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Rosemarie O’Keefe, local legend, is honored

The intersection of Bay Ridge Parkway and Fifth Avenue has been renamed for a late, great Ridgite.

On Sunday, dignitaries from both sides of the political aisle, as well as a slew of community activists, came together to honor Rosemarie O’Keefe, community activist and former commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit, who died last August from cancer.

“Those of us who were lucky enough to work with her and know her will probably never stop being inspired by her energy, her commitment to improving what needed to be improved and her incredible resolve,” said Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), who beat O’Keefe by just 31 votes to win his seat in 2003, but remained a local partner of hers. “When Rosemarie saw that something needed to be fixed, it got fixed. And whether or not you agreed with her in the beginning, by the end, you did — and you were standing alongside her to help her out.”

O’Keefe’s most renowned battle — which occurred in the mid-1980s, and launched her as a community leader — occurred when she took on the city over the installation of parking meters on Bay Ridge Parkway off Fifth Avenue, where she was living at the time. To counter the move, O’Keefe organized her neighbors into a block association which helped to defeat the proposal.

And that was just the beginning. Subsequently, O’Keefe traveled the neighborhood, helping other Ridgites form their own block associations — an effort that, eventually, turned into the Alliance of Bay Ridge Block Associations.

O’Keefe was perhaps first and foremost a local activist, but she also had her political side.

A Republican stalwart, O’Keefe ran unsuccessfully for the Council after a stint working at City Hall under Mayor Giuliani, a grayer version of whom was one of many dignitaries from both parties who attended the event.

Even in death, O’Keefe brought together Democrats and Republicans — and even the man who beat her for the Council seat said he retained his respect. “Ever since [that election], she kept me to our mutual promise to put people and the best interests of Bay Ridge before politics,” Gentile said.

O’Keefe’s compassion was legendary. Among the tasks she took on was heading up the city’s Family Assistance Center after 9/11. She also led the recovery efforts after several devastating plane crashes, including the deadly American Airlines Flight 587 crash that took place just two months after the World Trade Center attacks.

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