‘Quiet Man Who Got Things Done’
Mourn Tom Diana, Top TA Official, MEA Co-Founder
By RICHARD STEIER
Jul 10, 2017 Updated 18 hrs ago
Thomas Diana, a second-generation civic activist who played important roles at the Transit Authority and the Managerial Employees’ Association while also heavily involved in a number of charities, died July 1 at age 83.
Funeral services were held July 7 at Our Lady of the Snows Roman Catholic Church in Glen Oaks, Queens, near his home in the borough.
‘Respected by Everyone’
“He was respected and admired by everybody,” said Richard Wagner, the former president of Communications Workers of America Local 1183 representing Board of Elections Workers, who knew Mr. Diana primarily through their long service with the Municipal Credit Union.
“He was a quiet man, but he got things done.”
Along with his father, the late Raymond Diana, Thomas Diana played a crucial role in both the founding in 1969 of the MEA and its development as a group that advocates on behalf of managerial employees of the city but is prohibited from formally bargaining for them. Both were also strong champions of the merit system in the hiring and promotion of municipal employees. Daniel T. Scannell a top TA official during the 1970s and early 1980s, once described Thomas as “the distinguished son of a distinguished father.”
Stu Eber, the president of the MEA, remarked July 7, “There wouldn’t be an MEA without Tom Diana. He had a vision for all managers at all agencies at all levels to have a voice on common issues.”
Thomas Diana early in his career held union office as the TA chapter chair of the Civil Service Technical Guild. An Assistant Architect, he was forced to relinquish that position when he was promoted into management. By the early 1980s, he had become the TA’s Executive Assistant to the Executive Officer for Construction Administration, handling the office’s management information computer system, labor and personnel duties and the agency’s capital construction program.
Design Shoe After ‘Sandy’
Mr. Wagner said that neither the title nor the duties offered a full measure of Mr. Diana’s talents. Late in his career, he designed Livingston Plaza in Brooklyn, one of the headquarters for what today is New York City Transit. When its main offices at 2 Broadway in lower Manhattan were badly damaged five years ago by Superstorm Sandy, Livingston Plaza filled the void, Mr. Wagner said, largely because Mr. Diana’s design had “put in the necessary tunnels in the floors” to ensure that it was operable despite the storm’s impact.
Mr. Diana was a Deputy Vice President of the transit system by the time he retired in 1991.
In addition to a lengthy tenure as chairman of the MCU—leading, the organization noted in a tribute following his death, to his induction last month into the New York Credit Union Hall of Fame—he also was involved in a wide variety of charities.
While still working as an Assistant Architect in his late 20s, in 1963 he founded the Employees’ Charities Fund, eventually arranging for city workers to make charitable contributions through payroll deductions. He was particularly involved with the March of Dimes, the Police Athletic League, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and United Cerebral Palsy, whose work especially engaged him because his brother had suffered from the disease. His son, also named Thomas, noted that he launched the New York City Transit Construction Luncheon, which annually raises more than $500,000 for the March of Dimes.
Mr. Diana was also a co-founder and past president of the National Council of Columbia Associations in Civil Service.
Active in Politics, Too
And, like his father, he was active in Democratic Party politics for much of his career, supporting Robert F. Wagner Jr. for Mayor and Bobby Kennedy for U.S. Senator. He crossed party lines to support Republican Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s re-election, but later backed two of the state’s best-remembered Democratic Governors, Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo.
A graduate of Grover Cleveland H.S. in Queens, he got his architecture certificate from Pratt Institute. During a 1982 interview with this newspaper, Mr. Diana humorously credited Harry Bronstein, a top budget and personnel official in several mayoral administrations, for spurring the creation of the MEA. “He fought giving managers any status,” Mr. Diana explained. “Harry forced managers in the city to band together.”
All three of his children followed him into city government: his daughter Mary Rose is a retired Teacher, his son Thomas is a manager with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and his son Richard is a Police Officer and a board member of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Mr. Diana is also survived by his wife, Patricia.
“He was very concerned with people,” Mr. Wagner said in a July 7 phone interview. “When he was introduced to a problem, he tried to figure it out and help people.”