During a span of seven years, from 1985-1992, when Steve Villano worked in the press office of Mario Cuomo, Villano’s brother Michael was also at the peak of his association with John Gotti. Within days of each other in December, 1985, Gotti became the head of the Gambino Crime Family, following the murder of Paul Castellano—and Cuomo became favorite leading candidate for the 1988 Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States. In Tightrope, Villano shares the wrenching conflict between his family’s ties to organized crime, and his own values and professional integrity.


“Steve Villano paints a complex, intimate portrait of two worlds: the political one surrounding New York Governor Mario Cuomo in the 1980s; and the criminal one of Big Apple mobsters. His telling of these stories, intertwined through the presence of these two worlds of Steve and his brother—Steve a staffer for the governor, and his brother a reputed bagman for John Gotti—is both brave and jarring. Can one hate a person’s choices and still love them? In his descriptions of his relationship with his brother, Steve argues powerfully that one can. The result is a narrative rich both in emotional detail and in the historical nuances of a very particular moment in New York life.”

—Sasha Abramsky, author of Inside Obama’s Brain and The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives


“Steve Villano’s book is a frank and unvarnished account of the long struggle in his New York Italian-American family between him and his brother over the lives they chose to lead. Steve took an upward path in his career becoming an impeccable civil servant working for one of America’s most distinguished Italian-American governors, Mario Cuomo. His brother took an opposite path in life toiling for the most venal Italian-American mobster of his generation, John Gotti. How Villano dealt with these opposing forces of light and darkness, abhorring his brother’s choice but still feeling love for him, hiding the truth from friends, sticking to the right track but coming to terms with an unalterable nightmare, and finally settling on a fraught decision to reveal his family’s fate, is a gripping tale.  This is like a Hollywood story but it is all true.”

—Stephen Schlesinger, co-author of Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (with Stephen Kinzer)


“Steve Villano’s Tightrope is a richly insightful, deeply moving account of love, loyalty and family lived out in the complex intersection of organized crime and big-league politics. A true story told with all the narrative power of gripping fiction, there’s not a false word in these pages. Villano writes like an angel as he wrestles with the devil. Tightrope is a triumph.”

—Peter Quinn, author of The Banished Children of Eve: A Novel of Civil War New York


“Rich and insightful, Tightrope probes the mysteries of family, the divergent paths of children, the consequences of their choices and the blood bond that holds them together against the odds and possibly against all common sense. Steve Villano’s moral and emotional struggle will take your breath away…Tightrope is a book about the Italian-American experience that is also about any immigrant family’s journey…”

—Chiara Coletti, former New York Newsday/Newsday Vice President of Public Affairs