When I told my father that I wanted to run for the U.S. Senate, he said, “Son, I think you should run to see a psychiatrist.”
When I told my mother, she was a bit more supportive. Mama became my No. 1 campaigner, and went door to door and across the state for me.
It was Mama who won my first campaign for me, in 1980. She gained national celebrity when she was famously featured in my campaign ad holding grocery bags and complaining about inflation while bragging about her son, yours truly. It was dubbed one of the most influential campaign ads of all time.
It was short and so simple, but that, plus Mama’s subsequent six weeks of campaigning, won me the election. People didn’t like me, but they loved her, and that was enough.
But, as the New York Post so fittingly pointed out in an editorial about her life and death, “It’s tempting to say Mama D’Amato was one of a kind, but she wasn’t — and that was the secret of her success. She could have been anyone’s mother, so even voters who didn’t necessarily like her son loved Mama D’Amato.”
Mama represented so many mothers of her generation, the “Greatest Generation.” She was a “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II, helping to fabricate aircraft parts in New Jersey. She went on to marry my father, Armand, an insurance salesman. They had three children and moved to the suburbs.
Mama was the daughter of Italian immigrants, and together my family was truly living the American dream. My brother, sister and I celebrated all of the opportunities this amazing country offers the descendants of immigrants.
Growing up, it wasn’t always easy, but Mama held the family together. She epitomized the mother who sacrificed everything for her kids.
On the campaign trail, she often joked about my life as an elected official. The Staten Island Advance reminisced about the time she visited a senior center there and, in a speech to 400 seniors, joked that she often told me, “Al, why don’t you retire, go into private industry, make some money?”
When I left the Senate and was finally able to earn money, it brought me great joy to be able to give back and provide for my mother.
I like to think that I got my sense of humor from her. She had such a personality — everyone loved to be around her.