For the past forty years, Robert “Bob” Fonti has been a force in local politics, government and business affairs. The Brooklyn-born Long Islander has roots here and is adept at effecting change in the name of good government and a thriving business community.
Fonti dabbled in politics in the early 1980s, volunteering for governor. Mario Cuomo, the first Italian-American governor of New York. After the campaign, he will serve in the lieutenant governor’s office while helping organize grassroots political movements.
As a Huntington resident, Fonti helped lead the campaigns of various public figures at the town, county, state and federal levels. His keen insight into the needs of the people of Long Island enabled Fonti to influence policy and elect leaders who helped shape Long Island as we know it.
“I have the opportunity to help make history by electing the first Italian-American governor by doing something that has never been done before,” Fonti said. “Trying to get the best leaders possible, regardless of political affiliation, is something I’ve really done throughout my career.” Fonti also played a major role in the local election of Kathy Hochul, the state’s first female governor.
Fontey’s career in politics was only a few years old, and he was already well-known and began his career in real estate and land use. With a strong network of policymakers, political leaders and the business community, Fonti has achieved almost immediate success in this arena.
By 1989, Fonti was named one of “New York’s Top Property Managers” New York Habitat Magazine. He would go on to expand the company’s reach throughout the 1990s. During this time, the Long Island real estate market continued to evolve.
By 1994, Fonti’s firm had a solid management portfolio that included the management of 6 million square feet of retail and commercial real estate and more than 2,300 condominiums.
For the past two decades, Fonti has also held an advisory role. Given the complex landscape of the Long Island real estate market, Fonti helps ensure business owners can get their hands dirty, get their projects off the ground and begin to benefit Long Islanders.
While many know Fonti in politics and real estate, he’s also notable in the advocacy and nonprofit worlds. Fonti serves on several committees and is co-chair of the Suffolk County Chamber of Commerce Alliance, an organization that advocates for the growth of collective business communities on Long Island.
“It’s important to develop strong intergovernmental relationships and partnerships,” he said. “I recently traveled to Nassau County to stand with County Executive Bruce Blackman and help launch the ‘Shop Local’ initiative. It has always been my goal to cross county lines and navigate political lines to improve all of Long Island’s business communities. I The idea is to drive 10 cars first, work with local stakeholders, communicate and collaborate. All politics and business are local.”
He is also the co-founder and former co-chair of Vision Long Island and is the Suffolk County Chairman of the Long Island Business Council. These two organizations have been important forces driving the growth of downtown Long Island. Vision Long Island and the Long Island Business Council host summits throughout the year that bring business leaders and the island’s most prominent decision makers together to discuss the future of Long Island’s economy.
“I’ve always centered my business around the island,” he said. “You can’t get into Suffolk County without going through Nassau County. The regional approach and connections to our partners in Nassau County help us address the needs of many rather than one. We all share responsibility , share the burden of small business, so I think we should work together.
“From our main streets, to our town and village halls, to our elected officials in Albany, investing in our downtown means building partnerships and relationships with one another,” he continued. “I believe the keys to future economic prosperity on Long Island are the ‘three Cs’: connection, communication and collaboration. In my opinion, a unified business community puts us all in the same lifeboat.”
It’s clear that Fonti believes that Long Island’s economic future is bright if our business community makes the right investments now to prepare our island for the future. Fonti highlighted the work that can be done in emerging markets, which will foster opportunities in the future.
“I encourage the business people around me to think and create business diversity and embrace emerging markets. In this case, less is more; instead, it’s better to look at the millennial, Gen X demographic,” he said. “Our roundtable of business leaders should focus on these populations, and their needs. Thinking more broadly will help bring opportunity to Long Island and lead to effective outcomes.” Fonti noted one of the most important public-private partnership opportunities on Long Island An example is the creative collaboration at Midway Crossings at the Ronkonkoma Hub. “This transformative project will be a game-changer for Suffolk County and the island,” Fonti said.
Fonti is also a commissioner with the Huntington Housing Authority, a position he has held for the past 22 years. Fonti’s approach in this role has helped drive the town forward, especially by facilitating discussions and dialogue outside the courtroom. Fonti has earned a reputation as a problem solver at the boardroom table through his equally important conversations with the community and with the movers and enablers who seek to bring progress to Huntington.
“Problem solving is critical when doing business on Long Island, and being innovative and forward thinking has always helped me foster partnerships,” he said. “While I’ve always kept my finger on the pulse of our community, I’ve been able to address doubts and find solutions to problems that sometimes persist for 20 years or more.”
Outside of regional practice areas, Fonti is actively involved in the area’s vibrant Italian-American community. He is the vice chairman of the Italian American Political Action Committee in New York and the Lt. Detective Joseph Petrosino Association of America.
Both organizations have been at the forefront of addressing issues facing Italian-American communities on Long Island and New York State, and have been instrumental in the fight to preserve the heritage and history of Italian communities.
For Fonti, Lt. Detective Joseph Petrosino Association is one of his most passionate passions. Named for a heroic NYPD officer who died in the line of duty while infiltrating organized crime, the group has gained national acclaim.
“We must always remember those who served and still serve, whether they wore their badges, wore their uniform, or committed themselves to helping the community from the bottom up,” he said. “We salute all of them and thank Their commitment and contribution. The largest voting group in New York State is Italian-American. You were Italian-American before we were Democrats or Republicans. We engage with other ethnic communities, build bridges, and issue unity voice. When we give each other the opportunity to be heard, we are united more than what divides us.”
Fonti leads by example in building a thriving Long Island community—socially, economically and fraternally.
Todd Shapiro is an award-winning publicist and associate publisher Dan’s paper.