He Wanted To Clean Up Polluted Gowanus Canal Before Idea Was Popular
By Helen Klein
Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
If Buddy Scotto had had his way, there would have been a gondola plying the waters of the Gowanus Canal.
That dream, recounted to this paper by Mark Shames, a member of Community Board 6 and the law partner of Scotto’s daughter, Debra Scotto, may never have been realized. But Scotto’s decades of efforts on behalf of South Brooklyn bore rich fruit — from the construction of affordable housing to the rehabilitation of the once noxious Gowanus Canal, making it perfectly logical that a corner in the community would be dedicated to his memory.
The dedication for that street co-naming took place on Wednesday, June 29 at the intersection of First Place and Court Street, where for years the funeral home that Scotto ran was located. Speakers included former Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, former Mayor Bill de Blasio; and Councilmember Shahana Hanif, who represents the area. About 75 people attended.
Scotto, who died at the age of 91 in 2020, was known to many as the “Mayor of Carroll Gar- dens” and was ubiquitous in meeting rooms across the neighborhood as he advocated tirelessly for his three civic passions: affordable housing, the Gowanus Canal and the environment, said Vilma Heramia, the executive di- rector of the Carroll Gardens Association, which Scotto founded and shepherded for many years.
“He started in the community doing things like planting trees and making the community more green,” Heramia recalled. “He was really very much involved with the Gowanus Canal cleanup before it became popular,” founding the now-defunct Gowanus Canal Community Development Corporation to facilitate the effort.
Scotto was a true son of Carroll Gardens. Born Salvatore Scotto to Pasquale (Patsy) and Rose Clemente Scotto, he lived in the neighborhood for most of his life. He got his nick- name, Buddy, from his mother, said John Heyer Jr., who now runs the funeral home the Scotto family founded and who called Scotto his mentor.
“A young woman named Rose used to sing the 1922 song by Henry Burr, `My Buddy,’ to her son Sal when he was born in 1928,” Heyer told the group gathered for the street dedication. “Eventually, Sal would become known to all of us as Buddy. Like Madonna, Prince and many other notables, when you say Buddy, everyone knows who you are speak- ing about … Salvatore Buddy Scotto.”
Scotto appeared to have had a finger in pretty much every community pie, helping to establish senior housing such as Mary Star of the Sea on First Street and being a key player, through the Carroll Gardens Association, in the development of affordable housing at a variety of sites in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, as well as the eventual revitalization of Columbia Street, now known as the Columbia Street Waterfront.