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Howard Stern sidekick takes on public service

By Neil Vigdor
Greenwich Time / March 25, 2012
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GREENWICH, Conn.—Gary Dell'Abate is earning a rep as less shock and more jock.

Howard Stern's on-air sidekick and longtime producer is about to complete his first year on the Greenwich board of parks and recreation, having shown what his peers characterized as a keen interest in maximizing the use of town athletic fields, the status of a brownfields project at the Cos Cob power plant site and the languishing renovation of the Dorothy Hamill Skating Rink.

The circus-like atmosphere that typified Dell'Abate's confirmation to the volunteer post at this time last year, the most contentious appointment in recent town history, is but a memory for the man known to legions of radio listeners as "Baba Booey."

"Everybody was freaking out that if I got in, there was going to be Dante's `Inferno,' " Dell'Abate, 51, said in a recent interview.

Dell'Abate's supporters say the married father of two from Old Greenwich has successfully adapted to his role on the all-volunteer advisory board, debunking concerns that his presence would create a distraction and posting a solid attendance record.

"He's just an average guy," said Will Dunster, the outgoing parks board chairman. "If you didn't pay attention to all the hoopla in the papers, you would never know he was any different than your next-door neighbors."

Dell'Abate survived two months of grilling by members of the Representative Town Meeting, who last March voted in favor of his appointment 119-64, with seven abstentions.

His confirmation became as much a referendum on Stern's brand of humor as the state of Greenwich's parks system, with some members of the staid legislative body calling Dell'Abate's radio persona unbecoming in a debate that provided daily fodder for the shock jock.

One of Dell'Abate's critics -- Coline Jenkins, the great-great-granddaughter of suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton and RTM Appointments Committee member at the time -- became the target of a prank in which she received a plastic bag of feces in her mailbox.

In an interview before the start of the RTM's most recent meeting, Jenkins said she had no regrets.

"He's appointed, and I hope he does very well and has the best interests of the town at heart," Jenkins said.

Reflecting back on the whole episode, it's no laughing matter to Jenkins, who was lampooned on the radio show for toting the bag of feces to Dell'Abate's confirmation hearings.

"I don't see the humor," she said.

Jenkins pulled no punches during an awkward interview with Dell'Abate last March.

"I went online and heard that Howard Stern is a shock jock and tried to figure out what it means," Jenkins said at the time. "I wasn't so happy. It said on his show he was throwing bologna slices at a naked woman. Did that really happen? Is that a form of recreation?"

Selectman Drew Marzullo, who recommended that the Board of Selectmen nominate Dell'Abate for the job, is still amazed by the media attention the whole controversy created.

"I had somewhat of an idea Gary's nomination would generate an article or two in our local newspapers," Marzullo said. "However, I did not predict 12 devoted to the front page from here and all over, or a question during the appointments interview about sports, bologna and a bag of feces that ended up on a tour of Greenwich."

One of nine members of the parks board, Dell'Abate said the chance to serve his community was well worth the grief he endured.

"The answer to the biggest question I get is, `Yes, I'm glad I did,' " Dell'Abate said. "So many people are under the impression that I'm living in misery. I'm enjoying it."

Since joining the parks board for a three-year term, Dell'Abate has advocated for the town to make more-efficient use of school athletic fields by outside recreation groups during periods of inactivity.

He has also pushed for equal access among competing interest groups for playing time on the fields.

Long identified as a major need in Greenwich, the demand for playing fields rose to a whole new level of pressure last summer when the town was forced to close all seven fields at the high school because of the discovery of soil toxins in the area.

Dell'Abate gave town officials high marks for their response to the situation.

"At the end of the day, we got all our games in," he said. "I thought they did a great job with that."

Dunster described Dell'Abate as a consistent contributor whose experience as a youth football coach of the North Mianus Bulldogs gives him a unique perspective on the demand for field space.

"So he's got two feet in the puddle," Dunster said. "He's good for the town. We need more people like him."

Most recently, Dell'Abate served on a subcommittee of the board that reviewed the field permit documents used by the town.

"He's an asset," said Joseph Siciliano, the town parks director. "He's lived in Greenwich for a while. I think he's got a good feel for especially some of the sports activities."

Siciliano called Dell'Abate an "all-business" type who is generous with his time and has volunteered his planning expertise to the second installment of the Greenwich Town Party featuring Paul Simon this summer and a few concerts that are in the works by the Parks and Recreation Foundation.

"He has a stage life, but he has a home life," Siciliano said.

Marzullo reaffirmed his support for Dell'Abate.

"Gary has done an amazing job thus far," Marzullo said. "He's engaged, well informed and very likable. I reach out to him often asking for advice and to garner his perspective on different issues. We have chatted about leaf blowers, the mess at Greenwich High, charity events, just about everything."

Dell'Abate has also taken a keen interest in the placement of a proposed 9/11 memorial in Greenwich, which lost more residents than any other town in Connecticut during the attacks.

When a citizen group proposed the town marina at Grass Island as a location for the memorial, Dell'Abate scouted out several sites with his wife, Mary.

The parks board ultimately recommended Roger Sherman Baldwin Park over Grass Island for the memorial, which still has not won town approval.

"It's gratifying," Dell'Abate said of his work. "We're getting a lot of stuff done. It's a really nice group of people."

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Information from: Greenwich Time, http://www.greenwichtime.com

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