With a bill establishing Italian American Heritage Month in Illinois hanging in the balance, State Rep. Anthony DeLuca pulled out all the stops to ensure its passage.
In a political landscape that’s bitterly divided, Illinois Rep. Anthony DeLuca is an increasingly rare breed of elected official.
“Anthony is a bridge builder. He’s a consensus builder,” Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans President Ron Onesti says. “His fellow legislators know that if their constituents have a need, Anthony will listen to them and do everything in his power to meet that need, regardless of their party, because it’s the right thing to do. As a result, he’s one of the most respected legislators in Springfield.”
Though rooted in principle, DeLuca’s approach has a significant fringe benefit. “When the time comes for him to need help, [his colleagues] are very interested in hearing what it’s all about and how they can be a part of it, even if their positions don’t directly align with his,” Onesti notes.
DeLuca drew deeply from that reservoir of good will to assure the passage of House Bill 1199, Section 1. The legislation finally achieved the long sought-after goal of permanently recognizing October as Italian American Heritage Month in Illinois.
“The month has been officially celebrated on the national level for decades, but on the state and local level, there would be proclamations by the mayor or the governor some years and not others,” Onesti says, pointing out how instrumental DeLuca was in formalizing the celebration on the state level.
“He created meetings, he created initiatives, he created opportunities that allowed us to communicate our position,” Onesti reports. “He was also invaluable in helping us achieve our goal from the nuts-and-bolts point of view.”
Like every bill, H.B. 1199 had to be drafted, filed, given a number and assigned to a committee that debated it before releasing it to the House, which had to read and discuss it three times before passing it. It then had to undergo the same arduous process in the Senate before being signed by the governor.
It’s a long journey, fraught with peril: so much so that a previous version of the bill stalled in the Senate last year, forcing DeLuca to start from scratch this legislative session.
“He never gave up, never gave in,” Onesti reports. “He said we were going to keep going at it, and we did. We finally got there because of his tenacity, his passion and his belief.
“Bear in mind that state legislators have to consider laws every day regarding education, crime, economic development and other major issues,” Onesti continues. “When it comes to an issue like Italian American Heritage Month, it’s something you have to fight for and show where your passion lies. Anthony did a great job of making everybody aware of our plight, our position and why this was so important to us.”
A turning point this year came at the most unlikely of moments, an annual party thrown by the state legislature’s Italian American Caucus. Thanks to DeLuca and Onesti, it wasn’t just any old party.
Deluca opened up his rolodex and invited senators, representatives, Springfield lobbyists and staffers. “Pretty much everybody under the dome,” he says. And Onesti staged one of his trademark extravaganzas, decking out the penthouse of a Springfield hotel in green, white and red; ladening tables with delicious Italian food; and filling the air with classic Italian-American tunes.
“It exceeded all expectations,” DeLuca reports. “Many lobbyists and legislators who have been around for a while told me that it was the best reception they had ever attended.”
More than just a great time was had at the event, according to DeLuca. “It showed Springfield that we’re serious about celebrating our heritage and protecting our traditions, and that we were ready, willing and able to take things to the next level,” he shares.
Why was DeLuca willing to fight so hard?
“It’s really about the Italian-American community. We’ve been through some really difficult years, and we needed a win,” DeLuca explains. “It’s also for my kids. Our culture gets a little diluted as the generations go on, and as much as I can, I want to do my part to protect, preserve and celebrate it.”
No two words better define DeLuca than community and family. They’re the bedrock upon which his life in public service has been built.
His personal journey began in a tightly knit Italian-American family in the equally tightly knit Italian-American community in Chicago Heights.
“I have wonderful memories of my family, my grandparents especially, who I was really close with,” he says. “The gatherings, the celebrations, the holidays, those are things that really stand out in my mind. We also had a family business that my parents and my grandparents ran and where I worked when I was younger. Great experience, great advice, great mentoring.”
After graduating from Homewood Flossmoor High School, and then Elmhurst University with a degree in business and communications, DeLuca worked for several years at the company his grandfather founded, Skyline Disposal. On evenings and weekends, he coached youth basketball as a way of giving back to the community in which the business operated.
DeLuca had no thought of entering the world of public service until one fateful day when a friend of his father stopped by. “He was on the school board, and he asked me if I would be interested in running for the board, and I said, ‘Absolutely!’ not really knowing what I was getting myself into.”
From the moment he stepped foot into his first school board meeting, he was hooked, and eventually he was drawn entirely in.
“The most attractive part about it for me is the ability to improve the quality of life in the area that I represent,” he explains. “That’s what has motivated me all along, whether I was serving on the school board, as mayor of Chicago Heights or now as state representative.”
His record on all three fronts has been stellar.
- As a member and president of the Bloom Township High School District 206 Board of Education for eight years, DeLuca was instrumental in reactivating and expanding the Industrial Education Program.
- As mayor of Chicago Heights for six years, Deluca cut wasteful spending, reduced payroll, balanced the budget and improved public safety in the city.
- As state representative for the 80th district since 2009, DeLuca has pushed for greater government transparency, fewer regulations and additional infrastructure improvements. He has also fought for measures that expand business development in the south suburbs, with the goal of creating better-paying jobs.
Through it all, he has never wavered in his leadership style.
“Partisan politics has never been my thing,” he admits. “Trying to reach across the aisle, trying to find common ground, trying to find a solution to a problem — not a partisan solution but a real solution — that’s always been my approach, and that’s how I’ll continue to be.”
DeLuca was honored at the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans first annual Government Relations Luncheon. For details, click here.
The above appears in the November 2023 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.