I have known Councilmember Vincent Gentile for many years. My wife, a pre-K teacher, has always been impressed by his initiatives in education, an area of great interest to us since we have three children growing up in his district. I have attended events at which he’s spoken and I’ve shaken his hand on numerous occasions. But that was the extent of it.
I knew enough about his political views to support his bid for councilmember by putting a Gentile sign in my front yard. It was a big sign, but that’s about as far as my involvement went.
Three years ago, my then-10-year-old son and his friend Eddie Morales were selected to paint a local shop window for Halloween. And, as luck would have it, their artwork would adorn Gentile’s former office at 8703 Third Ave.
I expected Gentile to make the obligatory greeting and disappear for the rest of the day. After all, there were no cameras, no microphones and no real crowd except for myself, my daughter and the art contest organizer who made periodic visits to check on the progress of the painting.
Gentile’s staff came out and offered us hot chocolate as soon as we arrived, shortly before Gentile himself came outside and introduced himself to my son and his friend. He kept coming back to check on their progress before he and his staff invited them into his office for pizza and a lesson in civics.
There was no reason for him to spend any more time than necessary with these kids, but he did. There was no reason for him to offer them lunch and talk with them at length in his office, but he did. He posed for photos that my daughter took and he invited my son back to visit anytime he wanted.
Gentile’s efforts that day were not motivated by trying to impress the media, make political inroads with any organization, nor was this a plastic photo-op that would in any way advance his agenda.
It was simply a sincere and genuine gesture from a compassionate public servant who gave of his own time to encourage a young boy who just happened to be given the councilmember’s window to decorate.
In the end, my son had a great experience that day and made a new friend. Personally, I had seen Gentile at many events with cameras focused directly upon him, but that day I saw him for the first time with no crowds in sight, and what I saw impressed me.