MERIDEN — State Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello confirmed Thursday that he won’t seek re-election after serving 26 years in the state General Assembly, and before that on the City Council.
Currently an assistant deputy speaker, Altobello said Thursday he started his public service career at the age of 37 when he was elected to the Meriden City Council, and is now 70. He represents part of Meriden and Middlefield in the House.
“When it’s time, it’s time,” Altobello said. “I’d like to take it easy. I’m 70. I want to retire.”
Altobello has been part of the majority leadership in the General Assembly since 2000 and serves on the powerful State Bond Commission and the legislative Finance Committee. The career lawmaker is the longest-serving member of the city’s legislative delegation and is viewed as a mentor to his colleagues.
“He has a lot of institutional knowledge of what has been given to Meriden and programs that have come through Finance,” said state Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden. “I sit on the Finance Committee and went through him on a lot of issues.”
City delegation members agreed that one of Altobello’s largest contributions is securing state funding for flood control.
“I’m sad he’s not running. He has been a mentor to me,” said state Rep. Catherine Abercrombie, a fellow Democrat. “The connection being on the City Council and on the Finance Committee is so valuable.”
Abercrombie described Altobello as a “hidden gem” for his recall on votes and data.
“He can pull anything up in a second,” Abercrombie said. “It’s going to be a huge loss for our delegation with him not there. He’s such a valuable member. As part of the Bond Commission, he could find where some of these pockets of money were.”
Altobello was part of the team, with former state Sen. Thomas Gaffey and state Rep. Christopher Donovan, that secured funding for the $200 million high school renovations and the flood control project that led to the Meriden Green.
“Because of his experience on the City Council, he could educate me on all these projects,” Abercrombie said. “He was also on the Transportation Committee. We as a delegation served on committees that were vital to our community. We were a four-legged stool.”
Gaffey said he was shocked when Altobello told him a month ago he wasn’t running again.
“Buddy spent a lifetime in politics,” Gaffey said. “He’s done a phenomenal job for his constituents. I can’t think of a better public servant.”
Gaffey, whose Senate district included Meriden and Middlefield, praised Altobello’s work in getting funding for projects in those communities.
“We really worked as a team,” Gaffey said. “He was a force in flood control. There are countless projects funded in Meriden with the help of Buddy throughout the years.”
Altobello is known for being reserved, but also a “man of action,” Gaffey said.
“He quietly gets things done. Better to be a great listener than a talker. It’s really going to be a sea change without him in office,” he said.
Altobello grew up in Meriden and attended city schools. He also belongs to numerous service clubs and civic organizations, such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Elks Club and the North Italian Home Club.
He was first elected to a four-year term on the Meriden City Council in 1987 and re-elected in 1991. He served as chairman of the Public Works Committee and the Finance & Budget Committee.
In 1991, he was elected City Council Majority Leader, and reelected in 1993. While on the City Council, he also served on the Meriden Board of Ethics, the Downtown Advisory Committee, the Local Emergency Planning Committee, and the Farmers’ Market Committee.
First elected to the House in November 1994, Altobello continued to serve on the City Council as majority leader and finance chairman until March 1995.
He was reelected to the House in 1996, and handily secured his seat through 2018.
City Councilor and former Mayor Michael Rohde also praised Altobello’s knowledge of finances and quiet sense of humor.
“Buddy Altobello has been a dedicated public servant for over two decades,” Rohde stated in an e-mail. “He is known for his grasp of the budget and state finances. He is always quick to pull out his ever-present calculator to give precise answers to questions. He has always responded quickly to requests for help and has played a significant role in making sure Meriden has received our fair share of state funding. He is one of the most senior state legislators and his expertise and sense of humor will be missed.”
Democratic Town Chairwoman Mildred Torres-Ferguson could not be reached for comment. Santiago said several Democrats are being considered as 82nd district candidates.
Republican Town Chairman Sean McDonald could not be reached for comment.