Former State Senate Minority Leader Lou DeLuca was remembered by his former staff and peers Monday as a man who was a staunch conservative Republican able to find common ground and compromise with his Democratic colleagues and who treated his staff like family.
DeLuca, who served in the State Senate from 1990 to 2007 including the last five years as minority leader, died Friday after a brief illness. He was 89 and lived in Woodbury.
George Krivda, who served as DeLuca’s chief of staff for much of his tenure representing the state’s 32nd Senate District, said his friend was a father figure to him, had deep principles but was open to listening to those who had different views and might often surprise his colleagues on what issues he ended up supporting.
Case in point, Krivda told CT Examiner, was what some consider DeLuca’s greatest political accomplishment. He was a major force in the State Senate behind the successful effort to ban MTBE, an additive in unleaded gasoline since the 1980s and a significant source of groundwater pollution. The additive was phased out in the late 2000s and DeLuca later received several environmental awards for his commitment to the cause.
“Lou was open to all comers and had a standing policy to listen to anyone who wanted to talk to him about an issue,” Krivda said. “He just felt it was his duty. Folks in environmental groups, however, were not generally welcomed with open arms by conservative Republicans.”
Krivda said DeLuca listened and did his research “and the more he learned about the issue, the more serious he thought the problem was. He fought for it. He built support, hosted conferences [on the issue] and was very much a part of [banning MTBE].”
DeLuca was also steadfast in his opposition to a proposal by then Republican Gov. Jodi Rell to increase the state income tax to pay for added education funding.
Bill Aniskovich, who was elected to the State Senate in 1990 with DeLuca and was deputy minority leader under his leadership, said DeLuca’s motivation for opposing the tax increase was similar to his motivation on almost every issue.
“There was a theme during his career and that was to help working people,” Aniskovich told CT Examiner. “I think the income tax is a good example of that, because, I think, he thought of the impact it was going to have on middle class working families.”
Aniskovich said DeLuca was willing to fight hard for what he believed in, but said he was also open and invited compromise across the aisle when necessary.
“Lou was a great compromiser,” Aniskovich said Monday. “He knew that he’d find common ground when that was needed. He would work across the aisle, but was still dedicated to his beliefs.”
Aniskovich said he marveled at how DeLuca made friends so easily. In fact, Aniskovich said, his best friend in politics was a Democrat: the late Billy Ciotto, a state senator from Wethersfield.
“They were famous friends,” Aniskovich said. “They enjoyed each other’s company and cared about each other deeply.”
Those who worked on his staff said their boss made them feel special, important and part of a family.
“He was just wonderful to work for,” said Abby Lawson, who started with DeLuca as a legislative aide working her way up the ranks to staff director. “He was kind, respectful and compassionate. He didn’t suffer fools gladly but he was never mean. He could be crusty, but he was never mean.”
Krivda oversaw DeLuca’s staff which, at various times over the years, had as many as 40 people working for him.
“His attitude was that we were to take care of the people that worked for us,” Krivda said. “He had very few strict rules. One of them was no blue jeans in the office, but that was it.”
Krivda said DeLuca’s staff went from one of the lowest paid staffs in the Capitol to one of the highest paid staffs. He said it was all merit based.
“We had people that were underpaid and people that were overpaid; things were all straightened out,” Krivda said, “People knew what to expect in terms of their performance; Lou was a professional.”
Krvida echoed the sentiments of those interviewed by CT Examiner in saying DeLuca was more than just a boss and colleague.
“He was a father figure to me,” said Krvida, who noted that his own father died about 15 years ago. “He was like an Italian grandpa. I’m Italian myself, so I can relate.”
Aniskovich said it was DeLuca’s style to let others take the credit for successes.
“Even though he was our leader, he listened and had no problem letting others shine,” Aniskovich said. “He wasn’t preoccupied with power.”
When the two men weren’t talking politics or family, Aniskovich said talk often turned to baseball.
“He was a Red Sox fan and I was a Mets fan,” Aniskovich said. “That was our common ground. We also both used to be Democrats and both came from middle class ethnic families.”
In 2007 DeLuca pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor threatening charge, received a suspended sentence and was ordered to pay a fine. The guilty plea stemmed from claims that DeLuca asked a businessman, linked to a garbage corruption scandal, to intervene in a domestic abuse problem of a family member.
The criminal incident and guilty plea, Lawson said, “didn’t relate to his work as a legislator.”
“I’d give him an A-plus as a legislator,” Lawson said. “He was a wonderful man and he deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated for what he did up there.”