Christopher Nocera, a longtime Providence political operative, Elmhurst neighborhood activist and City Hall fixture, died suddenly last night. He was 60.
A burly man with an infectious sense of humor, Nocera was instrumental in Patrick Kennedy’s 1988 campaign for state representative in Elmhurst and Mount Pleasant that launched the career of Kennedy, Ted Kennedy’s son, who later became a Congressman. Nocera put together a fine ground voter turn-out effort that propelled Kennedy to victory over then Rep. Jack Skeffington, a Mount Pleasant funeral director.
Skeffington was the incumbent in a neighborhood election that attracted national, even international, news coverage because it was the first campaign of Kennedy, who hails from America's most famous Democratic family.
``He was clearly the guy to know in the neighborhood,'' Kennedy recalled today. ``He was a very jovial and gregarious personality, which totally made up for my lack of a personality.''
Kennedy said that it was Nocera and the late John Tabella who built the state-of-the-art computer driven GOTV campaign that identified voters for the Democratic primary, an election held on a sun-splashed September Tuesday. They used bar-code technology to turn out voters.
``Chris was like my seeing-eye dog in the 9th District,'' Kennedy recalled. ``Nothing got by him.''
``It was only a state rep race, but Chris had skills right up there with top national consultants,'' said Kennedy.
Nocera was the father of six children, who he leaves behind, as well as his wife, Erin (Scanlon) Nocera. His brother, New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, also a Providence native, is one of the nation’s top journalists.
``Chris was great,’’ said State Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, who represents the neighborhood and was a longtime friend and colleague. Active at St. Pius parish, Nocera’s faith ``was very important to him.’’
``He was a great family man,’’ said Goodwin. ``He really loved his family.’’
His family had deep roots in Elmhurst and Mount Pleasant as the proprietors of Nocera’s Liquors. ``Chris loved the city and he especially loved Elmhurst,’’ said Goodwin. He was active in many neighborhood good works and in Democratic Party politics.
Nocera was well-known at the Statehouse, where he served as the city’s legislative lobbyist during the administration of Mayor Vincent `Buddy’ Cianci. More recently, he worked in communications at the Providence Water Supply Board.
Ncerea was also mentioned in an iconic 2001 article by New York Times reporter Dan Barry, a former scribe at the Providence Journal. After Cianci's indictment, Dennis Aiken, the lead FBI agent investigating Cianci Administration corruption, bumped into Nocera on the street outside City Hall in downtown Providence.
Aiken stopped to shake Nocera's hand. But Nocera told Barry that Aiken did not release his grip until ``he had demanded in colorful language that the mayor apologize for comments that he had made about Aiken on'' the Don Imus radio show, on which Cianci was a regular. At the time, Nocera was a mayoral aide.
``Chris was a dear friend, and I have so many fond memories of him, from childhood on up to the present day,'' said City Councilman Terry Hassett, who represents the nearby Smith Hill neighborhood. ``Chris was dedicated to improving his neighborhood and community, and politics and public service was etched in his sense of purpose.''
Calling hours are between 4 and 8 p.m. Tuesday at Russell Boyle & Sons Funeral Home on Smith Street in Providence. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at St. Pius Church Wednesday morning. (The time has not yet been set).