By Angelique H. Caffrey
Bobby Rydell. Frankie Avalon. Fabian. They were more than just household names for PA Representative Maria Donatucci. They were literally friends of the family. Growing up in the Philadelphia area, her father, whose given name was Phil Patelmo, but who entertained under the name of Phil Jaye, was one of the comedy/singing duo known as the Jaye Brothers. They sang, they released an album, and they even toured America and Europe. It was a unique life, and one Donatucci didn’t realize was quite out-of-the-ordinary. “It was fun growing up,” she says with a laugh. “I was an only child, and I had great parents. All my friends loved my parents!”
Donatucci didn’t hear much talk about politics at home; however, she began to develop her own leanings and at 16 she became involved in local campaigns. “I either wanted to be in the arts or in politics,” she explains. Perhaps it’s no surprise that she married a State Representative, Robert Donatucci. “We lived a block away from each other and went to same class at Temple,” she notes. “I used to date him in between boyfriends… he was a perennial bachelor and much more introverted than I am!”
Together, they had two children, a boy and a girl. She supported her husband’s political career, working alongside him and the same time fostering her own work life, which included being an adjudicator for the Philadelphia Bureau of Administrative Adjudication. Then, everything changed when he suddenly died of complications of obstructive sleep apnea in November 2010. “They didn’t know what it was,” she says in reference to his medical team. “He had a [sleep apnea] attack three months earlier, and was testing different masks and CPAP machines. In the meantime, he had a second attack.”
The shock of losing her husband was followed by something she couldn’t have expected: suggestions that she consider trying for his seat in the House. “People asked me to run. I took a deep breath… and won it [during a special election].” Looking back, she’s sure that her colleagues weren’t expecting her to jump in with both feet. She explains, “When I went in it, they thought, ‘We didn’t expect this out of you!’ Maybe it came naturally after living with a State Rep.”
Donatucci tends to follow her heart on all legislation, something about which she’s unapologetic. “I serve three distinct districts that are very diverse. When I’m voting, it can get hard. I try to be as bipartisan as I can, and I’m always open to listen. I may not agree, but I will listen.” She has a passion for bringing women together to discuss issues, which she feels opens a tremendous amount of dialogue. “I’m very pro-woman, especially on equal pay,” she says. “I’m told I’m controversial, but I don’t think it’s controversial in 2016.” At her office, she offers shadowing opportunities for two young women every year to expand her mentoring of the next generation.
Although she hasn’t followed in her father’s footsteps, she has a bit of the performing bug and loves to read to children in elementary schools, especially her favorite book, Green Eggs and Ham. “I have a ball with that one!” She uses another Dr. Seuss classic, Yertle the Turtle, to begin conversations with kids about government. “I open the dialogue and ask them, ‘Would you want this person to be your mayor? Is this the way a leader should be?’ These kids are going to be making decisions for us in our old age, and education is so important.”
Rep. Maria Donatucci, a Democrat, represents the 185th District.