Tuesday, September 07, 2010

I Am Roger Manno and This is My Story

District 19 Senate challenger Roger Manno has released this essay to respond to Senator Mike Lenett's attack website.


I was born in California in 1966 during a turbulent period of war in Vietnam and the civil rights movement. My dad, John Manno, was a sculptor and carpenter. My mom, Beatrice Scheinbaum, was a student studying for her doctorate in psychology. We didn't have money, but we were a happy family. We moved to Manhattan in 1971 to be closer to family. We didn't have health insurance when my Dad had a heart attack. He ended up in St. Vincent's Hospital for several months.

During that period, I was diagnosed with an arterial defect and scheduled for emergency open-heart surgery at a teaching hospital. My mom was completely distraught, but we had the fortune to find a local doctor to treat me without surgery and without charging us a cent. The day that my dad was released, he had a massive heart attack and died. He was 50 – I was not quite 7. Dad's death left my beautiful young mother and me in a place in life that is extremely difficult to speak about even to this day.

For nearly a year after my Dad's death, my Uncle Basil began to fill that void in my life. He took me fishing, for long walks, and helped me to heal. Then one night, less than a year after my Dad's death, my uncle died unexpectedly from internal bleeding. He was 49 – I was 7.

Mom was scared and alone to fend for herself and her young child in a world that can be very unforgiving. When I was about 8, Mom remarried. But before long, her new husband became extremely abusive, both verbally and physically. Fights and police calls became a regular occurrence in our home. I remember a night he had my mother pinned to the floor and was punching her face. When I jumped on his back with my little arms around his neck, he flipped me over and punched me in the face – knocking me clear across the room. I remember being covered in blood and shaking from shock for hours.

That marriage, which I have chosen to forget, lasted less than 3 years. On so many occasions, Mom tried to get away. And each time I cried because despite the abuse, I had just lost Dad and my Uncle Basil and I didn't want to lose another Dad. I remember the day Mom finally filed for divorce. I decided I would never take abuse from anyone again.

At about 10 years old, I was an extremely sad and broken little boy. I began running around the streets of New York and getting into trouble. Mom tried to control me, and I regret every day of the hell that I put her through.

At about 12 years old, I ran away from home. Mom heard of a young man who ran a local youth program who had the reputation of saving young souls: John Pettinato. When John finally found me, I was in rough shape. Every few days, he would show up. Gradually, I began to trust him and he took me under his wing.

Soon I entered a group home in upstate New York. I remember thinking that as bad as it was, it was better than the streets of New York. When I returned to New York, John continued to look out for me. He became the Dad I never really had. A few years later he married my Mom and adopted me as his son.

As a kid, I saw friends killed in the streets. I was shot at several times and an older teenager held a gun to my head with one bullet put randomly in the chamber and pulled the trigger. At age 14, I was stabbed and nearly died from blood loss. I am extremely lucky to be alive.

Later that same year my life finally started to turn around. I met my wife, Marge. I got a job bussing tables and I found the only thing in life that had ever given me peace and solace: art. I was drawn to New York’s vibrant music and eclectic art scene. In fact, several friends and classmates came out of that scene and made it very big as musicians, sculptors, and actors. For the most part, their art reflected the realities and challenges of New York life and carried a deep social and moralistic message which really sunk in. When I got older, a man I knew from the youth center – we used to call him “The Judge” – took me under his wing. He was a judge in Juvenile Court and it’s because of him that I got my law degree.

I started working in schools with severely challenged kids who were living many of the horrors that I had lived. Then I was selected to be a White House Intern. I went through a vigorous Secret Service background check – the first of many security checks in my career. Since then, I’ve worked as a Counsel and Legislative Director for members of Congress, worked for the Gore campaign and yes – even ran for office.

And although my Mom is Jewish and my Dad was an atheist, I was born “Rajah Manno.” (I often think that, being born in California in the 1960’s I’m lucky I wasn’t named “Flower.”) When my step-father adopted me, I took his last name “Pettinato” as my middle name. When my Uncle Morty changed his name to “Joel,” I decided to change my name to “Roger” – which I had often been called throughout life, and which I always liked. Looking back, I’m proud of the life that my wife and I have built. I have had it tougher than most, but I have persevered and we love each other. It’s because of this life – the people I’ve seen hurt, the horrors and triumphs, and the challenges I overcame – that I fight so hard for people I represent.

That’s my story. It’s not a secret. Mike Lenett knows my history; he’s researched it thoroughly, including extensive research on my loved ones. Yet Mike Lenett chose to take that story and twist it into something unrecognizable. That’s the Mike Lenett we’ve come to know in Annapolis. It’s why we need a new State Senator, and it’s why a great number of leaders from our community have asked me to step up.