By Helen Klein
Special to brooklynreporter.com
Ralph Perfetto, who in his wide-ranging experience over a long and fruitful life was in many ways the Renaissance man of southwest Brooklyn, has died.
Perfetto, who was just a week short of 89 at the time of his death on July 12, was perhaps best known in Bay Ridge and surrounding neighborhoods for his political activism. He was a Democratic district leader for 18 years, and worked as an ombudsman for former New York City Public Advocates Mark Green and Betsy Gotbaum, retiring as lead investigator from that office in 2008. He also served as director of cemeteries for the state of New York, under former Gov. Mario Cuomo.
He was an unusual politician, fierce and committed to the causes he believed in, but always the gentleman, said those who knew him. Democratic District Leader Joe Bova noted, “He fought on issues, not on personalities, which is unique today. Sadly, we won’t see his like in politics anymore.”
Former State Sen. Marty Golden, a Republican, agreed. “Ralph was what a leader should be,” he said. “He was interested in good government. It didn’t matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican. He went for what was the right thing to do. He was a genuine guy. His style is definitely missed in this day and age.”
Perfetto was truly a neighborhood guy, noted Frank Grassi, the former president of the 68th Precinct Community Council. “He used to come to the meetings,” Grassi recalled. “He never flaunted the fact that he was in the political world. I thought of him as a neighborhood ambassador. He always had a diplomatic bearing, and he always treated you with dignity and respect.”
Perfetto’s word was his bond, noted former City Councilmember Vincent Gentile. “He was very loyal,” he said. “You get ups and downs in politics. When you’re on a down, you take a look in your corner. When I looked, Ralph was always there, and he always did what he said he would do. His word was golden.”
Gentile recalled that Perfetto, as a young man, had boxed, and he kept that fighting spirit as he battled for things he believed in. “He was very committed to issues,” Gentile said. “He used to tell me, ‘I wasn’t born with this nose.’” Though always the consummate gentleman, Gentile said, “Ralph wouldn’t take guff from anybody.”
Bova agreed. Noting that, for Perfetto, “Yes was yes, and no was no,” Bova said, “he never backed down from a fight, even if he was alone on an issue.”
Beyond politics, Perfetto was a tireless advocate on many fronts, serving for years as president of the Bay Ridge Mental Health Council as well as president of the Board of Visitors of the Bay Ridge Mental Health Council. He also worked on the revitalization of Coney Island, where he was born, serving as the first president of that neighborhood’s Astella Development Corporation.
A man of many interests, Perfetto – who had gone back to school and earned a Master of Arts Degree in Urban Development and Planning at age 52 – became a licensed private investigator after he left the public advocate’s office, andat the age of 74, launched a career as an actor.
In the course of 15 years, Perfetto appeared in 53 different productions under his birth name, Raffaello Perfetto, according to IMDB. His last acting job was as the star of a TV pilot that he wrote and produced, “Sister Kathleen and the Don,” which was filmed earlier this year, fulfilling a long-held dream of his.
Among the productions Perfetto appeared in were “The Irishman” and the 2017 remake of “Going in Style,” and various TV series including “Law & Order: SVU,” “Daredevil” and “The Good Wife.”
“It was a life well-lived, that’s for sure,” said Gentile.
Perfetto is survived by his life partner, Marie Ortel, as well as by his daughter Lorraine; son Frank and his children, Lynda (Cristian Montesino), Frank, Jr. (Amanda) and Nicholas (Brianna); son Ralph and his wife, Ilene, and their sons Ralph and Richard; son Michael; and son Christopher and his wife Luci, and their son Michael Lambertson (Nicole), as well as six great-grandchildren, Michael, Joseph, Olivia, Anthony, Alaina and Suede.
Ortel, who was by Perfetto’s side constantly, told this paper via email, “We met late in life but enjoyed being with each other more than anything. We laughed a lot. We loved quiet romantic evenings watching old movies and spending time with our families. It was easy … I miss him.”
The funeral mass was held on Monday, July 17 at St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Bay Ridge.