Thursday, August 31, 2006

Our Condolences to The Family of Mary Cianci

Northeast Times eulogizes Tacony Town Watch founder.

Residents of Tacony and the entire Northeast lost a relentless neighborhood safety advocate last weekend when local Town Watch icon Mary Cianci died after a long battle with illness.

Cianci, 72, died at about 9 p.m. on Saturday.

She co-founded the Tacony Town Watch with her late husband, Anthony Cianci, in 1982. The group flourished and helped many other Town Watch groups get off the ground, both in the Northeast and outside the city. At the time, the Town Watch program wasn’t officially endorsed by the police department on a citywide scale.

Eventually, the number of active Town Watch groups in Cianci’s home 15th Police District rose to 60. Cianci became the Town Watch liaison for the district as well as treasurer of the 15th Police District Advisory Council.

She was a leading organizer of that organization’s annual parade and festival in conjunction with National Night Out, the annual event that fosters anti-crime awareness across the country.

"Anybody who knew Mary knew how dedicated she was to Town Watch, not just Tacony but the whole fifteenth district," said Angel Hartman, Mary’s daughter and the current president of the Tacony Town Watch.

Hartman has also followed in her mom’s footsteps as the district’s Town Watch liaison and served as an official Town Watch trainer and recruiter before stepping down from that full-time role to raise her family.

Hartman’s best recollections of her mom as a public safety advocate are how she would fearlessly confront troublemakers on their own turf, despite her own diminutive physical stature.

Even before the official Tacony Town Watch existed, Cianci — who lived in the neighborhood throughout her married life — began responding to graffiti, drug and crime problems in her area. Neighborhood kids had formed a gang and were causing all sorts of problems.

Cianci cut and colored her hair and donned baggy pants and gold chains, intent on getting the inside scoop on the youths.

"She said, ‘I’m going undercover,’" Hartman recalled. "She wanted to learn about the kids, to be one of them, to learn why they’re out on the street, why they vandalize and why they feel like they’re being misunderstood."

Years later, in December 2004, when District Attorney Lynne Abraham, the 15th Police District and members of the advisory council presented her with a distinguished service award, Mary Cianci said proudly: "We wanted to break them up because they would be fighting, stealing things and, mostly, doing graffiti. They were good kids but they were restless. There was no place for them to go, nothing for them to do.

"We cleaned that up in about six months by going there, talking to them and becoming one of them. To understand them, you have to be one of them. Then you can help to change them."

Cianci also demonstrated defiance for drug activity at the Whitehall public housing project and on local corners. Cianci wasn’t afraid to turn in bad guys, and she was able to convince many residents to follow her lead.

"Today, people are too scared (to get involved)," Angel Hartman said. "Mom, we called her the ‘little big mouth.’ All the people she stood up against, they respected her."

Cianci got her own children involved, too. In addition to Hartman, she is survived by daughters Deborah Price and Andria Carey; stepson Anthony Cianci Jr.; and nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"She made me do this when I was thirteen," Hartman recalled of her own community service. "We were always proud to say we were Mary’s daughters."

A private family viewing will be held at the Walter J. Meyers Funeral Home, 6643 Torresdale Ave., from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. A public viewing will be on Friday, Sept. 1, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at the Tacony Baptist Church, Disston and Hegerman streets, with a service to follow.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Tacony Town Watch Inc., c/o Citizens Bank Tacony, 6958 Torresdale Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19135.

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