It’s still dark when Joe Gallucci pulls up to the drive-thru of the Apponaug Honey Dew for his first cup of coffee of the day. He coasts across the still quiet Post Road and parks in his regular space at City Hall. It’s not even 6 a.m. when he unlocks the building, and it will be another two hours before the rest of the city employees arrive, another start to another day.
Starting Feb. 1, someone new will have to take the keys and take over as the city’s Director of Elections, but his absence will leave a void. After 16 years of working for the city of Warwick, the towering Gallucci, who will turn 77 next month, is a fixture at City Hall.
“He brings a personality that I think many, many officials, either elected or appointed, would love to have. He listens to everybody and he’ll go out of his way to help anyone,” said Edward Murphy, chairman of the Warwick Board of Canvassers, where Gallucci serves as clerk. “He’s just a kind, decent, compassionate man and it extends to everybody. He’s an amazing man.”
A man known for personally delivering Hershey kisses to the women in the City Clerk’s office, buying coffee for his colleagues and regaling City Hall staff with tales of political lore.
“When you know Joe Gallucci, you know a true friend. He comes from a family steeped in history of dedication to public service and it’s going to leave a hole. It’s a big loss,” said Donna McDonald, who has worked alongside him in the Board of Canvassers for 14 years.
A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, Gallucci started his career in the private sector. He worked in sales for ITT General Controls, traveling often as the administrator of national and regional marketing.
While there, former Councilman Gerry Gibbons approached him about running for office. Gallucci says he knew nothing about politics at the time, but Gibbons insisted that his reputation in the community would propel his campaign.
Gallucci grew up in Warwick. He had been a coach and former president with Warwick Continental Little League for 15 years, and his late father was a former chief of police in the city.
“I didn’t know anything, politically. I was totally green back then,” he said, describing himself as a “conservative Democrat, if there is such a thing. I wasn’t way right and I wasn’t way left.”
Gallucci would go on to serve as a city councilman from 1977 to 1984 and again from 1990 to 1994.
“It was a learning experience for me, those first eight years. I learned quickly; I had good teachers,” he said.
During his first term on the council, the city was faced with an $8.6 million deficit. He helped get that budget balanced but faced other difficult decisions, like raising taxes.
“For me, it was always foremost in my mind when we adopted a budget and we increased taxes, was it hitting people who could least afford it?” he recalled.
During his tenure, he would develop a close friendship with the late Walter Santos. Gallucci was also president of the council for much of his public service, and he ran a tight ship. He recalls threatening to kick people out of meetings when things got rowdy, including his colleagues on the council, but the threat was all that was needed. More often than not, council business ran smoothly.
“Would I want to do anything differently? No. Whenever I leave something, I like to leave it better than when I came,” he said.
Back then, there were no cell phones, and Gallucci would have to check messages from payphones on the road, while traveling for his job. He says that respecting constituents and being there for them, even if it’s just returning a phone call, is the key to being a good councilperson.
The approach is the same today, even though the city looked quite different during Gallucci’s early days on the council.
“I can remember when the city was probably half the population it is now. There used to be one-lane roads; there was no Route 37 and Artic was the center of retail,” he recalled.
Warwick has changed, but it’s still home.
“I was born here, grew up here, went to school here, played sports here … I really don’t have a desire to live anyplace else,” Gallucci said.
Mayor Scott Avedisian is glad Gallucci has stuck around all these years. The two met on the city council, and Avedisian continues to count Gallucci as a friend and advisor.
“Joe has been a fixture in city government since the 1970s. Joe and I served on the City Council together and I have nothing but fond memories of our time together. We also had a lot of laughs,” he said.
Avedisian said Gallucci, a Democrat, was usually on the prevailing side of issues, except in one instance when he sided with the young councilman and sacrificed his winning record. Avedisian remembers that vote of confidence, and says he still values Gallucci’s wisdom – even when it’s unsolicited.
“He always has advice, even when I do not ask for it. But his advice is always good. He always tells me that my gut instincts are good and that I should follow them. He also reminds me to stick to my values and stay true to my beliefs,” he said.
With the history they share, though, it is not surprising that Mayor Avedisian enjoys teasing his longtime colleague. He said he would miss having Gallucci around, especially since he can no longer “point out that he is the oldest active city employee.”
The respect, and teasing, is mutual. Gallucci has enjoyed working under multiple administrations and has always revered the office of mayor. In 1984, he made his own bid for the position.
“It wasn’t meant to be; I accepted that,” he said.
He was unsuccessful in his campaign, but has always toyed with the idea of running for mayor again.
After his mayoral campaign, Gallucci decided he was doing too much traveling for ITT. In 1993, he was appointed liquor control administrator for the state.
“It was a big change for me, going from the private sector to the public sector, but it was something I enjoyed,” he said.
The job was short-lived, however, and in three years, Gallucci was ready for a new challenge. He took on a dual role as the director of human services for the city and clerk for the Warwick Board of Canvassers, overseeing a combined budget of more than $1.5 million and a staff of 27.
In particular, Gallucci enjoyed learning about the intricacies of elections.
“I knew the other side of the counter because I was a candidate. I was halfway there,” he said.
In 1996, Gallucci’s job description changed slightly, and he dropped the human service end of his responsibilities to focus solely on his role as the city’s director of elections.
“He’s knowledgeable in many areas and, as far as the electoral process, he’s been around it for so many years himself, I don’t know of anyone who has more hands-on knowledge of the electoral process,” Murphy said. “He’s a tremendous, tremendous advocate for the voter.”
Gallucci has been through a lot of elections, and worked with countless candidates, but he’s ready to retire just shy of another election year. Who will take his place remains unclear. Gallucci already made a recommendation to the board, and will soon sit down with the mayor’s office to ensure a replacement is found quickly. McDonald is currently his second in command as the deputy clerk of the department.
“It is essential that we fill his job quickly. My chief of staff, Mark Carruolo, will be in charge of filling his seat very quickly,” Avedisian said.
Gallucci is unsure of what retirement will bring for him, though he will continue to serve as a member of the Kent County Water Authority and hopes to spend more time with his two sons, Joe and Frank, and his four grandchildren.
Looking back on his career, and on decades of service to his hometown, he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I work well with people; I get along with everyone. If I didn’t work well with people, I don’t think I would have been as successful,” he said.
Murphy, who has been with Gallucci from the beginning, says it’s a well-deserved break.
“He has dedicated so much of his life to this community, so I think he deserves some time to himself,” Murphy said. “Still, I’m going to miss him terribly.”
Gallucci feels the same.
“Will I miss it? Oh, sure,” he says, leaning back in his chair. “Most of all, I will miss the people I work with.”
And they’ll certainly miss him.