Gasper Schiro, an old-school New Orleans politician who spent 30 years running an office most people had never heard of, died July 22 at his New Orleans home. He was 86.
From 1978 until the end of 2008, Schiro was the Orleans Parish register of conveyances, working in an office that occupied the basement of the Civil District Court Building next to City Hall. The office, whose principal patrons were real estate professionals and lawyers, was important because it was the repository for most official documents signed in the city, including leases, acts of sale and subdivision plans. About 40 people worked there, which made it a political plum.
It was abolished at the end of 2008 as part of government streamlining and was folded into the Civil District Court clerk’s office, along with the recorder of mortgages office and notarial archives.
The office may have been obscure, but Schiro generally drew opponents when he ran for re-election. Among those he defeated were Dorothy Mae Taylor, who was best known as the City Council member who sponsored a law requiring Mardi Gras krewes to diversify if they wanted to keep parading, and Rhonda Shear, who had gained notoriety when she posed – clothed – for Playboy magazine before heading to California, where she became a cable-TV personality.
In 1998, Schiro won 57 percent of the vote in a runoff against Marie Bookman, a veteran deputy city attorney who was endorsed by Mayor Marc Morial at the height of his popularity. In a Times-Picayune story, some Schiro backers said the Morial machine underestimated the power of Schiro’s nonstop, press-the-flesh campaigning.
“On any given day, you can find Gasper at a wedding, a funeral, a birthday party, a christening or a meeting,” said former City Councilman Lambert Boissiere Jr., who had backed Schiro in the 1998 contest. “He’s everywhere. He’s a natural campaigner.”
Whenever Schiro ran for re-election, he tried to put his office above politics. “The main issue is whether the office is running efficiently and providing service to people,” he said. “I believe that’s being done. Service, and service with a smile, has always been our motto.”
A lifelong New Orleanian, Schiro was a distant cousin of former Mayor Victor H. Schiro. He graduated from Jesuit High School and earned undergraduate and law degrees at Loyola University.
Retired Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen, a friend since he and Schiro were in college, said Schiro was probably the most positive person he ever met.
“He loved being places and seeing people. He loved everything around him,” Hansen said. “I don’t think anyone ever said anything bad about him, and I don’t think he said anything bad about anyone else.”
Hansen credited Schiro with getting him involved in politics by getting him to hand out leaflets for candidates Schiro had endorsed.
“He was always looking to extend his contacts,” he said.
Schiro became active in politics after finishing law school. He was first elected to the Democratic State Central Committee in 1974.
A perpetually upbeat man, Schiro issued this statement upon his retirement: “It’s been a life full of prayers, parties, parades, and politics.”
Schiro was president emeritus of the Regular Democratic Organization and the Contessa Entellina Society, whose members are descendants of the people who founded Contessa Entellina, a Sicilian village, in 1450. He also was a member of the Knights of Columbus and Alpha Delta Gamma, a national Catholic fraternity for college students.
Survivors include his wife, Romelia “Mel” Boyer Schiro.
A Mass was said Thursday at St. Pius X. Church. Burial was in Metairie Cemetery.
The Boyd Family Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements.