Maria Bartiromo anchors three different shows on the Fox Business Network and Fox News Channel and was the first TV reporter to broadcast live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. She doesn’t come from the world of CEOs, however. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, she was a kid growing up in Dyker Heights and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where she worked the coat check at her father’s restaurant and catering hall, The Rex Manor. Her whole family pitched in there, including her mother, who also had a job at the local OTB (Off-Track Betting). In that world of hard work, family, and sacrifice, what did Maria learn that would help her break through the doors of the Stock Exchange? What lessons she absorbed from her family and hometown remain with the Maria we see in the world of cable news today?
"I did have a certain toughness, I think. Knowing that coming from Brooklyn and having to make my own way, and doing that by working hard, going to NYU, just being a New Yorker, I did have a little toughness and strength and confidence in me. "
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Joey Ramone – “Maria Bartiromo” (2002)
Frankie Valli – “My Eyes Adored You” (1974)
Bing Crosby – “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” (1932)
Donna Summer – “Last Dance” (1977)
“Maria Bartiromo, Anchor & Global Markets Editor, Fox Business Network, Rings The Opening Bell” (at the New York Stock Exchange) (2020)
“CNBC on Sept. 11 (Fixed Broadcast) 8:34 AM – 11:25 AM” (2016)
from CNBC on Sept. 11 (Fixed Broadcast) 8:34 AM – 11:25 AM
“Mr. Softee Theme” (2011)
Illustrations – Nick Gregg
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Part 52, Leaves of Grass (1855)
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood.
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
Emily Burnham and Caley Cronin
A special thanks, too, to our co-presenter on this special New York City feature series, the Museum of the City of New York.
8: Maria Bartiromo – Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
May 11, 2021
Intro: Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration): This episode is part of a special feature series on New York City and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York, with generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Find us at yourhometown.org or on your favorite podcast app.
Maria Bartiromo: I watched the second plane come and go into the second building. Then the buildings go in and they start collapsing. All of a sudden you saw in the air all of the debris. You had to close your eyes because, if you opened your eyes, something was going to go in your eyes. There was stuff coming from the windows and it was all over the area. That’s when I ran for my life. And for a split second, I thought to myself, this is how it ends.
Kevin (Voiceover narration): “Where did you grow up?” is a question we’re all asked a lot, but the answer is never as simple as a place on a map, is it? It’s about the kid inside of us and what happened to them there before we met the world and the world met us. I’m Kevin Burke and this is Your Hometown.
Many of you probably know my guest, Maria Bartiromo, from the TV shows that she anchors on Fox News and the Fox Business Channel — or you think you know her. Or, maybe you know her from her time covering the news each day, live from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, the first reporter ever to stand there telling us which stocks were up and which were down. As you’ll hear in this episode, the old-timers there weren’t buying her at first. She wasn’t one of them. No, she had the double whammy of being a woman and a reporter who wanted to give us a peek of what was going on down there. But she stuck it out and somehow she worked her way into the bloodstream — and not just of the investors who trade for a living, but everyday people who thought maybe they could play this game, too. Even the punk rock legend Joey Ramone of CBGB’s fame heard her so much in his head that he wrote a song about her.
[we hear Joey Ramone’s “Maria Bartiromo” (2002)]
Kevin (Voiceover narration): All of this had me wondering, why Maria Bartiromo? I mean, it’s not like she came from the world of CEOs — far from it. Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, she was a kid growing up in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, Brooklyn — which was about seven miles, but really a world away, from Wall Street. It turns out her foundation in life wasn’t ticker tape, but the coat check at her father’s restaurant, The Rex Manor. And her mother wasn’t a “lady who lunched.” She worked two jobs. And well, you’ll see, sometimes it’s the quiet parent, the one behind the counter, so to speak, who looms large. So, if that was the world Maria grew up in — their world — how did she, as a kid leading a fairly sheltered childhood that put work, family, sacrifice, saving, and work first, how did learn what she needed to learn to be able to break through the doors of the Stock Exchange not that many years later? And if we look deeper, are the things that she absorbed from them what’s inside the Maria we see now in the world of cable TV? Now, as you’ll hear, when we spoke, it was right after her morning newscast, and there was the occasional email and cell phone “bing” as a reminder of how plugged in she has to be. For me, the most natural place for us to start our exploration of Maria’s hometown wasn’t in her family’s home address in Brooklyn but their essential home: the restaurant.
Maria: The Rex Manor was really old school. It was this big building on 60th Street and 11th Avenue in Brooklyn. My grandfather founded the restaurant, built it — and by the way, he really did build it with his bare hands because he and his cousin were bricklayers in Italy. They were construction workers. [They] ran the restaurant, my grandfather Carmine and his partner Victor, and then obviously passed it on to my dad. Everybody loved him because he was such an easy-going guy. I mean, you came to the Rex [and] you could be sure he was sending you over drinks, wine, and dessert. My whole family worked there. I saw my mom as a hostess, my sister as a hostess, and my brother as a waiter. And they were all interacting. At the end of the day, we wanted the Rex to be the best place. We wanted it to be the most popular, the most delicious [place]. And so, everything we did reflected on that. We were the family behind the Rex. People knew that my dad was the owner. I had my heart there.
When you walked in the regular restaurant, it was just a small room. It was the capacity of about sixty people. And people would come. We had real regulars, loyalists coming for dinner. Then you walk through the hallway and you get to a big bar area. And the bar area was totally old school. It was a big bar. It had a pizza oven to the left and people would come have a drink at the bar and order a pizza. The windows were in the bar area and they were like six oval circles across the top of the wall. And then you keep going and you walk through the bar and you get to the catering hall. And we had two rooms, one upstairs, one downstairs. The upstairs room was the bigger room. It fit about 170 people. And then downstairs was about 120 people. I was the coat check girl and my coat check room was on the bottom floor right next to the smaller party room.
Kevin (Voiceover narration): As she was talking, I pictured all the weddings she must have worked when she was growing up. A kid in an adult world: their food, their stories, their music playing. I’m imagining Bobby Darin, Frank Sinatra, and Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.
[We hear Frankie Valli’s “My Eyes Adored You” (1974)]
Maria: We had a night on Wednesday nights — it was so cute — and it was called Parents Without Partners. And you bought a ticket for that, my mom would take the tickets. We had a singer. We had a band. It was an opportunity for anyone who was without a partner, divorced or widowed and had kids, to meet others. It was Parents Without Partners Night at the Rex.
It was really fascinating. Right off the bat as a coat check person, you recognize that you have in your possession other people’s items and you have to cherish that, respect that, and take care of that. I remember people bringing in really expensive fur coats. As a little girl, I would just be like, “Wow this is really important. I better be careful with this and I better handle it with care.” I have a sign — which I actually framed, it’s in my study in my home — and the sign says “50 cents a coat, please pay in advance.”
(we hear music.)
A lot of people would give me a dollar and I would keep the 50 cents, so I always kept track of my tips [and] how much I made. It also got me into a mindset of organizing my own little personal budget because I knew what was mine and how I could allocate my money at the end of the night. It was a certain amount of coats [and] they were 50 cents each. At the end of the night, you had a tally and the remainder was my tips that I kept.
Kevin: So thinking about a different kind of tip, which is information, I’m wondering how working that job plugged you into what was happening in your neighborhood [and] who the players were — the world of Brooklyn society.
Maria: Well, it’s interesting because I was able to hear conversations, see and listen to what people were talking about. But I think mostly, even more than understanding what was going on in the community, it forced me to be in a service position. It forced me to understand what it would take to serve a customer. And not just handling their coat and their umbrella with care, but also the niceties that go along with that: the respect, the “thank you’s”, and the “please” for the customer. My dad always put the customer first. Like I said, he would send over free stuff to people who came in. If it was your first time at the restaurant, you could expect he was going to send you dessert. That’s what work is. You are serving someone else, whether it’s someone getting your coat or your viewers of a television show, which is what I’m doing now. It was a real education in that regard.
Also, just seeing the way people dress and what they were talking about. Were they elaborate? Were they a little fancy or not? That also gave you a tone of how society and people were behaving and thinking about.
Kevin: I also imagine that you have to learn a certain way to talk to people in that job. All kinds of people [in] really important moments of their lives: weddings, funeral repasts, graduations, bar mitzvahs, baptisms.
Maria: I was able to really meet people and know them, and get to know them a little even in that night — to hear their stories about graduation and understand who was important to those people and seeing the family dynamics. Oftentimes people would engage me as well. I was a student and oftentimes what I would do is bring all my homework to the room and I would take in all the coats. And then for the couple of hours while the party was on, I was doing my homework and they would say, “Oh, what are you reading there?” I think a child learns that at home. Oftentimes they watch their parents, their family members. Here, I was forced to engage. I think that in and of itself was an incredible confidence booster.
Kevin: Given the profile of the place, where did the Rex put you in standing with your peers in the neighborhood, your friends? I imagine everyone knew the place.
Maria: Well, I wasn’t the most popular girl. I was in a group of girls in high school and I think others were more out there than I was. I was always a family girl. And I think that people knew Maria’s father owns the Rex, that’s her family business. As a young girl, we would play hide and seek. We called it Manhunt, on the block on 84th street in Dyker Heights. My dad would drive home and all the boys on the block would say, “Oh my God, Vinny’s home. Do you think he has pizza?” And sure enough, my dad would bring pizzas home for the whole block and give them out. Everybody was having pizza. So the block and the neighborhood loved my dad. Everybody thought that he was like their father because he loved his family [and] worked incredibly hard.
The only way we saw my father regularly was at the Rex because he was always working at the Rex. We had to spend all the holidays there and work together. [On] Mondays the restaurant was closed, so my dad would go on Mondays and do the books. As a girl, I remember going with him and sliding all over the floors and loving the fact that the restaurant was closed. I had my access to it. Everywhere he went, he took me with him because he was babysitting, I guess. And he had to go to the banks [and] I would wait in the car or I would go with him. Certainly, one of the most important recollections I have is doing the books with my father. He had his calculator sitting there — it was this gigantic calculator. He had this gigantic checkbook. And he was going through the books, in terms of what kind of revenue they raised that week [and] where they came out. It was all very organized. My dad had very clear penmanship, I remember, and that, too, impacted me. All of these things really impacted me and gave me an understanding. Even if I didn’t really know the difference between balance sheet versus cash flow statement as a girl — I didn’t understand any of that — I did see the organization and the care that he took with organizing what he called “the books.”
[We hear Bing Crosby’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” (1932)]
Maria: My parents are students of the Depression. My mother and father grew up — they were born in 1932 — so they grew up saving things because they remember, when they were growing up, their parents didn’t have anything and they had to save everything and eat every last morsel. And so being a student, and an observer, and a participant of the Depression, and after the Depression like my parents were, was also incredibly impactful for them, which they passed on to me. And that’s why I have always learned and known from my parents to save. Save, save, save your pennies. These were lessons that were dropped on me every day at the Rex, certainly. And also just being a young person in Brooklyn, I remember the ice cream truck used to come down the block when I was five years old.
(we hear the “Mr. Softee Theme” (2011).)
And I would say to my mom, can I get a cone? And she would say, well you can get it, but how will you pay for it? And so little by little, I started to — give me a quarter or a nickel, whatever, I’m putting it in my jar — I’m saving so that I know that when the ice cream man comes, I can buy my own cone.
My mom worked at OTB, believe or not, Off-Track Betting. I was a little girl. I was a young girl in high school. I had my Catholic school uniform on. I would take the bus from Fontbonne Hall Academy, which was my high school, to 86th street where my mom worked at OTB. I would go in and it was horrible, smoke filled. They would buzz me in the back and I would say hi to her when she was on her break. And then I would walk home because we lived right over there. She was just a few blocks from our house. My point is, is my whole life, from a very young age, I watched my dad in the kitchen with a bandana around his head, sweating, making sure the food was perfect; and my mom, working hard at OTB and then whenever my dad needed her, pitching in at the Rex as well. These were such powerful, powerful stories for me that impacted and shaped me so much.
Kevin: What was the flip side of that hard work in terms of what you couldn’t do — in terms of the opportunity cost of that really, really hard work ethic?
Maria: Well that’s the thing. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood, working incredibly hard. And I don’t think I’ve missed anything. I don’t think that it cost me anything. I think that the hard work is only proven to have been exactly what I should have been doing. I mean, sure, other families probably were together every night for dinner. We weren’t. So maybe that’s something that we gave up. There were different schedules. We had to adhere and adapt to my parents’ schedules. I know that every year my parents took us to a resort in Upstate New York, to the Catskills, and we had a week together. In retrospect, I can’t say that, well, because we worked so hard and because my family operated this restaurant and worked hard at it, we missed something. I don’t see it that way at all. I’m so grateful that I’ve had this upbringing.
Kevin: With your father’s story, was it always the plan for him to take over the restaurant from his father? I know that he wasn’t the oldest son.
Maria: I don’t think that it was a plan in place because my grandfather had other sons. There was my father, Vincent, there was Carmine, there was Pete, and then there was Angela, his sister. But they weren’t as active in the restaurant. It was clear that my dad had a knack for the restaurant business, [he] was an incredible chef. And so, he worked hardest and closest with his father. It was natural that he would take it over.
Kevin: I saw an article in the Brooklyn Eagle, this is from ‘53, I think, where your father was reported on in the Army, studying or learning to be a cook at Fort Meade in Maryland.
Maria: My dad would just go nuts right now that you just raised this. Here’s what happened: My father’s entire family served our country. And my grandfather, Carmine, came to this country – and so, the first thing that he did was leave again and go fight in World War I for the Allies. After World War I ended, he came back to America and settled in Brooklyn and then he built the restaurant. Then he had four sons. My father’s oldest son was killed in World War II in Burma. Carmine, I think that he was in World War II and he actually landed with the Allies in Omaha Beach. They called it Bloody Omaha, and he survived. He’s a real war hero. And then when my dad entered for the Korean War, they saw that my family had had so many of his brothers serving our country that they said to my father, “Look, we know that your father is working in the restaurant, building a restaurant. We want you to do this at Fort Meade.” And so, he used to cook for the entire mess hall at Fort Meade in Virginia during the Korean War. And even there, everybody loved my dad. He was cooking for them. He’s done a lot of different things in the service. But you’re right, in Fort Meade, he was learning to cook and learning to be the lead chef in the mess hall and did that. And I’m so proud of him for that.
[we hear an excerpt from “Battle In Burma,” British Pathé (1944).]
Kevin: Looking into that record, the oldest brother, Pasquale (or Patrick), you can follow that story in the Brooklyn Eagle. It’s reported that he’s missing in action in Burma, July ‘44. And your family is a Gold Star family. And from what I could tell, his remains were never found. So, he was in Merrill’s Marauders and his body was never brought back. I was thinking about your parents and what they’d been through [with] the Depression and the War. Those shadows in a way, they’re a part of that back story, but you’re coming into it as a kid born in the late 60s. That’s back story, but still, it’s part of the family narrative.
Maria: I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you’ve done all this research and you know about my family, because I’ve never actually ever spoken about my family being a Gold Star family. That we never found the remains of my uncle. And so, I’m really grateful that you know all of that.
(we hear music.)
Kevin: The ownership of The Rex changed hands in ‘84, and I noticed that was the same year that your grandfather Carmine passed away. Tell me about that time. That must’ve been very tumultuous — the poignancy of that. So, take us back there, if you can, and that experience of seeing it change hands.
Maria: The year I had my Sweet 16 and then the next year, when my grandfather died and we sold The Rex, was a really uncertain time for our family. Remember, you’ve got two partners: it was Victor Brianza and Vinnie Bartiromo, and they own this restaurant that their fathers passed on. And now it’s time that they’re aging. Victor’s son didn’t want it. And my father’s son, my brother Pat, also had his own career. So there’s a decision to be made about selling it. It was really hard and I think we were all mixed about it. I was really too young to understand. I remember those final days when we were walking through the restaurant saying, “Okay, we’re selling it. Are there any other personal items that you are going to be taking with you?” And it was so sad because it was a huge decision to sell the Rex. I know that my dad didn’t even want to drive past 60th and 11th Avenue anymore because it was so sad and hard to see that huge corner of that corner in Brooklyn, which we owned —
Kevin: And built. Your family built it.
Maria: Yeah, but nobody in my family was willing to go into the restaurant business, certainly not after seeing my dad work incredibly hard. It was his whole life and we all had other — I was too young, but my brother certainly had another career. After my dad sold the Rex, he opened another restaurant in Long Island called Lobster Time. And then he sold that a few years later. But we had these huge lobster tanks. But it just goes to show you that he just wasn’t finished yet. And that’s how uncertain and that’s how questionable it was that we weren’t sure what to do. We couldn’t come to an agreement on who would run it [and] who was buying it. If it was in the family, it would be confusing and tangled up. So we decided to make a clean break and just sell it.
[we hear Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” (1977)]
Kevin (voiceover): So many parties at the time closed with Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” and I wanted to talk to Maria about the closing of The Rex and that chapter in her life.
Kevin: I think one of the features of living in New York is Creative Destruction. New York is the most exquisite example of that in our country, perhaps. It’s constant change, the old being uprooted for the new. It’s something you see on the front lines every day reporting on business. I was thinking about the fact that you have it in your own story in your family, in the building of a business and the selling of a business. That must give you a certain sensitivity to both the excitement of change, but also the wistfulness of when things pass away. You know, like Lord & Taylor, Century 21. You lived it.
[we hear an excerpt from the news clip, “Bargain chain Century 21 to shut down after nearly 60 years” PIX11 (2020).]
Maria: You mentioned Century 21. I also grew up with Century 21. I loved Century 21. As a girl, I would go to Century’s every day. I got everything there. It was in Brooklyn on 86th Street, not far from my house. And I was really heartbroken when that store declared bankruptcy because it’s not just a store. The Rex wasn’t just a restaurant and a business. The Rex, for me, was my life. When I would go out with girlfriends, I couldn’t do it until I gave the coats back. And it was a loss. It was a really big void when we sold the Rex. It was very sad. I was born into the Rex. My entire life, that’s all I knew. In terms of work and family importance, this was the glue. School friends also became important influences for me. In high school, I had a small group of girlfriends and boyfriends. And that was also incredibly important in terms of shaping you. But because I went to Fontbonne Hall, we were always in Bay Ridge, on 3rd Avenue. It was a very small, close-knit group. What can you say? Family was very close by. Family and friends is what helps you get to the next bridge. But I definitely do remember a void in my life when we sold the Rex. A big one.
[we hear audio of “Crazy George Yelling for Horse at Off-Track Betting” (2009).]
Kevin: You mentioned your mom worked at the OTB, which is on 86th and 5th. And what’s interesting is that the OTBs at that time weren’t that old. They came into New York in the early 70s as a way for the state to try to wrestle control of gambling away from the bookmakers. And my father-in-law who’s still with us — he’s 91 and he grew up on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens — the OTB on Court Street was his hangout. And my wife still remembers as a kid going to tell him dinner was ready there; going to ask him for candy money there. And she describes walking in, scurrying through a smoke-filled room that you could cut with a knife, and just a lot of old-timers on older men hanging out, betting on horses all the time.
[we hear OTB audio again.]
Kevin: And your mom is working there was a teller and then eventually you worked there in college. I’m wondering what are your distinct memories of OTB? How’s it also a piece of this puzzle of your coming-of-age years and what that showed you about humanity?
Maria: Well, it totally was. It was definitely part of my coming of age. You’re right about the smoke-filled rooms. I mean, at that point, we did not have the education that we have today as far as smoking causes cancer. And my mom was behind the window. My mom never smoked a cigarette in her life. My mom never gambled. But the excitement of the race being on and people betting on them, it got her going. And I definitely think that that is another reason I ended up going down to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and [then] thriving in that kind of environment. I got that from my mom. I remember I used to go to the track with my mother and father. We would go to Belmont and one other track. It was so much fun sitting there, having dinner, watching the horses go around. I think OTB was a place, a moment in time where — you’re right, people went there; they hung out; they watched the races. I, as a little girl, was intimidated by it. I did go because I knew that my mom was there — if I needed to pick up the keys or I just wanted to check in with her just to tell her that I was home and I was walking home. Remember, at that time my mom didn’t have a nanny. My mom didn’t have people who helped her at all. She worked two jobs. My dad ran a restaurant and they raised three kids. That’s it. After school, I would go to OTB, check in with her. They would buzz me in the back. She would take a break off the window. I would speak to her for five minutes, tell her school was fine. “I’m going to go home. I’ll see you at six.” She would come home. My vision of my mom was always her walking up 84th Street in Brooklyn with her hands full of packages, groceries. She worked a full day, then went shopping for the family, came home, cooked dinner, and raised kids. By the way, not even a peep of complaining. In fact, even in later years, if I were to ever complain about work, I would say, “Oh my God, I’m working so hard.” She would always say the same thing to me. And I’ll never forget this quote. She says to me, “Maria, come on. You’re not chopping wood.” And I would say, “Yeah, you’re right. I’m not chopping wood. Okay.” And so, it was never complaining. It was just do it, get it done, [and] get it done right. And so OTB played a big role in my life and it was a great job because the salary was great. I think it was at the time thirteen dollars an hour, or something nuts, that I remember I made when I worked there over the summers. I worked on Saturdays in the summer to make extra money. My mom got a pension. My mom never went to college. She created this opportunity for herself. She worked there, got a pension, and made a great salary and was able to raise kids, pay for their weddings, and pay for their college. Her and my dad together. They did an incredible job
Kevin: As the baby in the family — you have an older brother and sister — growing up, what were the expectations of you from your parents for your future?
Maria: I think by the time you get to the third child, you’re not as nervous about certain things. You’re a little more casual. You’re a little more accepting to what kids may or may not do. And so, I think that was the case for me as well. I don’t know that my mom ever put any pressure on me to have any expectations in terms of what I was doing. I remember when I was in college at NYU, actually — so I was an adult at this point — my mom said to me, “I think you should try journalism. I think it would be good at it.” And I hadn’t taken any journalism, but I was a ham. She always pushed us forward. She always pushed us out.
I remember we used to go to Villa Baglieri in the summers. Every week there was a contest on stage. My mother would just always push me out on stage. For example, one year I remember she said, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll put a great costume together.” We had no costume, but she had these tails that looked like hair. And she snapped those on my waist. She gave me a hat. I mean, there was no — I don’t even know what I was, but she said, “Just go out there and sing it.”
And so my mom said to me, “You should take journalism. I think you’d be good at it.” And at this point, I had only taken economics. I had taken statistics and econ one, two and three. I was doing well in it. I figured, well I’m doing well at this subject, I’ll just keep doing it and I’ll make [it] my major. But then I took journalism and I absolutely loved it, fell for it incredibly, and changed my major. And so again, that was my mom’s influence in telling me, try broadcasting, you might be good at it.
Kevin: What’s interesting also, is the timing because you mentioned earlier that the Rex was sold when you were 16. That was taken off the table. Even if your father didn’t want it for you or did want it for you, it was taken off the table.
Maria: You’re right, there wasn’t any attachment in terms of that I had to deal with the restaurant, because this is a family business that I would have to ultimately run. I don’t know if that was by design. I was too young to actually say, “Well wait a minute, Dad, I want to run this. Don’t sell it.” I was 16 years old. From a very early age I knew that I could shoot — I used to say, “Shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” I knew that I could shoot for the moon because I had this unit of people around me who loved me, my family, and who was going to be helping me succeed.
Kevin: Were there things when you came to NYU, and then eventually settled in Manhattan, that you wanted to leave behind in Bay Ridge? What were the things that you wanted to bring with you?
Maria: Well it’s funny, when you first start out, you think that you need to be changing everything to be better, to be a professional, and to not think that you’re that girl who grew up on 84th Street. I think when I first started going on air, I felt that I needed to make sure to speak perfectly and correctly so I started training with voice coaches because I wanted to leave my Brooklyn accent behind. I never actually left it behind because it comes out still every once in a while. But I think initially I thought well you have to be perfect and you have to be this cookie cutter person that you see on TV. And that’s what I need to do. Now, after 30 years of working, I can honestly say that’s not true. You need to be authentic and you need to be yourself. That’s what resonates.
Kevin (voiceover narration): Being herself became Maria calling card, a kind of authenticity that was rooted in her hometown in Brooklyn. And even though she’d never lived there again, she imported its values to Wall Street, her launching pad to the world of cable news. Thinking about her move out of the neighborhood, I wondered how she sees her life and the context of the other kids she grew up around, especially those who stayed.
Kevin: In terms of the world that you emerged from in Bay Ridge and your friends that you had, how different did your life become from theirs?
Maria: I think many of my friends from Brooklyn did stay in Brooklyn. I remember as a child, many of those girls that I’m telling you about right now seemed to have everything. My one best friend, she was going on trips all over the place. She was going out wherever she wanted. I remember being very upset about the fact that I couldn’t do what she was doing because I didn’t have the money. I used to say to my mother, “Why can’t I go here and there where she’s going?” And she said, “Because you can’t afford it. We can’t afford it. That’s not what you’re spending your money on. You’re going to school. You can go skating from time to time and you can maybe go and watch a movie, but you’re not going to go out.”
My mother was always very afraid of safety. I think this happens to speak to her as a student and a child of the Depression. She did not allow us to go anywhere. I was not allowed to take car service. At the time, it was called car service. Now we have Ubers and all the stuff. But my friends would take car service everywhere. My mother was like, “You’re not getting in the car. I don’t know who’s driving.” All of this stuff did keep me somewhat sheltered. In terms of being sheltered, all I did was work. I was always saving my money. And then after high school, after college, when I started turning that into looking for internships, looking for a first job, my other friends didn’t. And so, while they had everything during high school, things reversed later on, because at that time then I was better positioned to get a job that I was pursuing.
Kevin (voiceover narration): Did you notice there was Maria’s mother again? With her day to day yes’s and no’s, the sheltering one, the one with the encouraging shove, the one with the sobering reality checks, that add up to a view of the world and how to survive in it and thrive on the biggest stages. Even if Maria’s mother never stood on them herself, her daughter would, with all that she’d shown her and taught her growing up in Brooklyn.
[we hear an excerpt from the news clip, “Maria Bartiromo, Anchor & Global Markets Editor, Fox Business Network, Rings the Opening Bell” (at the New York Stock Exchange) (2020).]
Kevin: One thing that’s fascinating about you, of course, is that you were the very first person to report from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in the 90s, which I checked was about seven miles from where you grew up, but a world away in certain ways. And just looking at everything we’ve talked about, why do you think it was you?
Maria: I did have a certain toughness, I think. Knowing that coming from Brooklyn and having to make my own way, and doing that by working hard, going to NYU, just being a New Yorker, I did have a little toughness and strength and confidence in me. It’s funny because when I got to CNN, I was working at CNN Business News and that’s really the first time I went to the New York Stock Exchange. I was a production assistant and I was a PA for Beverly Schuch. And Beverly Schuch was the woman who would do news reports from the New York Stock Exchange. It wasn’t on the floor, but it was in an office and I was her producer or her P.A. There was that little familiarity.
Then when I got to CNBC and we were coming up with this new show, we wanted to call it Squawk Box, we wanted it to be different. It was first Dick Grasso who wanted to do something different and wanted to demystify what was going on there. I think it was me because I was the Wall Street reporter, first of all. But I think it was something else. I think that it was also that I had a little bit of an edge. I think you needed that to get through the New York Stock Exchange. It was a moment in time where it was tough. It was all men.
I also did have a great break in that many people on the floor knew that my father owned the Rex, because people would go from the New York Stock Exchange to the Rex to get calzones and pizza. And then there was this guy, Tony Corso, who grew up down the block from me. His daughter was my best friend in Brooklyn. She and I grew up together. And Stephanie and I, we were best friends. Then I lost touch with her when I went to high school and college, certainly. But when I got on the floor, her father was on the floor, too. So I did know a few people here and there on the floor. But I don’t think that was the reason that, you know, that I necessarily got there. It was after I got there, they knew that I was Vinny’s daughter.
Kevin: It is one of those remarkable things about New York, that you can grow up in a community like Bay Ridge, which in many ways you could describe as a small town, right. It’s a small part of New York. And you go seven miles to the Stock Exchange and you’re broadcast around the world, but it still has that local dimension for you. So many people have to come from far away to New York to make it in certain fields. And you certainly had a trajectory. But the very idea that people from the floor could be going to the Rex for calzones, that’s unbelievable.
Maria: I think that’s just the luck of me being born on 84th Street in Bay Ridge, during a time that the markets and the individual investor revolution was in its infancy. I was part of it, democratization of information where people thought, well I could arm myself with the right information and I could actually dictate my own fate and invest. I could get enough information to do so. It was an incredible moment. I remember early in my reporting from the New York Stock Exchange, there were some people who did not want me there, for sure. I would battle with old timers, old timer guys who just didn’t want a woman in their face. And they certainly didn’t want a reporter knowing what moves they were making.
[we hear an excerpt from “Experience Wall Street Stock Trading in the 1980s” (2020).]
Kevin: I’m thinking about all the stories you told about growing up, that in certain ways, it sounds like the old timers and the boys club that were there when you started [weren’t] always welcoming, but then you broke through it. Thinking about the restaurant, but also OTB, in particular, you’d been probably high testosterone places before.
Maria: I think that’s exactly right. You’re right. By the time I got to this #MeToo movement, I was like, what? It just didn’t hit me or impact me the way it did elsewhere because I had seen it so many times before, in terms of being in high testosterone environments. And I held my own and I definitely did not allow anybody to push me around.
[we hear archival audio from “CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo at 10:14 AM on 9-11” (2020).]
Kevin: On 9/11, you were reporting on the floor of the exchange that day and ran outside to Broadway and Wall Street. You saw what was happening. You describe it in very vivid terms. I’m wondering what it was like for you to be reporting all day on this world historic event and absorbing what was happening to your hometown.
Maria: It was incredible. The first plane I obviously saw on TV go into the first building. My boss called me. He said, “Maria, go outside, call us in the control room.” I said, “Oh, absolutely.” I ran to the corner of Wall Street and Broadway and I watched the building coming down – watched the building on fire first. Then I called into the show and I was live on the phone telling the audience everything I was seeing. It was so scary. There was so much camaraderie. People are sharing cell phones, sharing Blackberries because everybody needed to tell family and friends that they were okay. And then simply standing there, I watched the second plane come and go into the second building. Then the buildings go in and they start collapsing. So all of a sudden you saw in the air all of the debris. You had to close your eyes because if you opened your eyes, something was going to go in your eyes. There was stuff coming from the windows and it was all over the area. That’s when I ran for my life. And for a split second, I thought to myself, this is how it ends. And so then I found a little corner across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. It was the MetLife Building and it was three steps down. And that was their stairwell into the building. And I just stayed there because the New York Stock Exchange was all boarded up. I couldn’t get back in
[we hear audio of Maria reporting from “CNBC on Sept. 11 (Fixed Broadcast) 8:34 AM – 11:25 AM” (2016).]
Maria: A woman was crying in the little corner that I had found. I’m like, I said to her, “Stop crying. We have to be calm and together here until we figure out what’s going on.” And then the security guard, Eric, from the New York Stock Exchange came out and saw me. I was covered in soot. He said, “Maria, what are you doing?” And I said, “It was boarded up.” He goes, “Come in.”
[we hear continuation of Maria reporting from “CNBC on Sept. 11 (Fixed Broadcast) 8:34 AM – 11:25 AM” (2016).]
Maria: So, then I went back into the Exchange and I stayed there all day until nine o’clock at night. I did reports every few minutes about who was accounted for at the Exchange, what we knew, what had happened. I went outside once with Bob Pisani, my colleague, and we were taking pictures of the debris on the floor. And it was absolutely stunning. It was incredible pictures, and it was a very sad day. I don’t think that I thought to myself, oh my God, what’s happening to my world? What’s happening to my neighborhood? I was in a state of shock. I had a girlfriend, Jackie Sayegh, may she rest in peace. She was my good friend from high school. She happened to be at the Marriott at the top of the tower that day. She was in the restaurant business. She didn’t even work there, she worked in Brooklyn and she happened to be there. I mean, what are the odds of getting killed by a terrorist attack as she did? It was things like that, like every day, you know, you would hear, oh Brian was there, Jackie was there. And so for sure, for a couple of weeks, it was all like such and such is missing, they’re looking for her. That was where the focus was and not necessarily thinking like, wow, look what they’ve done to my neighborhood, although it was that, too. But it was more of who’s accounted for, who’s not? Who do I know that might have been there, that wasn’t there? That went on for a while. I had to go there every day, you know, went back on Monday, September 17th, when the markets reopened and then was there every day for several years.
[we hear continuing audio of Maria reporting from “CNBC on Sept. 11 (Fixed Broadcast) 8:34 AM – 11:25 AM” (2016).]
Kevin: You kept the soot covered dress that you were wearing the day that you were reporting from the Exchange. It’s still in your closet. You still have it. And thinking about what that means to you.
Maria: It was a burgundy suit and I had black patent leather shoes on. Literally black patent leather shoes were full of white soot and they didn’t even look black. And I just saved them. I don’t know why. I still have them all saved, the shoes and the suit. It was such an incredible day and I was so filthy with soot with what had occurred as a result of what came out of that building. I just thought to myself, this is not just any suit. I have to save this. It’s just a remembrance of the day that we all endured. So, yes, I do still have that.
(we hear music.)
Kevin: Maria, you have interviewed everybody, and I’m wondering, with the things that we’ve been talking about this morning about your childhood and how important it is to you, if you could go back and interview any of the characters in your family or your neighborhood from those years, who is one person or a few people that you would just love to sit across the table from and speak to them without limit and just ask them anything?
Maria: I’d certainly love to speak with my grandmother, Maria Rosalia Morreale, my mother’s mother, whom I’m named after. Here is a woman whose husband died very young and she raised four kids on her own, worked in a factory on 17th Street in Brooklyn. This is the same house that her father’s father came and bought from Italy. My mother grew up in that house. So my mother’s ancestors came here early in 1896, the Morreales. And they came and they built a life by buying this house on 17th Street and then passed it down. My mother grew up there. My grandmother, Rosalia, was an incredible matriarch of the family. I’d love to interview her to talk so much about the way she thought about things. How she raised my mother because my mother is such a special woman. I’d love to interview my grandfather too, my grandfather Carmine. I could just only imagine what it took for him to leave a place that he knew so well in Italy, in Naples, and decide, well, I’m going to leave this neighborhood, these people, my family, my friends [that] I know so well and get on a ship and go to America – for the promise of opportunity to create a better situation for his family and his family and so on. I mean, that really is the story of my life. And I know it’s the story of so many Americans. He was nineteen years old, my grandfather. He came here at nineteen years old, twelve dollars in his pocket. The first thing he did was go fight in World War I.
Kevin: Yeah, and the things he couldn’t have known — that he and his son would build this iconic business. His granddaughter would report from the floor of the Stock Exchange on one hand. But on the other hand, he would lose a son. He’d become a Gold Star parent. So you think, it’s complex. There are powerful opportunities that are seized and there are losses. And that’s what makes family history so interesting to study, those complexities. And now we’re in this pandemic and it’s another moment of challenge in New York. And I was wondering, are you hopeful for New York? What do you draw from in terms of strength from your family story and from New York’s story to get you through and to inspire us to get through this current crisis that we’re in?
Maria: I think we always have to remember that, we will always, always be thrown curveballs. That has been the case in my life. It’s going to continue to be the case in all of our lives. It’s really not about the curveball, but it’s about how you handle it, how you catch it. I think that, right now, we’re all trying to better understand how we’re handling this. This was a game changer. This was a real curveball. Nobody saw this coming. I would draw on my strength from my family, draw on my vision and understanding of how hard it was for my family to get through all of the challenges that they face. You knew that there were many. I mean, they were cramped on that ship coming to America. So many people on top of each other, there had to be sickness. There had to be so much to get through. You have to remember the kind of obstacles that many of our ancestors and our friends have seen before and gotten through. Somehow get that strength, tap into that strength, and recognize that you have to fight to get through this. I’m not a quitter. I’m a fighter. I have always been that way. I’ve always been one to believe — really believe — that I can control my own destiny and I can control my own fate by my actions. I think that we all have to remember that in all situations of uncertainty and challenge, that it is in us to control our fate.
Kevin (voiceover narration): It was notable to me that of all people, Maria most wishes she could interview her grandparents. Instead of trailblazers in business, it was the trailblazers in her own family. Now, from the outside, it might not be apparent how they paved the way for her to become a trailblazer, too. But when you look deeper, they’re bound together by the determination to do something different, bold, and difficult — leaving behind the familiar and the safe for the unknown, taking a chance on the long odds. The big bet. The immigrant who crossed an ocean, the strong woman, the namesake, who was the link to other strong women, Maria’s mother and herself. It was that long view of things that took me to my last question.
Kevin: I like to end every interview by quoting my favorite New York poet who was Walt Whitman. And in his iconic 1855 book of poems, Leaves of Grass, he writes this. And I wanted to ask a question coming off it. Let me read this first and then I’ll describe it to you.
“I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun/ I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.// I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love/If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles//You will hardly know who I am or what I mean/But I shall be good health to you nevertheless/And filter and fibre your blood//Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged/Missing me one place search another/I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
And when I think about that poem, I think about the idea of being able to commune with people from the past, how we can draw strength in them. And fifty, one hundred, two hundred years from now Maria, if someone discovers the story of Maria Bartiromo, of New York, and wants to commune with you, retrace your footsteps, and go to a place in New York to find you — a place in the city where you really feel was foundational and defined who you are — where should they look for you and your spirit in New York, in your hometown?
Maria: Look for me at the beach. I like walking on the beach. I like riding my bike near the beach. That is where I have peace. It’s not where I will be working hard. I am now, because I’m at work all the time. But I mean, it’s not like the busy work, hard backdrop of New York, but it’s certainly where I might be finding peace at that moment.
Kevin: Maria Bartiromo, thank you so much for taking me to your hometown.
Maria: Thank you so much. Such a delight. I again, I’m so grateful that you did all that work on my family. Thank you.
Kevin (voiceover outro): Your Hometown is a Kevin Burke Production. For more, please visit our website at yourhometown.org, where you can listen to past episodes and find our show notes and artwork for each guest. You can also follow us wherever podcasts are available and on social media, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Also, please look up the show’s New York City series page, including information on live events and the Museum of the City of New York’s website at mcny.org/yourhometown-podcast.
Now I’d like to thank the sensational team that works with me each week on Your Hometown, beginning with our executive producer, the great Robert Krulwich; our art director, Nick Gregg; editor and sound designer, Otis Streeter, composer and performer Sterling Steffen, wow, he’s good; and our researcher the brilliant Shakila Khan.
I also want to thank my wife Anna for her insights as always.
Our branding and website design is by Tama Creative, and our social media team is led by CURE and Jessica Sain-Baird.
A special thanks too to our partners this season, the Museum of the City of New York. I also can’t thank enough the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and our other financial supporters for their deep belief in this series.
Until next time, thanks so much for taking this ride with me. And remember, everyone’s from someplace and everywhere is somewhere.
New York City
Local engagement is vital to the mission of Your Hometown, with the series aspiring to visit a variety of iconic cities and towns for a deeper dive on each place as a hometown. This model is being launched through a first-season focus on New York City, and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York. Many think of New York as a place where people move to in order to realize their dreams, but it is critical to remember that it is also a place where young people grow up – a series of hometowns within the larger metropolis that shape rising generations through the day-to-day texture and details of family, neighborhoods, schools, and boroughs that will become the origin stories of their lives, creativity, work, and contributions to society as a whole. That is the New York this series seeks to illuminate and reveal.