Lightning Struck, and DeNucci Was Tickled Ever After

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It is little known that recently retired State Auditor Joe DeNucci, one of the era's foremost Italian-American politicians, was the glue that held the program together at a big St. Patrick's Day event in the City of Everett, MA.

DeNucci served for years as master of ceremonies at the annual dinner of The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick of Everett, which was held in those days (the 1980s and 1990s) at the old Bon Saison restaurant/function hall in Everett Square.

He always pointed out that, here he was, an Italian headlining an Irish event at a restaurant with a French name. "Only in America, uh folks?" he would exclaim. "Don't we have a great country!" This was a surefire applause line in multi-ethnic Everett.

The story of how DeNucci came to the Friendly Sons headtable year after year -- and a marvelous MC he was -- sheds light on his special appeal as a person and politician.

At the podium for the first time, DeNucci recounted his introduction to Joe Curnane, the organization's chairman for life and the kingmaker publisher of the city's weekly newspaper, the Everett Leader Herald and News Gazette:

"It's my first campaign for Auditor and everyone's telling me, you have to go out to Everett and make your case to Joe Curnane because, if Joe endorses you, you'll carry Everett. There's a lot of votes in Everett. So I went to kiss the big guy's ring."

DeNucci paused to inject a little suspense, then continued:

"I had never met Joe and didn't know what to expect. I'd heard he was close to Ted Kennedy and had worked in Jack Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960, so he obviously knew his stuff.

"Well, I made my pitch and Joe just sat there, blowing cigar smoke at me, not saying anything. When I was finished, he said, 'Tell you what, kid. If lightning hits the shithouse and you win this thing, come back to me and we'll talk.' "

The audience howled. Knowing Curnane, this sounded absolutely real to them.

"How do you like that, folks?" DeNucci asked, his broad face a picture of mirth. "If lightning hits the shithouse, come back to me and we'll talk.

"But, you know what, I won! I came back to Everett to see Joe Curnane. We became friends and he's been with me ever since."

Turning to Curnane, who was sitting on the dais, no expression on his face, DeNucci said, "Gotta love this guy. A real straight shooter!" Curnane smiled slightly.

The two Joes in fact built an enduring friendship from that inauspicious start in a cramped, smoky newspaper office on an Everett side street.

When Curnane was running the show, press releases from the Auditor's office always got a lot of play in the Leader Herald, the Auditor never failed to draw a big vote in Everett, and DeNucci kept returning to the Bon Saison on St. Patrick's weekend. The Friendly Sons and the friends of The Friendly Sons never tired of his act.

It all happened because DeNucci didn't take himself too seriously, and because Curnane liked a pol who could not only take a punch but could turn it into good dinner-circuit schtik.

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