Skip to main content

L.A. Says "Arrivederci" to Political Icon Joe Cerrell

On December 6, 2010, Los Angeles said “Arrivederci!” to Joe Cerrell, beloved Italian-American political icon, who “…helped create modern political consulting,” according to Professor Ann N. Crigler, chair of the University of Southern California (USC) Department of Political Science.   

Hundreds of friends joined the family of Joe Cerrell for a celebration of his life at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in Hollywood, California, which was filled to overflowing long before the memorial service began. 

Members of the Los Angeles City Council, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, Controller Wendy Greuel, members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and many current and former Los Angeles political figures paid tribute to one of the most powerful and influential political consultants and public relations practicioners in the world, noted for his ability to bring together opposing sides of issues with congeniality and purpose.

This statement appeared on the Cerrell website on December 3, 2010:

"On behalf of our mother, Lee, and our entire extended family, we thank everyone for their kind words and fond memories of our beloved father, who passed away earlier today. While many of you know him as a pillar of the political community in Los Angeles, to us, he was simply the best dad ever. He was a wonderful mentor to us and to his many students and employees. He was a trusted advisor to his clients and political candidates. And he was a dear friend to so many.

We are bolstered by his zest for life—for his love of politics, for his proud Italian heritage, and for his unyielding passion for the New York Yankees and the USC Trojans. These are the memories that sustain us now. We see his legacy in the eyes of Joe's beautiful grandchildren, Kim, Chris, Danny, Lauren, Sal, Josie and Chase, and we know his memory lives on in all those who value public service and the democratic system he loved so much."  

Joe Cerrell was known and respected internationally as a trusted political advisor to many current political figures. He also played important roles in the campaigns of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Al Gore, John Glenn, and many others. 

He was born Joseph Cerrella in Queens on June 19, 1935, son of a New York City fireman, Sal, and Marion, a campaign worker who would later work for Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh in Sacramento. His parents dropped the “a” off Cerrella so their son could escape anti-Italian discrimination during World War II.

The Cerrell website reminds us of what was so obvious about Joe Cerrell—his pride in his Italian-American heritage and, “… promoting the contributions of Italian-Americans in Los Angeles and around the world. He served as vice-chair and president of the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF); vice-chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Italian American Organizations, and was appointed to the California Italian-American Task Force by Gov. Pete Wilson.

“Additionally, he was chairman of the board of the Italy America Chamber of Commerce West and served as regional vice president of the American Society of the Italian Legions of Merit. He was also a member of the Sons of Italy, UNICO, and the Federated Italo-Americans of Southern California. On his relentless quest to raise funds for these organizations, Cerrell once said, ‘I don’t miss an opportunity. If I spot someone with a vowel at the end of their name, I try to get some money or a meeting.’

“In 2002, he received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and, in 2007, the Italian-American Lawyers Association named Cerrell to its Hall of Fame. The Italian government bestowed several awards on Cerrell, including its highest honor, the “Commendatore al Merito Della Republica Italiana” (Knight Commander) decoration.”

It is not a cliché that Joe's physical presence will be missed by people all over the world and his spirit will influence far into the future through the Joseph R. Cerrell Center Circle Scholarship, which allows students in need to attend semester-long study programs in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento. He will also be remembered for his support of the Italian Hall Foundation and the Italian American Museum project headed by Marianna Gatto, to revitalize the Italian American community of Los Angeles, which has the fifth largest Italian community in the nation. .

A personal tribute to il mio amico (my friend), Joe Cerrell:

Joe Cerrell was loved widely because he was a master at disagreeing without destroying, he attacked issues -- not individuals, and he searched for the truths and beliefs which united people, rather than those which divided them.

Dr. David Viscott, renowned radio therapist and author, once explained that we are all like diamonds, each with many undiscovered facets, until someone enters our life and shines their light on us in such a way that it reveals a prism of our own being that we had not known. If they leave us, we grieve not only for the loss of their presence, but also for that part of ourselves.

We miss them and we miss who we were in their presence. We can keep that light shining by embracing their memory and their love, and we have only to think of them to know they are still with us.  Joe Cerrell now lives in a quieter place,  but his warmth, spirit, humor and wisdom continues to shine in hearts all over the world—we have only to remember.

To join in the celebration of Joe’s life, his family and business colleagues have provided

To enjoy comments made by Los Angeles friends and political figures:

(Note:  The author is proudly Italian-American.)


Popular Video