Anthony Celebrezze
Anthony Celebrezze, the first Italian-born to become Cabinet Member as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Although Charles Bonaparte was the first Italian American cabinet member, ethnicity had little to do with his designation, in sharp contrast to Anthony Celebrezze's (1910-1998) selection for a cabinet post in 1962 that coupled ethnicity with political considerations. Anthony, one of thirteen children, who was born in southern Italy in 1910, was brought as an infant to live in a humble Italian enclave in Cleveland, Ohio, where as a young man he sold newspapers and worked on a railroad track gang. Demonstrating a penchant for education, Anthony attended John Carroll University and Ohio Northern University where he received his law degree in 1936 and became a lawyer. He interrupted his profession during the Second World War to serve in the Navy. Shortly after the war he entered local politics, gained election to the Ohio State Senate, and followed that up with election as mayor of Cleveland in 1953. As municipal chief he established a coveted political record that earned him re-election in 1955, 1957, 1959, and 1961, receiving a 73.8 % plurality in that last election. That this was a formidable feat can be gleaned by the fact that Italian Americans were not the largest ethnic group in the city, although a significant group. In a word his stewardship was conducted with such skill, competence and a regard for people's welfare that it attracted President John F. Kennedy's attention.

The election of Kennedy to the presidency saw Italian Americans -an important voting bloc that helped win a tight election --pressure the Kennedy administration to appoint one of their own to a prominent cabinet position. The astute Kennedy not surprisingly saw in Celebrezze a proven administrator who could be an asset in the cabinet and also satisfy an important and restive constituency. In 1962 Celebrezze was sworn in as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) to administer a sprawling, segmented government arm that lacked coherence and was vulnerable to criticism. With his reputation as a strong mayor, Celebrezze worked to bring more order to HEW and to fight for administration policies. Continuing in that post in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, Celebrezze was given credit for guiding the Medicare bill through Congressional obstacles. Political analysts have concluded that ethnic considerations were involved in the choice of John Volpe and Joseph Califano for cabinet posts. Volpe, born in Wakefield, Massachusetts in 1908 became successful in the construction business and entered the political arena in 1957 as President Dwight Eisenhower's Federal Highway Administrator. The Italian American Catholic became Massachusetts governor in 1961 and 1965, a sturdy background that merited very serious consideration to be Republican Vice Presidential nominee on the Nixon ticket in 1968. Although the vice-presidency did not materialize, President Richard Nixon, conscious of the growing presence of Italian American as a political force, appointed Volpe Secretary of Transportation in 1969. Brooklyn born Joseph Califano, a graduate of Holy Cross College and Harvard University Law School, and domestic policy expert in the Johnson administration, was designated Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare by President Jimmy Carter in 1976. Mention should be made that in 1977, President Carter chose activist Italian American priest Monsignor Geno Baroni as Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

John Volpe
John Volpe in Italy

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