Rosanne Pauciello, 74, of South Philadelphia, longtime Democratic leader of Ward 39A and a powerful behind-the-scenes operative in city politics, died Sunday, Feb. 11, of complications from cancer at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Rosanne Pauciello
Courtesy of the family
Rosanne Pauciello

Starting in 1985, Ms. Pauciello took the helm of the South Philadelphia ward which extends southward from Mifflin Street and eastward from South Broad Street to the Delaware River. She was active as a ward leader up until the time of her death.

"Rosanne was a lifelong friend and mentor," said Mayor Kenney in a statement. "I had the privilege of working with her closely throughout my career. She will be remembered as a passionate community advocate who was the beloved leader of Ward 39A. I will miss her dearly and I know that many residents of South Philadelphia will, too."

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady said Ms. Pauciello was also the first vice chair of the Democratic City Committee, of which he is head. "She was excellent. She worked it 24/7 always," he said. "If something happened to me, it would have been her [as leader]."

"In South Philly, politics is a blood sport. She was street-smart, a member of Mensa. She really, really will be missed, by her family and her political family. She's irreplaceable. It's sad. It's really a shame," said Brady, who heads the Democratic Party in the city.

Ms. Pauciello called Brady often on behalf of her constituents or committee people, asking for favors, but "never for herself," Brady said.

Both Brady and former State Sen. Vince Fumo, who helped Ms. Pauciello get her start in politics, said she ran the ward with a tight rein. "She could be tough when she wanted to be, but down deep she had a soft nature," Fumo said.

Her duties were arranging for constituent services, political organizing, and managing political campaigns for Fumo, Brady, and others.

"When I ran my first campaign, my then-wife said, 'What about Rosanne as manager?' " Fumo said. "She turned out to be one of the most effective campaigners ever. She was good at getting out the vote and handling the office.

"Rosanne was unbelievably precise in the way she could remember things," Fumo said. "In our second or third [senatorial] campaign, we had all these fund-raisers. I would give her a name, and she would say, 'That person contributed two years ago, and it was a check.' "

After Fumo began serving his first term as state senator in 1978, he didn't want to be a ward leader anymore, and later tapped her to replace him.

"As a ward leader, she was very detail-oriented," Fumo said. "When something came in — boom — it was done and out of the way. She always said to me, 'Simply simplify.' She tried to do that herself."

In 2009, after Fumo was convicted of 137 federal corruption counts and sentenced to 55 months in federal prison, Ms. Pauciello told the Inquirer: "I am devastated."

The conviction did not end their close association.

"We were like brother and sister," said Fumo. "She never had a brother, I never had a sister. She knew me inside out, and I knew her inside out."

Ms. Pauciello's first job after graduating from Cabrini College in 1965, was as a home and school visitor, or truant officer, for the Philadelphia School District, said her nephew, Jeffrey Travelina. "She worked with troubled children and their families," he said.

A love of children was a theme throughout her life. Though never married and childless, she jumped into motherhood in 2001 when her sister, Lorraine Travelina, a single mother, died, leaving two sons and a daughter without parents.

"My sister and brother and I thought the world of her," Travelina said.

Another task she took on was as unofficial den mother and fund-raiser for the South Philly Vikings, a Mummers Fancy Brigade club known for its philanthropic work.

Pete D'Amato, the recently retired Vikings captain, said he met Ms. Pauciello through her nephews who were Mummers. "Rosanne helped everybody, not just the Viking, year in and year out with fund-raising," he said. "She understood what was needed. We had to raise money to put on the shows indoors."

"She wanted to see everybody do well. She was a stern woman, but she practiced Mummerly tough love. Everybody around her, if you were willing to help yourself, she tried to help you out, the most that she could," D'Amato said.

In addition to politics, Ms. Pauciello enjoyed her vacation home in Atlantic City and playing the slots in the casinos.

In addition to her nephew, she is survived by another nephew, Johnny Travelina; a niece, Janine Sabella; and great-nephews Rocco Sabella, and Michael and Nicco DiPietro.

A viewing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, at the Baldi Funeral Home, 1331 S. Broad St. in South Philadelphia. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 16, at Stella Maris Church, 2901 S. 10th St., Philadelphia. Interment is private.

Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society, 1626 Locust St., Philadelphia, 19103.