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Story By John Murray

Tony D’Amelio was celebrating life in Aruba Tuesday night when Dr. William Pizzuto won a special election to replace him as the 71st District State Representative in Connecticut.

Dr. Pizzuto won the special election on February 22nd by trouncing Democrat John Egan 1430-511. Pizzuto will be sworn into office in the next few days at the State Capitol while D’Amelio, most probably, will be lathering on suntan lotion and enjoying the heat and surf in Aruba.

After spending 25 years in Hartford representing the Town Plot neighborhood in Waterbury, parts of the South End, Brooklyn, and all of Middlebury, D’Amelio has earned time in the sun with his wife, Joanne.

Before being elected state representative D’Amelio had served as a member of the Waterbury Board of Aldermen, the Waterbury Board of Education and the Waterbury Fire Board for more than three decades of continuous public service. D’Amelio unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Mayor Michael Jarjura in 2003, and for many years has been the face of the local Republican Party.

Being a Republican in a Democrat-controlled city is challenging (Democrats outnumber Republicans 3-1 in Waterbury), and with D’Amelio’s retirement from politics, and the loss of Steve Giacomi, Jason Van Stone, Roger Sherman and Stephanie Cummings from relocation, or a ballot defeat, the GOP has been gutted.

“It’s tough to get people involved,” D’Amelio said the day he announced his retirement on WATR radio. “We’re constantly looking for people. There’s so much talent that has moved out of Waterbury. All the big cities; Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, they’re all dominated by Democrats.”

In the last municipal election in 2021 the GOP had difficulty filling candidate slots for the Board of Aldermen.

“In some districts no one wanted to step up, so our chairman joined forces with the Independent Party,” D’Amelio said. “And in the end, nothing changed on the Board of Aldermen.”

When The Waterbury Observer began publishing in 1993 there were more than 30,000 votes cast in that year’s race for mayor. In the last mayoral race in Waterbury in 2019, there were 10,900 votes cast.

“I don’t know if people have lost their faith in government, or what,” D’Amelio said, “but the demographics in the city have changed dramatically in the past 30 years.”

If you wanted to get involved in politics in the late 1980s you had to wait your turn, D’Amelio said. “Now we are having trouble finding anyone who wants to run. Interest in civic engagement has been falling every year and the city needs to get its citizens involved in the process. Political decisions impact everyone with taxes and schools and we need more people involved.”

In addition to the decrease in civic engagement in the political process, D’Amelio mourns the loss of civil behavior by those who do choose to throw their hats into the ring.

“The Republicans and the Democrats worked very well together when I was first elected in 1996,” D’Amelio said. “It was a totally different dynamic.”

The governor in 1996 was John Rowland, a Republican, and he had to work with the House of Representatives and the State Senate that were both controlled by Democrats.

“John Rowland was really good at finding compromise between moderate Democrats and conservative Republicans, “D’Amelio said. “That doesn’t happen anymore in Hartford, and it’s been really bad up there the past four years.”

D’Amelio recalls when he was first elected that lobbyist were allowed to organize small get-togethers with legislators and spend $10 on drinks.

“We’d meet at a local restaurant close to the Capitol, and they would invite all the members of a committee to come for a drink,” D’Amelio said. “It forced the Democrats and the Republicans into a neutral setting where we’d talk about the Yankees or the Red Sox, or about our kids and grandkids and we’d get to know each other.”

That was banned and D’Amelio said it is now more difficult to make those connections across the political aisle to find compromise and human connection. D’Amelio said the current Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter, has begun organizing off-site gatherings for elected officials to mingle and break ice and he hopes that the effort continues.

Now retired from public office, D’Amelio said he will spend more time working at Verdi’s, the family restaurant he operates at The Western Hills Golf Course, in Waterbury, with his wife.

“It’s been tough running a restaurant through the pandemic,” D’Amelio said, “Now I will spend more time focused on the restaurant.”

Tony and Joanne D’Amelio at Verdi’s Restaurant in Waterbury.

The D’Amelios built a huge outdoor dining area and bar to keep the restaurant going during the pandemic.

“People were forced outside last year and a lot of people discovered Verdi because of our outside dining,” D’Amelio said. “The pandemic helped us capture a new audience of people that kept us going through a very difficult time.”


When the D’Amelio’s return from Aruba tanned and refreshed they will plunge back in to the heavy demands of running Verdi’s. Tony will miss many friends and colleagues at the Capitol, but after 25 years of committee meetings, late night hours at the end of session, and increasingly partisan bickering, he will be happy to spend more time with Joanne making sure their restaurant keeps chugging forward into post-pandemic prosperity. •

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