MENNA GETS THE ROYAL TREATMENT
Whenever he got the chance, former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna would jet off to Ireland to play golf and maybe have a pint among village locals.
McKenna’s successor, Pasquale Menna, though, takes the idea of global schmoozing to literally another level, preferring to put on a tuxedo and rub elbows with royals and pretenders to thrones, redbankgreen has learned.
Three weeks ago, Menna spent a long weekend in the Italian Alps, where he hobnobbed with Savoy royalty. While there, Menna tells us, he attended “a number of receptions hosted by Prince Emmanuel-Philibert,” heir-apparent to the last King of Italy, Umberto II, who died in 1983, 37 years after the end of the Italian monarchy.
Menna says the 35-year-old prince is “a close friend.”
Last Saturday, Menna was in New York for a banquet given by Crown Prince Nikola II of Montenegro, another would-be king if not for the vagaries of history.
There, hizzoner was among the latest inductees into the Order of Prince Danilo I, a designation bestowed on “prominent champions of the preservation of Montenegrin independence,” according to the order’s website. Past recipients include Queen Victoria and King Edward VII of Great Britain.
By then, Menna had already bagged similar recognition from Italy: admittance to the Order of Saints Maurice and Lazarus, a philanthropic organization for which he’s the New Jersey representative.
“I have a little bit more of a life than Red Bank and the practice of law,” says Menna. “I’m international in scope.”
He certainly knows from crossing borders. Menna speaks fluent Italian (his native tongue; he was born in the mountaintop village of Monte Falcone, Italy); French, which he learned as a boy in Montreal; and Spanish, which he picked up as an adolescent on Red Bank’s West Side. (Recently, when Menna appointed a Estonian native to a borough committee, Councilman John Curley joked that the mayor speaks Estonian, too. He doesn’t.)
Even on weekends when he confines himself to New Jersey, Menna is no stranger to pomp or mixing with swells. He’s a reader at the high mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark each Sunday “the Archbishop’s Mass,” he notes. In February, he took in a symphony with mayors Cory Booker of Newark and Wayne Smith of Irvington, whom he considers close friends.
But he’s not always the courtier; sometimes he’s the courted. When he was sworn in as mayor Jan. 1 after 18 years as a councilman, in attendance, according to the Hub, were “Baron Robert LaRocca, representing Italian Prince Ferdinand of Two Sicilys and David Skoblow, who came to the meeting to represent Prince Emanuel Filbert [sic] of Italy.”
Among the more local dignitaries were Irvington’s Smith, assorted judges, and Brian Thompson, a reporter for WNBC-TV News in New York another Menna pal.
Menna says his affinity for chivalric orders and would-be monarchs comes from a strong sense of patrimony and love of history. As we reported shortly before the election that put him in the mayor’s seat, Menna is at work on what he calls a revanchist nonfiction work about historical events in southern Italian between 1860 and 1870. Or he was, at the time; he’s since told us that his duties as mayor have left him with little time for the manuscript, which we last heard was a 800 pages long.
As for his chumming it up with royals, Menna shrugs it off. “I wouldn’t call them ‘swells,'” he says of the company he keeps. “Everyone’s a person. And I enjoy being at Lunch Break or the primary school as much as at these events. I try to mix it all together.”
He said he hopes to convince Prince Emmanuel-Philibert to swing by Red Bank when he visits the United States later this year. “He’s quite a good guy,” Menna says, noting the prince’s activism in Alpine environmental issues and his status as a world-class skier.
The Order of Danilo award was given him, Menna says, for legal assistance he provided, along with human rights attorneys and others in the New York area, as part of Montenegro’s petition for recognition by the United Nations last summer. The country separated itself from the remaining states of the former Yugoslavia last May, and a month later became the U.N.’s 192nd member state.
John Leopoldo Fiorillo, a New York attorney and longtime Menna friend who was also invested in the Danilo order last week, says the mayor has been helpful has been helpful to the new Montenegrin delegation in finding its way around Manhattan. Menna, he says, is “very reliable.”
Menna’s never been to Montenegro, but explains his willingness to help thusly: “They’re across the lake from where I was born,” he says, referring to the Adriatic Sea.