The Townie Soapbox Orators

Originally Published August 8, 2012

Word came this morning of the passing of Ines Candrea.  You will not read of her life in the New York Times.  Around these parts she was known as the widow of the late Joe Candrea and mother-in-law of one Anthony Galletta.  Mrs. Candrea was 80 and I speak of her on this radio station because for so many of those 80 years she used WVOX as her own personal soapbox, as did her late husband.

And as we mourn Mrs. Candrea this day, our mind drifts back to her shy, modest, retiring husband who was cut from the same outspoken cloth.  And when he went to what Malcolm Wilson would call “another, and we are sure, a better world” on December 21st, 1999, we went into this studio and said these very words about the man:

“Joe Candrea was a Runyunesque figure.  But instead of Broadway or The Great White Way, his canvas was our home heath.  It was here in New Rochelle that Joe Candrea lived most of his years with great conviction.

He confronted every proposition and civic issue with a relentless passion.  Although his resume said “newspaper delivery man,” Joe Candrea could put power and energy into words, which usually became majestic proclamations.  His podium was behind this microphone, or on any street corner he could find.

He possessed what most of us search for all our lives.  There was a sureness to Joe Candrea’s proposals and observations.  He was the great articulator, the undiminished champion of the forgotten neighborhoods in the West End of our city.

The politicians used to call it the old Fourth Ward.  It is where Rocco Bellantoni once lived.  And Tony and Sal Tocci and the Fosinas came from there.  But in recent years there was only Joe Candrea to rage against injustices as they might be committed against his neighbors in the West End.

New Rochelle was his mistress.  And also his fortress.  He felt about our city the way some men of his generation look upon The United States Marine Corps or the Notre Dame football team.  Other callers and radio talk show hosts discuss with great erudition the cosmic issues of the day.  Theirs is an international curiosity or a national inclination, but Joe Candrea’s enthusiasms and passions extended only as far as the city limits.  Zip Code 10801 was his territory, baby, and don’t you forget it.

He ran flat out and went straight for everything.  There was no halfway station… no middle ground with the man…and never, ever a doubt about where he stood on civic issues, politicians, bureaucrats and other disreputable types.

He was all about building up the damn neighborhood.

Have I got it right, Joe?”

That was spoken for Joe Candrea, who, like I said, was the husband of one Ines Candrea who left us early this morning at 80.

There were other vivid townie orators who used this WVOX broadcasting station over the years as their own personal soapbox.  Back in the 60’s there was a brilliant, cerebral David Kendig who drove them nuts at city hall.  And Lorraine Trotta, whose son Frank is now a big-time lawyer in Greenwich and works with Lewis Lehrman who spent millions trying to become governor.  Our roster of townie callers in those days also included Bob Schaeffer, who called himself “The Neighborhood Watchdog” or was it “Junkyard Dog”?  Memory fails.  Bob weighed in on everything and everyone.  So did Ken from Pelham and Frank from Connecticut who used to be Frank from Mount Vernon.

Every day on our “Open Line” programs they were there opining, arguing, debating, raging, cajoling, attacking, occasionally even flattering and, on rare occasion, actually saying something nice about one of our neighbors.

Mario Cuomo once told me he prays for “sureness.”  Our callers never had that problem.  They brought a rock-solid, unshakeable sureness to most of their pronouncements.

Other stations had Scott Shannon, Imus or Howard Stern.  We had Mitch from the North End and Bruce the Swimmer, a Libertarian who … lived … his … life … the … way … he … damn … well … pleased.  And there was always, it seems, Mr. Cam, who demanded to be addressed just so.  But I’ll not leave this planet till I find out his regular, normal, human, given first name.  He’s gotta have one.

Day after day here on the radio there was Ann Witkowski, Peggy Godfrey, Mary Tedesco and a brilliant William Kirby Scollon, who was descended from the Kirbys of Rye, but became a New Rochelle “townie” in good standing.  He was a friend of Bill Mullen, no blushing violet he, who could also climb up on our soapbox.   Right out here with Mullen would be Dave from Mamaroneck, Joanne, Alex from Greenburgh and Michael Brown.  They could all talk.

Some of our regular callers were possessed of great insight and a few were even accompanied by a stunning intelligence concerning matters political.  One of the most brilliant was – and still is – Angela Scarano, who reveled in the moniker … “Nudge.”  She was.  And is.  In the best possible way.

Also we recall Anthony Galletta, the Candrea son-in-law, Charlie from the West End, Lorraine Pierce and don’t forget Bob, her husband.  And the late, great “Woody.”  That’s all … just “Woody.”  There was a Rae Rega and an Isabel.  And I have gone this far without mentioning the incomparable Carmine Saracino.  And Mrs. Green.

Actually, some of these “frequent” callers were so good (and so frequent) we couldn’t resist giving them their very own weekly shows:  Colonel Marty Rochelle, the Yonkers legend who never met a judge he doesn’t like.  Or a district attorney.  And Mike Scully, the world-traveler, who gets better every week.  But I wish he’d let me “enlighten”  him  on  the  great  issues.   I’ll bring  him  around.   Like

when Andrew Cuomo is sworn in … and Scully jumps off our 190 foot radio tower!  And Lou Felicione, who opines about everything New Rochelle when he’s not posting on Facebook.  He has his very own show too.  And Sam Spady.

Sometimes I’ve felt like taking a page from my friend – and mentor to us all – Bob Grant who, when he couldn’t abide it any more, would just scream into the microphone:  “Get off my phone!”  It was tempting, I should tell you.  But then the advice we received so many years ago from Alvin Richard Ruskin would break through all the cacophony,  noise,  dialogue  and  often  disagreeable  chatter.

Alvin Ruskin was mayor of New Rochelle back in the 60’s before Nelson Rockefeller made him a judge.  And one day he took me aside:  “Your damn station is gaining a national reputation … the Wall Street Journal called you ‘the quintessential community station in America’ … and so on.  And all that is well and good, O’Shaughnessy.  But don’t let it go to your head. And don’t forget the townies. They made you.  They’re the strength of your station … people with opinions.”

Judge Ruskin was a wise man then.  And he is to this day – retired, in his 90’s, and living in Stamford, Connecticut.

Like I said … other stations had Imus, Scott Shannon and Howard Stern.

We had Ines Candrea and Joe and all those other marvelous soapbox orators.

And with it all … there really was never a dull moment.

Have I got it right, Anthony …?