Christopher Mega, a former Republican state senator and assemblymen whose prolific career, work ethic and omnipresence at community events transformed the way Bay Ridge politicians did business, died on Sunday after a long illness. He was 80.
The Borough Park native served in the assembly in the mid-1970s, and was later elected to the state senate — but lost his first re-election campaign by just 300 votes to Democrat Joe Montalto. But the loss changed Mega for the better.
“He never stopped running,” Montalto remembered. “I would go to a community meeting, and he’d be at that community meeting. I’d send out a mailer, and he’d send out a mailer. He didn’t give up.”
The doggedness paid off for Mega, who beat Montalto and then won re-election. He also became chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, where, in the early-1990s, he worked to expand state prisons to accommodate the huge influx of inmates convicted on crack-related charges. He also was an advocate for tougher sentences for convicted sex offenders.
He helped bring pre-kindergarten programs to his district and sponsored the bill that required restaurants to display posters showing Heimlich maneuver instructions in their eateries.
Mega was appointed judge on the Court of Claims in 1993, where he served until stepping down in 1998 to run one last time against then state Sen. Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) for his old senate seat. The move drew criticism because he would have been paid his pension as a judge and former state senator, in addition to his full salary, were he elected. But he lost that election to Gentile, presently the neighborhood’s councilman, who remembered the race, and Mega, fondly.
“It was an epic battle,” said Gentile. “We may not have agreed on certain issues, but I respected him for his principles that he stood by. He was a good advocate for the community.”
Mega graduated from Fort Hamilton HS, then studied at St. Francis College and Brooklyn Law School.
His first job was as an attorney at a Fifth Avenue law firm, where he was partner. In 1973, he ran for an open assembly seat during a special election, a seat he held until 1978, when he ran — and won — his first senate seat, which at that time covered much of southern Brooklyn.
But he was most remembered for his omnipresence — sometimes attending five community events a night.
“He told me one thing,” remembered state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), “ ‘People want to see you, to be a part of you, and to know that you’re going to respond to their needs.’ ”
Mega, who suffered from dementia, died surrounded by family at his home in Saratoga Springs, NY.
He is survived by his wife, Madelyn; his two sons, Chris and Jeffery; and his two daughters, Valerie and Jackie.
The funeral will be at St. Ephrem’s Church [929 Bay Ridge Pkwy. between 10th Avenue and Fort Hamilton Parkway in Bay Ridge, (718) 883-1010], Nov. 5, 9:30 am.