Belmont could always count on Community Affairs Police Officer Anthony DiGiovanna to help solve problems.
The 48th Precinct cop died while on the job Nov. 15th last year after crashing his car while suffering a heart attack.
DiGiovanna, an 18-year veteran popularly known as Tony the Cop, was 45.
The anniversary of his death was marked this week with a street renaming for DiGiovanna at 186th Street and Arthur Ave.
Neighbors packed the bustling shopping hub to join the DiGiovanna family and the 48th Precinct cops for the unveiling of The Police Officer Anthony DiGiovanna Way.
“Your father – your husband’s name is on this street corner because he made a difference,” said Police Benevolent Association president Pat Lynch, speaking directly to DiGiovanna’s widow Joanna and daughters Jessica, Rebecca, Sabrina and Melissa, wearing her father’s NYPD hat.
“To show that sign to my daughters and my grandchildren someday is such an honor,” said Joanna, who knew her husband ever since they were kids in Queens during the 1980s.
The pair became high school sweethearts, eventually marrying and settling in Smithtown, Long Island. They were together for 24 years.
Community Board 6 proposed the street renaming, urging Councilman Joel Rivera to push it through the Council. “Eighteen years of service is eighteen years of debt,” said Rivera.
DiGiovanna joined the force in 1993. Eight years later, he would be one of hundreds racing toward the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, fighting a fever that initially kept him home. “I begged him not to go,” said Joanna. “He said if anything ever happened to his partner or co-workers, he couldn’t live with himself.”
DiGiovanna stuck it out during the recovery efforts at Ground Zero, sifting through the debris.
But his commitment had an unintended consequence – a two-year bout with respiratory cancer from which he evenutally recovered.
Returning to active duty, DiGiovanna transferred to the Four-Eight Precinct’s Community Affairs Unit in 2004, where he met his partner Melanie Kujawinski, who broke him in.
“He was a natural,”said Kujawinski, recalling DiGiovanna’s amiable approach with neighbors.
His Italian background fit right in with the Avenue’s Italian natives, speaking their language.
Kujawinski remembered DiGiovanna’s best work during neighborhood events like the annual National Night Out Against Crime, encouraging young people to take part.
And his death left a hole in her own professional life so big she retired six months after he passed.
“It definitely was not the same in that office,” she said sadly.
Pockets of DiGiovanna’s presence still echo in the community. Frank Franz, head of the Belmont Business Improvement District, noted locals can still hear DiGiovanna’s voice on the Community Affairs voicemail.
David Cruz can be reach via e-mail at DCruz@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 742-3383