Of Course, Its The Government Of San Marino
From The Oldest Republic In The World, To America's Largest (And Most Blighted) Township
In the realm of international affairs, the Town of Hempstead, long a protectorate of its own political fiefdoms, rarely finds itself home to the consulates of nation-states.
Or so you thought.
In reality, Hempstead Town is home to the official consulate of San Marino.
No, not Sam Marino, GOP Committeeman on the payroll at Hempstead Town Hall, even after his untimely death in 1962.
San Marino, which, technically, calls itself the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, houses its official consolute in, of all places, the somewhat less serene venue of Elmont.
Yes, Elmont. Not a Republic, though virtually all of its elected officials are Republicans.
According to Wikipedia, "the politics of San Marino takes place in a framework of a parliamentary representative democratic republic, whereby the Captains Regent are the heads of state. . ."
Wow! Captains Regent. Bet Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray would like that title.
Then again, Hempstead Town is not so much of a democratic republic. More like an autocratic dictatorship. But we digress.
Back to Elmont, where consular functions are performed by a gentle man born in Brooklyn, 74 years of age, assisted by a secretary -- his next door neighbor, Linda Weinstein.
We never know there were Jews in San Marino.
This micro nation of some 30,000 inhabitants has a Militia, an orchestra, and even a university.
Wonder whether they have special taxing districts for lighting, sanitation, and water? Nah, that's apparently a purely American idea, reserved for local governments.
Do you think the single family house that is home to the consulate of San Marino is exempt from property taxes?
Is there an accessory apartment for rent in there, and if so, would a renter in occupancy, considered to be on foreign soil, be an ex patriot, immune from his or her obligations to the government of the United States, or (gasp!), those of the Town of Hempstead?
Roberto Balsimelli, the General Consul in residence in Elmont, tells Newsday that, to date, no one has sought asylum at the Lehrer Avenue home.
Roberto, the day is young. And this is, after all, Hempstead Town. Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
Oh, and about those Captains Regent. It seems that, in San Marino, every 6 months, the Council elects two Captains Regent to be the heads of state. The Regents are chosen from opposing parties so they can keep an eye on each other.
Come to think of it, we don't think Kate Murray would like that at all.
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In Elmont home tiny republic's consul reigns
BY REID J. EPSTEIN
Roberto Balsimelli's Elmont home is the only one on Lehrer Avenue that's technically foreign territory. "You have now left the United States," Balsimelli's assistant, Linda Weinstein, says from inside the side door to the house, just past the sign declaring No. 186 to be the Consulate General of the Republic of San Marino in New York. As consulates go, it is a small one, just a small attached office on the north side of the house. But as foreign territory, it is not subject to American law. Balsimelli said he's yet to have anyone seek asylum. "The Nassau cops, they offered me a 24-hour patrol," he said. "I said, 'You guys are crazy. My neighbors are going to kill me if you have an officer here 24 hours a day.' "
Balsimelli, 74, is the New York-area representative of the Most Serene Republic of San Marino, a speck of a nation surrounded by Italy that is one-third the size of Washington, D.C., and has a population less than Elmont's. The Elmont San Marino consulate is hardly the only technically foreign office on Long Island. Italy has a consulate in Glen Cove, and El Salvador has one in Brentwood. But while most other nations locate their primary New York consulates at fancy Manhattan addresses - Italy and El Salvador also have Park Avenue offices - Balsimelli works on Long Island because that's where his people are. Most of the estimated 700 Sammarinese families in the tristate area live on Long Island, he said, and important functions take place in Nassau: There's a July Fourth cookout and boccie tournament planned at Lido Beach and an annual February dinner honoring the Fratellanza (Italian for brotherhood), the group of Sammarinese living in the region.
Balsimelli's office looks like a museum corner dedicated to San Marino. Old maps and photos of San Marino adorn the walls, and photos of the nation's political leaders sit atop a mantel next to snapshots of Balsimelli with former New York City Mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. There is also a certificate commemorating Balsimelli's bowling high score. "I've had three perfect games," he said.
San Marino, which sits between Florence and Italy's Adriatic coast, traces its history to the year 301, when a stonecutter named Marinus the Dalmatian hid there to escape the anti-Christian Roman emperor Diocletian. It boasts the world's oldest constitution - adopted in 1600 - still in existence.
"It is the oldest republic in the world," Balsimelli said. "I would consider it the most neutral republic in the world - it's never been at war." Balsimelli was born to Sammarinese parents in Brooklyn in 1935, and his family returned to San Marino before World War II. He was sent back to New York by his father when it was time to get a job. His first job was delivering cases of wine to local stores, though he came to work in a machine shop and eventually opened his own machine shops in Farmingdale and Deer Park.
Now he runs San Marino's New York office on top of duties as president of the Fratellanza. Though Balsimelli is not paid by San Marino, its foreign ministry covers his office expenses and Weinstein's salary. Balsimelli also publishes a bilingual quarterly newspaper for the San Marino diaspora - the official language is Italian - and organizes events at the group's Astoria headquarters.
Along with Weinstein, who commutes from her house next door, Balsimelli handles all the perfunctory duties of a consul general. He approves passports and helps to plan visits to New York for Sammarinese dignitaries. But most of his official work is spent on genealogic research, hunting down descendants of immigrants and inviting them to apply for Sammarinese citizenship. "The youth - one of the biggest problems is to try to wake them up and do some documentation," he said. "They need to stay San Marino citizens. . . . It will be better for San Marino to keep this heritage when in a foreign country. You never know. Maybe it's a person who can resolve your troubles. To lose that, to lose touch with the San Marino people, to me that is bad."
Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.