They don't make 'em like Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro anymore. As society and government evolved through New Deals and New Frontiers and Great Societies, the personal touch in urban politics was superseded by more structured systems for serving citizens. By and large the old-fashioned ward politician is an anachronism, sometimes replaced by bland imitations who practice old-style politics in buttoned-down shirts. The death Friday of the long-time former Baltimore city councilman symbolizes the passing of an era.
Mimi DiPietro's rotund figure was a familiar one around City Hall long before he joined the council from East Baltimore. He was a ward politician in the best sense of that term. He knew his constituents -- their needs, their strengths and their weaknesses. His mission was simple: keep his constituents happy. And keep them voting Democratic. His method was equally simple. He didn't originate a lot of bills, nor did he issue a lot of news releases. He took care of his peoples' problems, whether it was getting a street paved, an alley cleaned, a nephew put to work or a harassing bureaucrat mollified.
Nowadays a lot of constituent service is performed with state and federal agencies, as they have gradually taken more responsibility for citizens' welfare. The services are usually delivered in a more professional manner, but also in a more impersonal, sometimes intimidating, manner. And the work is often carried out by salaried aides who have no stake of their own in the citizens' well-being. What's been lost is the personal contact that Mr. DiPietro energetically maintained with his constituents. Some Baltimoreans who don't see their council representatives between elections will doubly mourn the passing of Mimi DiPietro.
For all his free-wheeling ways with the English language, which became something of a trademark, Mr. DiPietro had no trouble communicating with his constituents or they with him. Many of them in ethnic East Baltimore were more comfortable in the languages they were born to. No problem for Mr. DiPietro, who was fluent in Italian and conversed easily in Greek, German and Polish. His successors are more articulate, but do they communicate any better with their constituents?
Mimi DiPietro's time had come, and he knew it. For perhaps five decades he was a vital link in the government process, and he relished every minute of it. The system no longer has a role for the Mimi DiPietros, and that's not exactly a blessing.