Joseph Crapa, the executive director of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, died Thursday from cancer at the age of 63.
Crapa, who had led the commission since 2002, previously worked for 25 years in various Capitol Hill-related jobs, including House committee offices, Member offices and in the Congressional relations shops of several executive branch agencies.
Immediately before coming to the commission, Crapa worked as chief of staff to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“Joe was a pure salt-of-the-earth human being,” Schumer wrote in an e-mail. “To know him was to love him.”
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) noted in a statement that she knew Crapa during his service in the Senate and the Clinton administration. She lauded Crapa’s “indomitable spirit and determination” during the fight to secure funding for New York in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Crapa also served as counsel and staff director in the office of Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) for 10 years, before leaving in 1997 to become associate administrator for Congressional and intergovernmental affairs at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Obey said he was dubious when he first interviewed Crapa for a job in 1987.
“I thought, ‘There’s no way in God’s green earth I can work with this fast-talking guy from Brooklyn,” Obey said. “He was about three times as intense as I was. But his solidity, wisdom, and shrewdness came through, and we ended up not only working together for 10 years, but becoming close friends.”
Obey said Crapa was a “superb example” of the importance of the role staffers play on the Hill.
“There are a lot of people who never serve in elected office — staffers and people in various agencies — who love this country, are dedicated to doing things right and to advancing the cause of regular people,” Obey said. He said Crapa “loved politics, he loved government, he had a moral core to everything he did. He was an intellectual and, at the same time, a hard-nosed practicing pol in the best sense of the word.”
In a statement released by USCIRF on Thursday, Chairman Michael Cromartie said Crapa “had an unwavering, principled commitment to … protecting religious freedom worldwide.” He and Vice Chairwoman Preeta Bansal both commented on Crapa’s “sharp political instincts,” which Bansal said were “crucial to him in this sensitive area.”
Over the course of his career, Crapa worked as the top Congressional relations official at the EPA, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and in the No. 2 spot in the Department of Commerce’s Congressional relations office.
He also spent time at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where he was the executive director of the Speaker’s Club, and as vice president at lobby shop Dutko and Associates. For six years during his time in Obey’s office and at the EPA, Crapa taught part-time as adjunct professor of government at Georgetown University. He was a John C. Stennis Congressional fellow in 1995-1996.
Crapa was born Dec. 16, 1943, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He received his bachelor’s from St. John’s University in New York City and went on to receive a master’s degree from Duke and a Ph.D. from the University of Arizona; all three degrees were in British and American literature. He married Barbara Vaskis in 1967; the couple had one son, Judd, and two grandsons, Sebastian and Baird.
A memorial service for Crapa is scheduled for 1 p.m. today at St. Peter’s Church on Capitol Hill.