When a resident of the Patchogue Homes condominiums in Howard Beach, Queens, had a heart attack in his bathtub, Bernard Speranza raced to call EMS. As the take-charge superintendent of the development’s 150 units, Speranza helped save the man’s life.
For 37 years, Speranza has been a hero to occupants of the complex’s two buildings. On snowy days, he rises as early as 3 a.m. to make sure that sidewalks are clean when residents head to work. When elevators are stuck, he quickly rescues passengers. For this superintendent, the best part of his job is “keeping the building in A-1 condition and helping people out.”
Whenever possible, Speranza performs electrical and plumbing repairs himself. “If I could save the building money by not calling a contractor, I’ll do it,” he says, adding that if he does the job, tenants aren’t inconvenienced by having to wait around for a repairman to show up.
Being a superintendent is challenging. Sometimes Speranza is awakened by emergency calls in the middle of the night, usually about plumbing crises, like leaks and floods. But coming from a family of superintendents-Speranza’s two older brothers worked in the field and his brother, Sonny, helped launch his career-he brushes off these inconveniences. “It keeps me busy,” he says.
Born and raised in Bensonhurst, Speranza began learning his trade as a child. He went on the job with his father, a master painter of projects like the Coney Island Wonder Wheel and the Waldorf-Astoria, and became a skilled painter himself. In 1967, he married Marie Smith, and the couple soon moved to the Princeton co-op building in Howard Beach, where Speranza served as superintendent for three years.
In 1969, Speranza joined 32BJ, the local affiliate of the Service Employees International Union, and served as a shop steward in the ’70s and ’80s. As steward, Speranza was a troubleshooter for all of the local union’s building maintenance workers. “If a super or a porter had a problem, they would come to me and I would go by the union book. If necessary, I’d go with them to arbitration.”
At Patchogue, Speranza is a kind, yet firm, boss to two workers. “I get along with everyone. My men know my rules and abide by them.” And tenants view him as a trusted friend, leaving him keys when they go away. His wife says children adore him. “He played Santa Claus in the hallway,” Smith said of the grandfather of three.
Three months ago, Speranza fell ill. He and his wife are church-going Catholics, and Speranza’s faith sustains him as he recovers. “The good Lord can help me,” he said.
In the family tradition, Speranza trained his sons in building maintenance from age 11. One son is a public school custodian and part-time contractor. The older son, a plumber, plans to replace his father when he retires in the next year or two.
But Speranza, 65, doesn’t plan on following his brothers to Florida.
“I went there, and it was too quiet and hot,” he said. “I like the action here in New York.”
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