Carlene Deluccio was a lot smarter than people gave her credit for. “Doesn’t say much, does it?” Carlene Santano Deluccio would loudly proclaim. “I just tell ‘em it doesn’t say much to be smarter than the zero they think I am,” she would tell her brother Alex, “and then I just laugh and laugh in their faces," she told her brother, "and look like a loud-mouthed Wop.”
“You’re not a Wop,” her brother invariably snapped back.
Carlene would laugh some more and then she might grow suddenly annoyed and snap, “If I was as dumb as people say, what am I doing here?”
It was a trademark line with her. She would snap it out any time at anyone who annoyed her. But even victims of this line – for Carlene Santano Deluccio heard insults to her intelligence frequently – admitted that few other things annoyed her at all. Carlene was an affable, welcoming, even mothering type of woman, although she’d never had children. This was well known since her childlessness could prompt grand emotional outbreaks. “What am I doing here?” she would ask at the conclusion of these outbreaks as well.
What was she doing here? That was the Haden County Democrats’ perennial question. An immigrant amongst such WASPs they would confess to one another.
She wasn’t an immigrant herself, but from an immigrant’s family. From Chicago. The Haden countians actually meant by this her husband’s family, the Deluccios. Her husband, Victor Deluccio, had been two decades older,wealthy and now dead.
It was assumed in Haden County that Victor Deluccio took care of the Chicago mob’s southern Illinois interests in horses and horse racing. According to his IRS filings, so said First National Bank of Haden County President Al Plover, Victor Deluccio reported ownership of a single racetrack and a few horses at Stovepipe Farm, which had, from the day the Hansen boys sold the place, been placed and remained solely in Carlene’s name.
Victor Deluccio was a big campaign donor, lending credence to his reputed mobster connections. He gave generously to both parties in all level of races. He himself was unelectable, too shady in reputation for appointments to local building committees or economic development boards, too rogue to fit with the local chamber or community chests.
But Carlene joined everything, childless and tireless and with Victor’s checkbook in her hand. Each year she passed in Haden County brought more invitations to join foundations, boards and trusteeships. She worked for child welfare, battered women, cultural development. She ultimately became both a trustee of the local hospital and the college.
“If I’m so dumb,” she said in accepting the latter trusteeship, “what are all of you doing here?” The laughter was polite and quickly drowned in her own guffaws.
Sooner or later most people came to, if not exactly like her, at least appreciate her, albeit, preferably at a distant table instead of at their own table. She was loud and opinionated and generous.
Victor had been so careful in his giving neither party considered him a member of the other.And despite all those volunteer hours and the couple's appearance at social and fund raising events within the quad-counties, her political yearnings were unsuspected as well, indeed, as far as anyone could recall, unexpressed. No one remembered a single political or even general civic conversation with Carlene for all those years. She talked about money. Raising money. And she did it well on her own and leveraged that successfully on behalf of her boards.
Yet Victor’s corpse wasn’t cold, so went the talk in both parties, when Carlene Deluccio filed for a county council seat as a Democrat, within hours of the codified deadline, she forced a primary with the well liked and clean-cut WASP, William Wolf.
It was obvious from the start she would lose and lose big. Wolf was popular enough to be a Democrat able to securely and hold a council seat in the largely Republican county. His respect from members of both parties routinely landed him the presidency of the board. He had honorably paid his party dues and his civic dues. He had served on boards and fund-raised for others. And throughout he had remained friendly with all.
Carlene’s move was too sudden against too solid of an incumbent, said the shocked Democrats of Haden County. It appeared such a spur-of-the-moment peccadillo that many Democrats were surprised to see how many votes she did garner. Then further aggrieved when she did land a seat on the party’s central committee. Her numbers were so striking, some Democrats in Haden County speculated that had Carlene run as a Republican she might have beat Wolf in the general election.
“If I’m so dumb, what am I doing here?” Carlene slapped the various committee members on their backs and upper arms as she attended her first meeting, the first freshman member in more than a decade. Money and elect-ability gained Carlene Deluccio credentials other party workers had spent decades attaining or more often, failing to attain. Now it would be she, little more than half a year later, being asked to accept the seat she’d sought.
“She outfoxed the wolves,” was how Irene Hanley saw it and repeated the phrase a number of times after first tossing it into William Wolf’s face when he told her he planned to resign.
“Yes,” Wolf had said without inflection, “she did.”
“And what does that tell you?” Irene had asked.
He didn’t dislike women, which William Wolf reminded himself when he found himself sparring with Irene. Not because of Irene intrinsically but because somehow Irene made him think of all women rolled into one. That was just too much. That was just too much all-knowing, condescending and general priggishness rolled into a great big shaking finger.
“That I’m a chump?” Wolf asked.
“But loyal,” Irene smiled, reached up and patted him on the cheek before returning home and launching the telephone tree that would bring them all together to give Carlene Deluccio William Wolf’s council seat as soon as Bill resigned and Lucille got through with her hissy fit.
“Poor boy, he didn’t know his granddaddy long enough to learn that honor comes even before loyalty,” she told Stanley Thorne as she started the telephone tree.
“So he isn’t a Marine,” Stanley had replied. “He could still beat Johnson.”
“Not even his granddaddy could have beat Johnson,” Irene said.
“Well, he’ll beat Harrison,” Thorne retorted, deciding he would not tell Irene at this moment that he would, again, be launching a campaign against Thompson.
“Yes,” Irene sighed, “yes he probably will. But why does it sound like some kind of Carlene joke when you say it?”