A public servant dedicated to the people of his community and state, a hard-working son of Italian immigrants — these are some of the descriptions of former state Sen. Biagio “Billy” Ciotto, who passed away Saturday morning. He was 91.
“Billy Ciotto was a giant — as a public servant, a courageous leader, family man and friend and mentor to so many,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said in a prepared statement. “He was passionately dedicated to his community and state … He shared generously and boundlessly — his wisdom and insights, his laughter and sometimes tears. He was a mensch. I was proud to have him as a friend. My heart goes out to his family.”
Several state officials took to social media or released media statements praising Ciotto and his life of public service.
Governor Ned Lamont described Ciotto as a “legend who had an impact on countless lives.”
“He was a champion for the people of Connecticut, dedicating over half a century to public service in numerous leadership roles,” Lamont said in a statement. “To know Billy was to love him, and as a state we couldn’t be more saddened by his passing.”
In addition to serving as a state senator, Ciotto, of Wethersfield, was a former deputy commissioner for the state Department of Motor Vehicles — a position he worked his way up to after getting a midnight-shift job there after he graduated high school in 1947.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said she was heartbroken by the loss of Ciotto, whom she said “represented the very best of what we expect from those serving in public life. More than that, he understood the life and challenges facing our working families and worked hard to make their lives easier.”
Born in Hartford on Christmas Day in 1929, Ciotto was the only child of Italian immigrants.
“He was a dear friend, someone I trusted to always have my back. Billy and I have a shared history, both raised by Italian immigrants who could have never imagined the lives we went on to lead,” DeLauro said.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy was a 17-year-old interested in politics who had grown up in Wethersfield. He was told Ciotto was the man to call.
“He put me in charge of lawn signs for the 1991 local races, took me under his wing and for the next 30 years, including the time we spent as State Senator colleagues, never left my side,” Murphy recalled in a post on Twitter.
First elected in 1994, Ciotto served for six terms in the state senate.
Sen. Matt Lesser, who now holds the seat once occupied by Ciotto, said Ciotto cast a long shadow beyond the 9th District in Connecticut.
“Shortly before his death, Billy got a call from his friend, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who he knew through his years of work with Congressman John Larson,” Lesser wrote on his Facebook page. “Billy was the first person I called when I decided to run for his old seat – and I was honored to have him as my guest of honor when I was sworn into office.”
State Rep. Gary Turco, D-Newington, also described Ciotto as a mentor, saying he was instrumental in Turco’s decision to run for office.
“From the beginning of my campaign, he took me under his wing. He was confident from the beginning that I’d win and immediately focused on giving me advice on how to be a great representative for Newington,” Turco said.
Congressman John Larson, who brought Ciotto onto his staff after his retirement from the senate, described Ciotto as “genuine, sincere, straightforward, and honest.”
“You never had to worry where Billy was coming from, he gave it to you straight. He was compassionate, understanding, has probably helped more individuals in his life than any public servant that I can recall,” Larson wrote on Facebook. “He will dearly be missed by everyone, especially by our office where he continued to work. And he frequently liked to remind me that: ‘John Larson was a good Congressman, then he hired me and became a great one.’”
Casa-emigranti-italiani.org, a website maintained by Paul Pirrotta to preserve the stories about Italian immigrants, and to honor the accomplishments of Italian-Americans, has Ciotto among the members of its Hall of Fame.
Ciotto had a love of music that he shared with his wife, Jeanne. He played the accordion in a band, and occasionally his wife would sing with them.
Besides his wife, Ciotto is survived by his children, Maria, Julie, Anthony, Joe and John, as well as many grandchildren. A Mass will be celebrated at St. Patrick-St. Anthony Roman Catholic Church in Hartford at a future date.