal. He would talk about issues, the campaigns. We’d poke fun at each other and make our predictions.”
About 125 relatives and friends remembered Duci — who died April 28 at the Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida — during his funeral service at the church. Often described as a man of the people, Duci was Schenectady’s longest-serving mayor and first Italian-American mayor.
He was 97 when he died.
“I look at the irony in the honor that I have in offering the formal sympathy and condolences of a community that Frank loved and served in so many ways for so many years,” said McCarthy, who delivered the eulogy.
“Frank and I were on opposite teams in the game of politics,” added McCarthy, a Democrat to Duci’s Republican. “We both got our start in the old Second Ward where we both served as our political party leaders. Frank was a few years ahead of me … about 30.”
The service was full of songs and gospel readings. The Most Rev. Howard J. Hubbard, bishop emeritus of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, presided. Rev. Richard Carlino, pastor of St. John the Evangelist and St. Anthony’s Church, and retired Rev. Dominic Ingemie concelebrated a Mass of Christian Death and Burial.
Duci served as mayor from 1972 to 1983 and again from 1992 to 1995. He was involved in local Schenectady politics for more than four decades.
McCarthy said he was impressed with Duci’s attention to detail and his ability to pursue constituents’ complaints or problems. The mayor said his predecessor’s advocacy on legislation and policy issues was unique.
“That enthusiasm, that zest for life, was uniquely Frank Duci,” McCarthy said. “Frank Duci loved this community and its people. He thrived on debate but was capable of compromise. His desire to do good was second to none.”
Carlino, who gave the homily, also shared memories of Duci. He said he first met Duci shortly after beginning his first assignment to St. Anthony’s during the summer of 1989.
“How I vividly recall celebrating my very first weekend Mass in 1989,” Carlino told the audience. “Someone came to warmly greet me from his seat in the northeast corner of the church; every week he sat there and never ever moved from the spot. That person was Mayor Frank Duci.”
The men became friends.
“Over the near three decades of our acquaintance he showed me that friendliness, kindness and approachability that he showed to countless others in his long and fruitful life,” Carlino said.
“I will always cherish his wonderful and caring way toward me,” Carlino also said. “He was a family man, a gentle man, a man of a heart. He was also a leader.”
In remarks that closed the hour-long service, Hubbard said he wanted to focus on a topic that is currently part of a national debate — immigration.
“Frank himself stands for all that immigrants and first generation immigrants have brought to the very fabric of our society,” Hubbard said. “He truly had the heart of a patriot and he had his hand on the pulse of the people which enabled him to develop policies, programs and services which enabled the people of Schenectady to achieve the American dream.
“And so today we have come together as a community of his family and friends to give thanks for the life that he lived, for the faith that he witnessed, for the public service that he exercised, for the friendships that he served and for the love that he lavished upon so many,” Hubbard added.
Several political leaders — present and past — attended the service, including state Senator James Tedisco, former Mayor Brian Stratton, former U.S. Sen. Hugh T. Farley and former City Council President Thomas Isabella.
Friends said it was important for them to travel to St. John’s and listen to the tributes.
“I’ve known Frank since I was a kid,” said Roclynn Herba. “I remember the year he was elected, he held the hat ‘Mayor Duci’ over my daughter’s head, she was just a baby. That was 1971.”
Schenectady Fire Chief Ray Senecal and Assistant Chief Don Mareno also paid their respects. “The Fire Department is steeped in tradition as well as respect,” Senecal said. “It’s important that we were here.”
Mike Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission of Schenectady, served as Duci’s deputy mayor from 1992 into 1994. “Having sat in his office,” Saccocio said, “what you saw was he was as passionate about water in a lady’s basement as he was on a multi-million dollar public works project.”
Connie Colangelo, a former secretary in the mayor’s office, said she kept in touch with Duci through letters. Duci was known for writing long letters with pen and paper.
“I was just looking yesterday at my Christmas card from him,” Colangelo said. “It made me very sad.”