The Brooklyn-born-and-raised Vincent Charles Finizia has fond memories working summers as a busboy and waiter at Jewish hotels in the Sullivan County Catskills.
He was the only Catholic waiter at a particular hotel. One day the owner, Itzy, came over and asked Bernie, the maitre d' - "without any disrespect," Finizia, says - "We have a goyem today?"
"Don't worry about Vinnie," Bernie said. "He's a hard worker and very respectful."
The owner then gathered all the waiters together and instructed them not to pick up or serve any meals until the cantor finished singing.
"Guys would sneak into kitchen and run out with plates of food when the cantor was done so their customers would not be waiting," Finizia said.
When the cantor started singing, and all the other waiters slipped into the kitchen. But Finizia held off. The owner lined up the waiters and singled Vinnie out.
"You - get the food first," he said.
So Finizia got to serve his tables first, while everyone else looked on.
"Culturally in a lot of ways we're all the same," Finizia said. "Even though I was Catholic, they still tried to get me to marry their daughters.
"It was a wonderful place with very generous people. I came home with a lot of money which helped me with my college tuition."
Finizia attended Canarsie High School and received his undergraduate degree at City College and later, an MBA from Baruch. He moved to Chester in January 2007. Today, Sullivan County is one of the territories he covers in his job, a New York State property adjuster.
"I go out and adjust claims for people who have fire, floods, wind, hail," he said. "I pass the hotels and remember the memories."
He didn't handle the claim for the recent Whispering Hills fire, but was there as a fireman. He is a member of the Chester Fire Police and President of the Chester Fire Department. Now, he is the newest member of the Chester town board, appointed by Supervisor Robert Valentine to fill a vacancy.
What motivates him most?
"Transparency," he said. "Supervisor Valentine put me on because of my belief in transparency."
'A passion to help people'
Finizia served on the Zoning Board of Appeals for about eight years and was chair for much of that time, before he was tapped for the town board. As a town councilman, his goals are "to really work on the budget. I truly hope to save tax dollars. I know how to read a budget."
He said he is able to read information quickly and come to a determination.
"I have a passion to help people, it's who I am and who my character is," he said.
Finizia, a Democrat, ran for the Chester town board twice, and lost both times.
"I wanted to get on the town board because I felt there wasn't a system of checks and balances," he said. "There were only Republicans and Conservatives. I believe government works in a system of checks and balances. I felt prior boards were just rubber-stamping everything. I was also concerned that the slate would be empty for other parties."
He said he was influenced and inspired by "the lovely Patricia O'Dwyer."
O'Dwyer, who died in May 2018, was a renown civil rights attorney and an important figure Democratic politics, serving as Town of Goshen supervisor and candidate for the New York State Assembly and Orange County Executive.
"I miss her terribly," Finizia said. "She was a mentor. Pat loved everybody and wanted to see everybody get a fair share and be dealt with [with] respect, kindness and dignity.
"Another mentor, and I consider him a friend and one of the most decent men I know, is Orange County Sheriff Carl DeBois. Carl was the one who always said any political system needs checks and balances."
In his spare time, Finizia likes to read, fish, and play golf. He and his wife, Geraldine, have one son, Vincent, who recently married and lives with his wife, Lauren, in New Jersey.
Finizia said he's very happy to finally be serving on the Chester town board. He said DeBois had advised him: "Try to get on and do what you do."