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Mr. Piccolo’s Peculiar Obsession

Mr. Piccolo’s Peculiar Obsession

Joseph Sciorra (September 16, 2010)
Joseph Scelsa/Arthur Piccolo

Tracing a “fool’s path” to power.


Those of you unfamiliar with the local machinations of Italian Americana in the provincial paese of New York City may not have noticed the ongoing vituperations of a certain Arthur Piccolo.  Since the “Guido” colloquium in January 2010, the splenetic Mr.

Piccolo has been emailing jeremiadic spam and blogging vociferous missives concerning Queens College’s John D. Calandra Italian American Institute. What can account for this person’s singular fixation with the Calandra Institute?

When I mentioned to colleagues and acquaintances that I was writing this blog post, the vast majority asked a very simple question: “Who’s Arthur Piccolo?” Indeed. I only became aware of Piccolo in recent years as I had the displeasure of receiving one of his fractious and desultory spam attacks. 
A simple Google search reveals very little. The “About Me” section of Piccolo's blog exposes more about his inarticulate writing style than about the man himself. A quick search about the organization he claims to head, the “Bowling Green Association,” discloses even less. 
Piccolo paints a disturbing self-portrait in an autobiographic note in the 2006 publication “My Time at Tech and Other Memories from the Class of ’66,” written for the reunion of Brooklyn Tech High School graduates. Piccolo’s excessive narrative (six pages, 27-32) is constructed around a series of plaguing issues concerning power and betrayal. The most telling from a psychological standpoint is the opening tale of being “conned by my own father and mother” to attend the boys’ high school. “And the most valuable lesson I received from that experience [is] that trusting even ones [sic] own parents is a fool’s path unless that truth is earned” (p. 27). 
From that early incident (the whisper of “Rosebud” hauntingly reverberates), a pattern of puerile contumacy emerges. His memoir continues with accounts of a “false accusation” of plagiarism, of being jailed for months in an Air Force brig for “insubordination” and “‘administrative discipline,’” and of a series of failed political ventures, including a 2005 run for the mayoral primaries of New York City, in which the City Campaign Finance Board determined he was “‘unqualified’” for matching funds, inclusion in the mayoral debate, or listing in the voter guide. 
Particularly unsettling is his “most notable contribution” of writing an anonymous online feature for “in the guise of an often angry Black journalist.” His paroxystic exercitations clearly know no bounds.
Italian-American colleagues familiar with Piccolo simply wondered why I would waste my time writing about someone they had long ago dismissed as a fatuous crank whose precipitant screeds were, at best, risible.
Yet some Italian-American politicians, businesspeople, and scholars in New York have begun to question why Piccolo is targeting the Calandra Institute at this time. A motive for his specious hectoring of the Institute and its dean, Anthony Tamburri, can be gleaned from Piccolo’s pronouncement of “my epic efforts on behalf of Dr. [Joseph] Scelsa.” His Homeric self-aggrandizement gives pause for it is a testament to a history that reveals what many believe is the master’s manipulating hand in this petty yet sordid affair.
Those appreciative of the Calandra Institute and Dean Tamburri’s numerous achievements have suggested that in fact it is Joseph Scelsa, the former Institute director, who has been instigating Piccolo’s choleric rants. They note that the Italian American Museum under Scelsa’s presidency is floundering, not merely curatorially, as a recent Wall Street Journal article intimated, but more significantly, financially. 
Businessman Joseph Grano commented after his book presentation at the Institute on  October 1, 2009, that he had pledged to raise $10 million for the museum on the condition that Scelsa step aside as president and allow for a bona fide board of directors. This proposal was rejected. Grano is now using his business acumen for an alternative Italian-American museum.
It has been suggested that Scelsa is interested in denigrating Tamburri’s affability and successes, and the Calandra Institute in general, so that he can return to the taxpayer trough by having the Institute’s New York State funding diverted to the struggling museum. 
Scelsa has wrapped the flag of “the Italian-American community” so tightly around his shoulders in the hopes of conflating the two. He is not the Italian-American community, nor does he represent the best Italian America has to offer.  He is the epitome of Machiavellianism. It is curious that he is quick to discuss the “many cases of discrimination” he claims exist within the City University of New York in a recent New York Times article, but he is silent about the law suits Italian Americans have brought against him (and CUNY) for harassment and other grievances while he was the Calandra Institute’s director. Those of us who had the tribulation of working during the Scelsa regime know him to be self-serving, mean-spirited, vindictive, and a truculent bully. That is his legacy, and for many, he will stand in perpetuity, to quote Charlotte Brontë, on a “pedestal of infamy” in an Italian American museum of the future.
Mr. Piccolo’s peculiar obsession is not with the Calandra Institute but with Joseph Scelsa, in the obsequious service to a fallacious power. One can only hope that Piccolo’s “most valuable lesson” in trust keeps him from not straying once again down a “fool’s path.”

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A lucid and beautifully written response that searingly exposes the selfish, repugnant behavior of those who are the first to scream "discrimination."

Joe Sciorra has done us a huge favor. Now, if only someone would bring the Times' reporter up to speed...

Excellent blog!

Excellent blog! Well-written and to the point... You really succeed in bringing together all these seemingly loose threads: Piccolo, the NY Times article regarding the new lawsuit (yes, very poor journalism, but what can you expect from a paper that has an Italian American community Rolodex with only four names in it?), etc. and tie them all back to the perverted puppet master down at the "Italian American" "Museum." It's truly a shame that these foolish, petty little people continue to fester, and, in the process, set the Italian American community back decades (not to mention embarrass us... Mafia images? Guidos? Who cares. How about ridding us of these stereotypical buffoons?)

Under Dean Tamburri's direction, the Calandra Institute has risen to become a respectable and inviting space for academic and intellectual exchange. Though I am only a sometimes visitor, the depth of his vision and the intelligence of the staff are made evident by the diverse, complex, quality public programming. Aside from NYU Casa Italiana, where else in New York City is the Italian American experience so thoroughly examined?

Tamburri's leadership appears to demonstrate that one doesn't have to make threats and bully people around to actually get results...

che tristezza!

Anthony Tamburri has got an incredible record of intellectual and administrative leadership in the history of Italian-American studies. His name should be in the first page of the NYT because of his accomplishments and commitment to higher education, the Italian-American community and the study of ethnicity in general. Che tristezza it appears in an article about a lawsuit filed by a bitter unaccomplished scholar and supported by a self-interested individual who has himself been accused of harassment, bullying and discrimination by two of his former collaborators.

George's exactly

George's exactly right--without this context, the Times story means little or nothing of value. Good work.

Bravissimo. You have

Bravissimo. You have provided the context for the orchestrated attack on Calandra (and CUNY) that the NY Times reporter entirely failed to provide. I was shocked that the Times ignored the $1 million-plus judgment CUNY had to pay to the women harassed, bullied, and retaliated against by Scelsa. This was poor journalism that gave an incomplete and misleading account of the issues involved in the spurious lawsuit against CUNY and Calandra. But then anyone who has been involved with Calandra since Anthony Tamburri became its dean knows how he, you, and the staff have transformed a rudderless institute into a premier Italian American thinktank and cultural center. The truth will out, despite the attempts by unscrupulous self-promoters to obscure it.