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Joe Grano, a One-of-a-Kind Washington Advocate

I’m going to miss Joe Grano’s pitches. The Washington activist was a bare-knuckle brawler for varied causes, from historic preservation to D.C. citizens’ representation, and he knew how to get his message across with panache.

He died Nov. 24 at the age of 68 at George Washington University Hospital. Mike DeBonis’ obituary in Sunday’s Washington Post encapsulates Grano’s unique history in the nation’s capital, from his life-changing fight to preserve Rhodes Tavern (which he lost), to his longtime advocacy for Constantino Brumidi, the Italian-American artist whose work adorns the Capitol Rotunda.

Grano tended to the grave of Brumidi at Glenwood Cemetery in Washington. (CQ Roll Call File Photo.)
Grano tended to the grave of Brumidi at Glenwood Cemetery in Washington. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“Joe was a relentless advocate and had a special place in his heart for Constantino Brumidi’s contributions to the beauty of the Capitol,” said John Bicknell, a former editor at CQ Roll Call who is now executive editor at 1105 Media, who also fielded Grano’s pitches.

Grano, a man passionate about many issues, was far from the slick characters depicted in “This Town,” the chummy, rubbing-shoulders citizens of the capital of glitz that Mark Leibovich chronicled for his book of the same name. He alternated titles, depending on the occasion or cause. One day it might be: Joe Grano, President, Rhodes Tavern-DC Heritage Society. Another time it would be: Joseph N. Grano, Chairman, The Constantino Brumidi Society.

He was blunt and wasn’t afraid to ask for exactly what he wanted, particularly in, literally, colorful messaging.

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A release in American red, white and blue, plus Italian red, white and green? Rest assured it was from Grano. Who has a big enough personality to send multi-hued releases?

He also would give precise instructions for non-political professionals to get involved, even referring people to websites such as that “will show you how to do this.”

There’s something to be said for being accessible at the same time as being unapologetic.

In one of his last campaigns, pushing for the U.S. Postal Service to issue a Brumidi stamp, he showed an unabashed enthusiasm, as well as praise for a lawmaker he sometimes clashed with, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.

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It was the first time I was addressed as a possible “Italophile.” And I was delighted to be pitched as such, which isn’t something I say about many solicitations I receive.

There’s a Latin term for folks like Joe Grano, which he would hopefully appreciate. Sui generis.

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