Laura Mansi, a grassroots civic leader who led successful fights to shut down Long Island's only state prison and block the controversial Multi-Town waste-to-energy project at the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, has died. She was 75.
Mansi died May 17 at The Hospice in Melville at the end of a two-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, having spent much of the last year in and out of hospitals. A memorial Mass was celebrated Saturday at St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church in Dix Hills.
A suburban housewife, Mansi, of Dix Hills, became a potent civic leader who helped found the Four Towns Civic Association, which fought plans by Islip, Babylon and Huntington to build a mammoth, 3,400-ton mass burning incinerator, which at the time was touted to become the largest in the world. Islip withdrew in 1981, and the project went out of business in 1983.
The same group battled a plan by Gov. Hugh Carey to place a medium-security prison at Pilgrim, within sight of Mansi’s home. In the end, Mansi and the group got those who sought to succeed Carey in the 1982 election — Mario Cuomo, New York City Mayor Ed Koch and Republican businessman Lew Lehrman — to all pledge to shut down the Long Island Correctional Facility in Brentwood, and it was closed in 1985.
“She took on some of the most powerful interests on Long Island,” said former Democratic County Executive Patrick Halpin, a lobbyist and Suffolk Water Authority chairman. “When Multi-Town looked like a foregone conclusion on the verge of being built, she stopped it. And when Gov. Carey tried to turn the largest state hospital into a prison, she said, ‘No way,’ and prevailed.”
“She was an articulate, good speaker, and knew how to organize stay-at-home moms in Dix Hills, and her group had 400 to 600 members. She also was able to draw 1,000 protesters out to close the prison on a hot summer night,” recalled George Hoffman, a former town and county aide who worked with her. He added that the Four Towns organization “became a model of other civic groups across Long Island.”
In one interview, Mansi worried about the impact on her community. “Who’s to say someone won’t get out of prison? It happens,” she said at the time. “In the city they get on a bus and leave; here there’s no buses. The only way to get out of town is to steal a car.”
Her husband of 56 years, Neal, recalled when the late Assemb. John Flanagan Sr., the father of current Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan of East Northport, “told her $8 million had already been spent on Multi-Town and there was no way anyone could stop it. It was the worst thing he could have said to my wife. That was the day she decided, that was it. And me and the kids spent a lot of time stuffing mailboxes.”
Mansi was not only a civic leader but also worked five years as an aide to the Suffolk County Legislature and later she became public information director at the Suffolk Water Authority, during an initiative to reform the patronage-bound agency. She worked there from 1987 until she retired in 2002. She also served for a decade on the Huntington Zoning Board of Appeals, four of them as chairwoman, the first nonlawyer to hold the post, said her husband.
Born in Bayside, Queens, Mansi was one of nine children. She attended St. Helena’s High School in the Bronx. She and her husband were friends from childhood and the couple married when she was 19. They moved from Queens to Dix Hills after the first two of her six children were born.
Besides her husband, Mansi is survived by her sisters, Patricia Roy of Whispering Springs, North Carolina, and Marie Sperl of Wallingford, Connecticut; brothers Neil Steck of Smithtown, Charles Steck of Bennington, New Hampshire, and Terence Steck of Torrington, Connecticut; children Neal Jr. and Matthew, both of Denver, Daniel and Joseph, both of Hauppauge, William of Dix Hills and Susan Laudante of Mount Sinai; and 16 grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Parkinson’s Association of the Rockies.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this obituary mischaracterized the founding of the Four Towns Civic Association.