Philip Foglia, an Italian-American civic leader who spear-headed campaigns to honor Mother Cabrini and preserve Christopher Columbus statues in the city, died Tuesday after contracting the coronavirus.
Foglia, 69, was raised in the Belmont section of The Bronx, known as the borough’s Little Italy.
“Phil was a great man, a man of integrity. He was a wonderful father. All he cared about was that his wife Jacqueline and family are going to be OK,” actor and childhood friend Chazz Palminteri told the Post.
Foglia rarely strayed far from his beloved Bronx. He was an avid Yankees fan.
After earning his law degree, Foglia served as a prosecutor in the Bronx District Attorney’s office, including as deputy of the public corruption unit. He was cross-designated as an Assistant US Attorney in the Southern District when Rudy Giuliani led the office, assigned to the organized crime and public corruption strike force.
More recently, Foglia served as top deputy in the state inspector general’s office. He worked on numerous cases – including exposing the bid-rigging scandal involving the initial franchise to operate a casino at Aqueduct race track. The project was rebid following the IG’s stinging report.
Foglia made an even bigger mark as an Italian-American civic leader. He fought against discrimination and negative stereotypes of Italians and promoted Italian-American icons. He founded the Italian-American Legal Defense and Higher Education Fund.
Foglia and his pal Palminteri were among the Italian-American and Catholic activists who sprang into action after City Hall last year failed to include Mother Frances Cabrini, the patron saint of immigrants, on the list of famous women to be honored with statues as part of first lady Chirlane McCray’s “She Built NYC” program — even though Cabrini received the most nominations for a monument.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo then appointed Foglia to serve on a state site selection panel that approved a plan to erect a statue to honor Cabrini in Battery Park.
Foglia also objected when Mayor Bill de Blasio formed an 18-member public design commission in 2017 to review “all symbols of hate on city property” in the wake of violence by white-supremacist groups in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the time, activists were calling for a removal of Columbus statues and Foglia worried that the mayor would bend to their wishes.
The panel – and the mayor – spared Columbus, a symbol of Italian-American pride.
Foglia also fought against discrimination against Italian-Americans in employment in higher education.
A federal lawsuit filed by Foglia in the 1990s led to a settlement requiring the City University of New York to recognize Italian-Americans as as under-represented class in staff hiring.
Foglia died Tuesday in Columbia Presbyterian hospital in Washington Heights after fighting COVID-19 for nearly five weeks, much of it on a ventilator, said his brother-in-law Neil Mattera and Palminteri. Foglia was well enough to come off a ventilator but his conditioned then worsened, they said.
Foglia is survived by Jacqueline, his wife of three decades, and two sons.