Leone was born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1924 to Anthony Leone and the former Josephine Gilistro. When he was an infant, his family moved to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where he grew up. He attended P.S. 97, David Boody Junior High School, and Lafayette High School, all in Brooklyn, and after a stint in the U.S. Army, graduated from St. John's University in Queens in 1946.
Leone got his start in politics in 1948, when as a law student he met Frank J. Pino, then a New York State Assemblyman, who had come into the Leone family's grocery store in Bensonhurst. He rang doorbells and spoke to voters on behalf of Mr. Pino, who was in a tough reelection fight that year. After Pino won his election, Leone joined the United Democratic Club in Bensonhurst.
Leone graduated from St. John's Law School in February 1949, and then entered private practice. After two years he set up his own law firm, then formed a partnership with Irwin R. Brownstein, who later became a New York legislator and a judge. In 1965, Leone became a law secretary to Judge Philip M. Kleinfeld, who had also been a long-time legislator and judge, and at that time was a judge in the Appellate Division in Brooklyn. The next year, Leone became district leader of the United Democratic Club, a post previously held by Brownstein. After five years as Kleinfeld's law secretary, Leone was "angling to become a Civil Court judge," but the Brooklyn Borough President, Abe Stark, became ill and decided to resign, leaving a three-year unexpired term. Leone was selected by Meade Esposito, the long-time Brooklyn Democratic leader, to be Stark's replacement, and was promptly elected interim Borough President by the Brooklyn City Council delegation on September 9, 1970. He was formally installed as borough president on September 18, 1970. Two months later, the voters elected him to serve the remainder of Stark's term, and in November 1973, he was elected to his own full term.
However, Leone was averse to the fund-raising required for political office, so in 1976, he was nominated for a position as a justice of the New York Supreme Court. He served from January 1977 until he retired in January 2001.
In popular culture
The opening credits of the television show Welcome Back, Kotter, which was set in Brooklyn, began with the image of a large highway sign that read, "Welcome to Brooklyn, 4th Largest City in America, Hon. Sebastian Leone Borough President".
- van Gelder, Lawrence (September 10, 1970). "Brooklyn's President — Sebastian Leone". New York Times. p. 52. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
- Liff, Bob (February 1, 1990). "Golden Sworn in for Fourth Term". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
- Rosenberg, Eli (November 30, 2016). "Sebastian Leone, Borough President Who Championed Brooklyn, Dies at 91". New York Times. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- Chambers, Marcia (January 3, 1977). "How a Judge Is Made in Brooklyn: Case of Borough President Leone". New York Times. p. 1. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
- Ranzal, Edward (September 10, 1970). "Leone Is Elected to Succeed Stark — Bensonhurst Leader Named by Brooklyn Councilmen". New York Times. p. 52. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
- "Leone Takes Oath as Brooklyn's Borough President". New York Times. September 19, 1970. p. 14. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
- Ronan, Thomas P. (November 4, 1970). "Leone Victorious In Brooklyn Race — Incumbent Will Serve Out 3 Years of Stark's Term". New York Times. p. 20. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
- Ronan, Thomas P. (September 24, 1976). "Cunningham Status Considered Secure — Rossetti, Too, Is Expected To Hold Democratic Leader's Role Despite Coalition's Judgeship Gains". New York Times. p. 26. Retrieved 24 July 2016.
- Frost, Mary (November 17, 2016). "Former Brooklyn Borough President Sebastian Leone Dies at 91 — Party Stalwart Went on to Become Supreme Court Justice". brooklyneagle.com. Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Retrieved 19 November 2016.
|Borough President of Brooklyn