Former Nassau County Executive Tom Gulotta, a longtime resident of North Merrick, died last Sunday, at age 75. Gulotta, a Republican, served as county executive from 1987 to 2001.
He was born in Oceanside in 1944 to Josephine and Frank Gulotta Sr., a former Nassau County district attorney. After graduating from Malverne High School in 1962, Gulotta attended Trinity College in Connecticut and earned a law degree from Columbia University. While living in North Merrick, he served as a state assemblyman representing the 13th District from 1977 to 1981, and as Hempstead town supervisor for six years before becoming county executive.
Gulotta declined to run for another term in 2001, and later founded Executive Strategies, a consulting firm. Most recently, he worked as special counsel at Albanese & Albanese LLP in Garden City.
Friends and colleagues on both sides of the political aisle expressed shock at the news of Gulotta’s death. The cause had not yet been determined as the Herald went to press. Many recalled seeing him just weeks before he died, manifesting his usual gentlemanly, warm demeanor.
“We shared lunch less than a week ago,” County Republican Chairman Joseph Cairo said in a statement, “and Tom Gulotta’s native charm and keen intellect were in full evidence.” The two previously served together on the Hempstead Town Board.
Cairo added that Gulotta’s “commitment to the well-being of the public . . . left an indelible and positive imprint on the suburban experience.”
Gary Hudes, who owns Gennaro Jewelers in Bellmore, met Gulotta while serving as president of the Bellmore Chamber of Commerce more than 20 years ago. At the time, downtown Bellmore was suffering because of a proliferation of strip malls on Sunrise Highway and elsewhere. In the mid-1990s, Hudes assembled a group to begin the Downtown Revitalization Project, which required county financing.
“I remember meeting in Mineola with commissioners who told [Tom] why a revitalization couldn’t happen,” Hudes recalled, “and Tom . . . said, ‘Just do it.’ Tom had confidence in the community and . . . the small businesses to get behind this.”
Gulotta eventually made “Operation Downtown” county-wide, Hudes said, creating a domino effect of revitalization projects in downtown Freeport, Garden City, Merrick and New Hyde Park.
Attorney Martin Valk knew Gulotta for more than 20 years. The two had met when Valk was a trustee of the Merrick School District Board of Education, and they knew each other through the Merrick Kiwanis. Valk recalled the walks that he took with Gulotta on the grounds of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center in Glen Cove. “That place exists because of him,” Valk said.
As county executive, Gulotta organized and appointed a commission to garner support for a Nassau County memorial in remembrance of Holocaust victims. He was also a proponent of Holocaust and tolerance education, and served on the board of the Holocaust center following his career in public office.
Gulotta was also well-liked among civil service workers, who revered him as a “friend of labor,” Civil Service Employees Association President Jerry Laricchiuta said. “He respected good work, and was able to give credit where credit was due,” Laricchiuta added. “Regardless of how busy he was, he was a man of the people.”
In 1999, almost a decade of fiscal mismanagement under Republican leadership came to light, with county budget deficits soaring past $300 million. Democrats proposed eliminating $100 million in county spending in 2001, but Gulotta took those cuts further, refusing to rehire 15 percent of the workers in the parks and public works departments. At the time, Democratic lawmakers claimed the cuts would “leave county residents vulnerable during snowstorms, paralyze public-works projects and escalate concern that some of the county’s parks might have to be closed,” according to Herald reporting.
Hudes said, however, that Gulotta would be remembered for “all the little things” he did as a public servant. Many recalled his deep involvement in the community, his regular attendance at local events and how he could rattle off speeches entirely from memory.
Jess Bunshaft, 53, of East Meadow, was inspired by Gulotta to pursue a career in public service. The two met when Bunshaft was 10 and Gulotta was an assemblyman, walking door to door in his district to get to know his constituents.
“He was an old-school politician who believed in getting out there and talking to everybody,” Bunshaft said. “It didn’t matter if you agreed with his positions or disagreed, he wanted to listen.”
Bunshaft eventually became Gulotta’s personnel director, working for him from 1996 to 1999. He said Gulotta was a “very energetic, driven boss” who could “understand and figure out very nuanced issues, before the rest of us could catch up.”
The two stayed in touch, and recently ran into each other while shopping at Stew Leonard’s supermarket in East Meadow. “He still seemed as energetic and full of life as ever,” Bunshaft said. “He was the same, warm, funny, friendly, smart, energetic person I’ve known for so many years.”
“When I got into politics . . . I emulated [his] responsiveness, and the personal touch,” Hudes said. “I told him that a month ago at a dinner — how the things he did . . . impressed upon me. I’m glad now that I told him.”
Gulotta is survived by his wife, Betsy; a son, Christopher; a daughter, Elizabeth Amendolare; his grandchildren, Mia, Jayden and Aviana Amendolare; his siblings, former Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Gulotta and Franca Rizzo, and nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his son, Thomas “T.J.” Gulotta Jr.
Scott Brinton, Erik Hawkins and Brian Stieglitz contributed to this story.