ROBERT BARRA, a newly appointed member of the Hempstead Town Board, hung two
framed photographs next to each other on the wall of his town hall office. One
is an action shot of Bill Mazeroski, a second baseman for the Pittsburgh
Pirates 40 years ago. The other is a presidential portrait of Ronald Reagan.
The photos are significant because at about the time Barra realized he wasn't
going to make it in Mazeroski's profession, he decided to try Reagan's.
"When I found out I wasn't good enough to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates-and I
found out at a young age-I had to find something that gave me the same
feeling, the same camaraderie and fire," Barra said, recalling
Reagan give at the Republican National Convention in 1976, when Barra was 16.
Now 39, after nearly 15 years in a series of political jobs he held for less
than a few years each, Barra has become, to use another sports analogy, a sort
of journeyman player bouncing from team to team. He's been an aide to state
Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on three separate occasions between 1986
and today, and did stints for the Nassau County Department of Commerce, the
North Hempstead Town Board, the Nassau Board of Elections, former Rep. David
Levy of Baldwin and the Nassau Republican Party. He also was a village trustee
in Lynbrook from 1991 to 1997, when he declined to run again.
"He's been just a good, solid, loyal Republican," said Nassau Republican
chairman Joseph Mondello, who tapped Barra along with Gary Hudes to run for
town board in November; incumbents Joseph Ra and Patrick Zagarino declined to
seek new terms. When Ra and Zagarino quit in July to take other government
jobs, Barra and Hudes took their seats but still have to run for election in
"He is a fighter type of a guy," Mondello said of Barra. "He is relentless.
He's tough. He can be hard-nosed. He's the kind of guy you want beside you when
you're in a difficult campaign."
But Mondello indicated some concerns about how Barra, a behind-the-scenes
operative, would fare as a high-profile elected official who must deal with the
"He's not the most outgoing person I've ever met, if you want to know the
truth," Mondello said. "I know even with me and the people around here, he's
not a person who's prone to say in a paragraph what he can say in three or four
"I looked at him long and hard because of that," Mondello continued, "because
he didn't emote like a lot of people in the business do."
Barra, who had no trouble in an interview telling long-winded stories about
himself, seemed perplexed on hearing Mondello's remarks, but acknowledged that
Mondello "always said that I never smiled a lot."
Barra said Mondello got to know him at a time "when there wasn't a lot to smile
about"-during a brutal political fight in 1991, when Barra was campaigning for
Republican town board members in North Hempstead, who were swept out of office.
"It was a tough, tough election," Barra said. "He probably saw me at the worst
Barra, a native of Lynbrook who lives in North Lynbrook with his wife, Celeste,
and daughters Alexandra, 7, and Erica, 2, has faced other hard times
politically. He became district director for Rep. Levy in July, 1993, and just
over a year later, Levy narrowly lost the Republican primary to Dan Frisa. "It
was the worst few months of my life," Barra said, recalling the period after
the election when Levy, now an assistant to Hempstead Supervisor Richard
Guardino Jr., was a lame duck.
The defeats have taught Barra some basic lessons about campaigning hard-even in
a town like Hempstead, where Republicans have won every election this
century-and paying attention to constituent needs.
"I wanted to be an elected official because I can do something," he said,
noting that he welcomes phone calls at home. "If there's a street that needs to
be repaved, I can do that."