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Antonio J. Marino, 92; Lynn’s longest-serving mayor

ANTONIO J. MARINO
ANTONIO J. MARINOhandout

Antonio J. Marino was mayor of Lynn longer than anyone in the city’s history. A son of Italian immigrants who was 6 when his family first came to work in Lynn’s shoe factories in the 1920s, Mr. Marino led the city through the Blizzard of 1978 and a 1981 fire that spread through downtown, gutting numerous buildings.

Then a financial crisis that almost shut down the city’s schools and a Globe Spotlight series alleging mismanaged tax collections, profligate tax abatements, and a sweetheart real estate deal helped lead to his defeat in the 1985 preliminary election.

Mr. Marino lost his office, but the office never left him, according to his friends.

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“It was difficult for him. It hurt him but he always loved the city,” said his friend Albert DiVirgilio, who succeeded him as mayor. “Even to this day he’d say to me, ‘I would have won if you hadn’t run against me.’ ”

Mr. Marino, who was mayor for six terms and had recently moved to the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford for Alzheimer’s care, died in his sleep Nov. 17. He was 92 and was known affectionately around the hospital as “the mayor,” said his wife, Ingrid.

His initial interest in city politics was galvanized by the foibles of urban renewal after the neighborhood in which he grew up, which was known as The Brickyard, was bulldozed. Mr. Marino became an activist and eventually chairman of Citizens for a Better Lynn.

An AFL-CIO regional leader for furniture industry workers for most of his life, Mr. Marino, who went by Tony, was a master of organizing, according to his family.

Citizens for a Better Lynn soon began influencing local politics and helped elect Pasquale Caggiano as mayor in 1972. When Caggiano died a few months after taking office, his supporters recruited Mr. Marino to run in a special election. He won but was defeated the next year. He regained the office in 1976.

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As mayor, Mr. Marino negotiated with six unions representing 2,500 city and school employees, according to city records. Caps on property tax increases imposed under the landmark statewide referendum known as Proposition 2½ left the mayor forced to slash spending in 1982.

But by 1984, the school system’s budget was hard hit. Mr. Marino had to go to the State House to beg his ally Governor Michael S. Dukakis for a bailout. The state gave the city a loan for $2.6 million to keep the schools open.

The crisis spurred Alexander “Sandy” Tennant, then a budget officer in Boston schools, to run for mayor with a focus on education. Tennant, who later became director of the Massachusetts Republican Party, topped the ticket in the preliminary before losing the general election to DiVirgilio.

When Mr. Marino left office in 1985, he told the Globe the city had stabilized. “The revaluation has been completed and we have stopped all abatements,” he said in an interview.

“It was a volatile time,” said DiVirgilio, who was on the City Council while Marino was mayor.

Following contentious council meetings, the mayor often “held court” with friends and foes alike at a local pub, or his favorite Thai restaurant, DiVirgilio recalled.

“It was different then,” he said. “You could argue and disagree back then, but you weren’t disagreeable.”

During the transition between their administrations, Mr. Marino was generous and helpful, DiVirgilio noted.

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Mr. Marino was a bachelor mayor, but married Ingrid Graff in 1987. They had met in the early 1980s at the Porthole, where Mr. Marino liked to spend happy hour on Fridays with his staff. She was a Lynn school teacher and struck up a conversation with him about the state of education in the city.

“We had a wonderful relationship,” she said, recalling the couple’s love of going on trips and hosting Sunday dinners, for which Mr. Marino would cook Italian specialties and play opera music.

He loved gardening and planted scores of tomato plants every year. When the harvest came, he shared the bounty at City Hall.

When he was diagnosed with dementia about 10 years ago, his wife, who is 65, took early retirement to care for him at their home as long as she could, she said.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Marino leaves three sisters, Frances Vocino and Mary Russo, both of Lynn, and Antoinette “Ann” Theo of Swampscott; and four brothers, Peter of Peabody, and Dominic, Joseph, and Michael, all of Lynn.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., Mr. Marino was the oldest of 11 siblings. His parents, Emilio and Elettra (Senatore), moved to Lynn in 1928. His father worked for a shoe company.

When he began first grade, Mr. Marino did not speak English because Italian was the only language spoken at home, according to his brother Joseph. He learned quickly and was soon able to read for the class and enjoyed making speeches, “an early indicator of things to come in his life,” Joseph told mourners during a funeral Mass on Thursday at Holy Family Church in Lynn.

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As the oldest child, Mr. Marino often took on the role of “a second father” to his many siblings, according to his brother. “No matter how big or small our achievements, Tony was excited about it,” Joseph said.

Mr. Marino graduated from Lynn Classical High School in the late 1930s and went to work for the United Furniture Workers. During World War II, he joined the Navy and fought in the Pacific.

Of many awards and honors bestowed on Mr. Marino during his life, his most prized accolade was a citation of honor he received from the Navy, his brother said.

His flag-draped coffin was carried out of the church while a soloist sang “Let there be Peace on Earth.” Mr. Marino was buried in the World War II veterans section at Pine Grove Cemetery in Lynn.

Joseph said his brother possessed an unflagging optimism that inspired others.

“He looked at the glass as half full,” he said. “He was an upbeat person. He was good to be around.”


J.M. Lawrence can be reached at jmlawrence@me.com.