City councilwoman Denise Amoroso talks about her husband’s legacy and adjusting to a role in politics

“I always tell people, this was always Buddy’s arena,” Denise Amoroso says.

When she talks about her unexpected transition into becoming a member of the Baton Rouge Metro Council, she speaks softly yet confidently. She carries a certain strength as she reflects on her late husband, Buddy Amoroso, the councilman who was killed in a biking accident last year.

And now that she’s won the March special election for the District 8 seat, Denise will finish out her husband’s term until the end of 2020—giving her a chance to carry on his legacy with more solid footing on the council.

Of all people, Denise did not think she would ever be involved in politics. She and Buddy were married in 1981, and she spent the following years raising their children, volunteering throughout the community and working as a teacher. As her husband became involved in local politics, Denise watched and supported him.

“He loved it,” she says, thinking about her husband’s political career. “He was passionate about it. He was very happy with what he did, and I supported him.”

Soon after Buddy’s untimely death, talks for his replacement began to point to Denise. Traditionally on the Metro Council, when a member dies their spouse is considered first as a replacement.

Originally, Denise—who had never considered a role in politics—was unsure if she would take his seat, which covers an area bordered by South Sherwood Forest Boulevard and O’Neal Lane. But the thought of someone else serving in his place convinced her to go forward with it.

Though there was intense debate within the Metro Council and in media coverage on who should take Buddy’s seat, Denise was voted in by the council as an interim councilmember in July 2018.

Then she announced in December that she planned to run for the seat in a special election, which would allow her to finish the remainder of Buddy’s term, ending in December 2020. In March, she won with 78% of the vote.

She is the first to admit the transition to councilmember was tough. She told 225 in February that it was “sobering” to step into the responsibility of overseeing so much that impacts so many lives, and that she is still learning how to fill the position well. But more than anything, she says it has allowed her to know her husband even more and uphold his memory.

“I tell people it’s been a real therapy for me doing all this since he has been gone,” Denise says. “As my daughter was explaining to someone the other day, she said mom has known dad in this capacity of spouse and church and these things. And I guess I knew some of his work in politics—I went to events with him. But now, it’s like I am getting to know him in a total different capacity, you know? So that has been a privilege for me to be where I am—not only to carry on his legacy but also to get to know him in that atmosphere of politics and the things he did and had his hands in.”

Taking on the Metro Council seat has also emboldened Denise’s own political strategy, emphasizing Buddy’s style in her work. She says Buddy never backed down or compromised when it came to his own principles, and she continues to do the same. She also makes it a point to meet with organizations and constituents as often as she can, a practice she learned from her husband.

“Buddy was wide open from the minute he got up until he went to sleep,” she says. “I always joke, he had lunch with more people in a day than I could in a year.”

She says her favorite type of work is tackling small problems—the ones for which constituents seek her help, like fixing sidewalks or understanding local ordinances.

“I love getting the things done for people that are important to them,” Denise says. “Maybe not for you and me, but to them it really is so important.”

As she launches into the remainder of the term with nearly a year and a half of work ahead of her, she says she finds comfort in the fact that Buddy is watching down as she represents the district he loved so much.

She acknowledges that even though she never imagined she would be where she is today, she knows Buddy would have been happy to see her in this light.

“When you get pushed into situations, things that you would never think you would do, you do,” Denise says. “And you do it because you love them. And I love him.”

This article was originally published in the May 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.