T o be a mobster in New York is to be a celebrity. Mafiosi are the psychopaths with a fan base. And vile as their actions have sometimes been, it has to be said that as dramatis personae, they’ve rarely disappointed. This past season has been especially fine, with a cast and plot turns that Sopranos creator David Chase must have envied. New characters included John Gotti Sr.’s buxom former mistress, who played against his tough, unflappable, somehow tragic wife. Then there was his 19-year-old love child, who looks just like him and seems to be just as tough. Plus there was the victim, Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels and right-leaning radio-talk-show host, the sort of person whom a lot of people may have wanted to whack. But the best plot line was father and son. “My father, he was the consummate tough guy,” Junior told the Daily News. “If he saw [his lawyer] shake hands with prosecutors . . . he’d say, ‘You do that again and I’ll throw you off this building.’ ” But Junior, according to Junior, was different. This was, in fact, his startling defense: Junior wanted out.
At his trial, prosecutors offered the jury a nostalgic view of Junior. Dad’s son, they said, was just like Dad. He ranted that he wanted to bludgeon his relatives “with padlocks and chains” after learning he’d been demoted. It was a verbal flourish in the family tradition—Gotti Sr. once told his lawyer he wanted a witness “motherfucked.” Junior admitted he’d once been a tough guy—indeed, the jury was convinced he’d ordered an attack on Sliwa—which had filled Dad with pride. But then in the late nineties (conveniently putting his crimes out of reach by virtue of the statute of limitations), he changed. His urban-professional longings won out. He was said to enjoy racquetball, and, like any contemporary dad, put parenting first. He has six kids. What he desired as much as anything was to coach Pee Wee football, he said. Junior seemed to share the suburban sensibilities of Tony Soprano—the home in Long Island with pool (and horse barn). But unlike T, Junior talked about wanting to go back to school. He had, he said, a real interest in child psychology. “I’m different than my father,” he said. “My children are my life.”
And his father? “I know my father loved me, but I got to question how much, to put me with all these wolves,” Junior admitted. “My father couldn’t have loved me, to push me into this life.” You can’t make this stuff up.