ASTORIA — Aurelio “Tony” Arcabascio has never held public office.
Now the former minor league baseball player and longtime businessman is prepared to step up to the plate against state Sen. Michael Gianaris, an incumbent who won 4 out of 5 votes in 2010, in the race for Queens' 12th District seat.
Raised in Astoria and Jackson Heights in an immigrant family, Arcabascio, who has worked in the technology industry for nearly three decades, says he knows the struggles of people living in the district and now “wants to help them.”
With no political experience, he hopes to bring fresh perspective to Albany along with his business skills, aiming to alleviate the tax burden on small business owners and middle class families as well as create jobs.
Arcabascio, 51, a registered independent, describes himself as fiscally conservative and has the backing of the Queens Republican and Conservative parties.
He said the urge to run was also spurred by the fact that Democratic officeholders in Western Queens are not challenged enough, an idea that hit him in 2010 when Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas — who was running for office for the first time — went unopposed in the general election.
“I couldn’t understand how is it possible,” said Arcabascio, who raised the issue with his friends and neighbors in Astoria. “People asked me: Why don’t you run next time?” he said. “So here I am.”
In the Nov. 6 general election, he will challenge Gianaris, previously an assemblyman in the area, who was elected in 2010 by 81 percent of voters.
Arcabascio currently works for North Shore-LIJ, and is responsible for IT project management, aiming to turn the paper charts into electronic records.
Prior to that, he owned Crimson Technologies, a technology consulting company providing services mainly to financial institutions for 13 years. The financial crisis, however, forced him to close the business in 2009.
Now, he says, he wants to make it easier for other businesses by lowering the tax burden and giving businesses tax credits instead.
“In order for small businesses to do well, we have to help them,” he said.
He said excessive number of tickets given to businesses prevents them from flourishing. When businesses are healthy, he said, they are able to hire more people.
Arcabascio, who likes to be called “Tony,” said he knows people’s struggles first hand.
The youngest of four, he was born to immigrant parents who in 1960 moved from Italy to California. His father, a construction worker, was 48 at the time.
His mother, a seamstress, was 36 and 5 months pregnant with him. His parents spoke no English, and Arcabascio says his language growing up was Italian.
A year after arriving in the U.S., the family, looking for new job opportunities, moved across America and settled in Astoria.
“My parents struggled,” he said. “They came to this country with debt, but they worked hard.”
He said in order to help his family, he worked on construction every weekend and every summer from the time he was 12, until he went to college.
When the family had saved enough money, they bought a house in Jackson Heights in 1965.
He went to local public schools, before being awarded a baseball scholarship and studying criminal justice at Mercyhurst College in Pennsylvania.
After college he pitched in the minor leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals for a year.
He later moved back to Astoria, where his brother owns a pizzeria, and his cousin has a hair salon. His 87-year old mother also lives in the neighborhood.
Arcabascio said looking at his mother’s financial situation has made him very concerned about the situation for seniors. He said he would like to lower the cost of living for the elderly and also plans to work on bringing more hospitals to the area.
“There are almost 320,000 people in our district and only one hospital to serve the district: Mt. Sinai with a little less than 200 beds,” he said.
A father of four, Arcabascio says he is also concerned about the schools in the district. Two high schools in the area — Long Island City and Bryant — ended up on the list of low performing schools that will be closed and reopen this fall under different names as part of the turnaround program.
He agrees that some drastic measures had to be taken. “Whenever there is a 43 percent failure rate, something needs to change,” he said. He added that “teachers have to be evaluated based on their ability to do their job” and wants to make sure the funds the schools receive are used for the students’ benefit.
Arcabascio hopes to apply a lesson learned from his father to helping improve the lives of his constituents should he win.
His dad wanted him to save $10 from every check he got. While he didn’t want to do that at first, he soon realized that “a little does a lot, and a lot does nothing.”
“If you do a little bit, you can accomplish a lot, step by step, but if you wait to accomplish that big thing all at once, you never going to accomplish anything,” he said.