By Joel Hall
Former Forest Park Mayor Jerome "Jerry" Tomasello, 78, loved his city so much that he would ride his own lawn mower down Forest Parkway to make sure the grass was properly manicured.
According to friends and Forest Park employees, he wanted other people to love the city as well.
Tomasello, a key Forest Park politician in the 1980s and early 1990s, passed way on Saturday, Aug. 29, after complications from pulmonary fibrosis.
A charismatic man from a military family, Tomasello moved to Forest Park in the early 1940s. He would later graduate from the Georgia Military Academy in College Park and serve in the U.S. Navy for four years during the Korean War.
Clayton County Chief Superior Court Judge Matt Simmons, a former Forest Park mayor, himself, served on the city council while Tomasello was mayor. Simmons said Tomasello applied his military upbringing to his management of the city's finances, as well as to maintaining its beauty.
"Jerry was always neat and organized," Simmons said. "His yard was immaculate and he wanted the city to look the same. If he was driving through the city in his pick-up truck and he saw a piece of trash, he would stop and throw it in the back of the bed. He tried to run the city and manage it on solid financial principles, but he had a touch for the appearance of the city as well."
According to city officials, Tomasello served as mayor from 1981 to 1986, and again from 1990 to 1993. Prior to being mayor, he served two terms on the city council.
Tomasello also earned a juris doctorate degree from Atlanta Law School and operated a successful accounting firm on Main Street in Forest Park. According Simmons, he brought all of those skills into the operation of the city.
"He was highly intelligent and highly articulate," Simmons said. "He had an accounting background, but he also had a law degree ... He was concerned with the proper accounting procedures and putting money into the reserves.
"Jerry had great integrity," he added. "I bought a house from him one time on a handshake. If Jerry told you something, you could take it to the bank."
Forest Park City Manager John Parker also served as city manager while Tomasello was mayor. He said Tomasello was a hands-on mayor, able to comprehend a "magnitude of problems" and come up with appropriate solutions.
"He was basically available most anytime," Parker said. "There were some times that his business required the utmost attention, but he has still available, if someone had a problem or needed support. At the time, Fort Gillem was going very strong. He was interested in the quality of the restaurants and the development of the areas in the city that were run down, or had very little investment."
Parker said Tomasello was voted out of office in 1993 after public ire developed over the Crazy Horse Saloon, an adult-entertainment establishment that moved into Forest Park. He said Tomasello's handling of the backlash showcased the depth of his character.
"The city [residents] never understood that, because they thought it was the mayor and council who let [adult entertainment] in," Parker said. "They didn't know what the law requires, what the judges require, and what the Constitution says. They [the public] not only turned on him, but the entire council was voted out over a two-year period, which was really a tragedy.
"During those periods of time, that is when the character of an individual is displayed or disappears. I would like to say that Jerry displayed integrity and character few people could have, under the same conditions."
Becky Massave, the youngest of Tomasello's five children, said her father was an active member of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, with "character" and "strong values." She said he was always passionate about making Forest Park a better place to live.
"There are more Saturdays than I can recall that he would actually get on his own riding lawnmower and ride down Forest Parkway, because he wanted it to look nice," Massave said. "He was very proud of the city and he wanted people to be as proud as he was. If he wanted it done ... he wasn't too proud to get out there and do it himself."