After 16 years, Lower Burrell Councilman Joe Grillo said it’s time to go. He announced last week he would not seek reelection this year during a council meeting this week.
“I’ve given it long and hard thought since 2018 when I had a cancer scare,” Grillo said. “Thank God, I’m now a cancer survivor.”
Grillo, who is semi-retired from security and sales, wants to spend more time with family and his girlfriend.
“I would like to see someone step in with fresh ideas,” he said. Grillo credits his mentors for inspiring him to continue his long tenure on council: Arnold’s late Mayor Willie DeMao and the late New Kensington Councilman Weddie Leibert.
Grillo, 61, has been around long enough and done enough to become somewhat of local institution; he has played Santa Claus for community events for 42 years and continues to sing “God Bless America” for official events for the American Legion and others.
With a history of singing with church and school choirs, Grillo is an amateur actor who has performed in about 30 stage shows.
“I would love to get back to the theater,” he said. “I will do that if I can remember my lines.”
Grillo proudly describes himself a product of what he calls the Alle-Kiski Valley’s greatest high school seniors, Valley High School’s Class of 1978. Classmates include two mayors, New Kensington Mayor Tom Guzzo and former Arnold Mayor Larry Milito. Grillo tried to become the third mayor in the class but lost to Rich Callender in 2015.
Milito knew Grillo since the eighth grade, and they have been friends ever since.
“Joe’s public work has a lot to do with his background where he was taught to respect other people and respect his community,” he said. “That helped him become a successful councilman by giving his heart, soul and dedication back to the community.”
Grillo remembers dates by way of life’s landmarks with his late wife, Barbara J. (Milburn) Grillo, who died in 2015. A New Kensington native, he married Barbara in 1985 for the first wedding in Burrell Lake Park and the first wedding officiated by then-Mayor Dennis Kowalski.
“He was probably more nervous than I was,” Grillo said.
He won his first election almost 30 years ago, a seat on the Burrell School Board.
“The night before I won the election, my wife found out she was pregnant with our daughter, Gabriella Rose,” Grillo said.
After his first term, his wife’s health problems caused Grillo to pause his political aspirations.
“My wife became ill and that was the most important thing to me,” he said.
Then about 17 years ago, when the powerful remnants of Hurricane Ivan hit and Grillo was helping out with public safety work associated with the mega storm, his wife took note.
“If you want to help out the city and the community, I want you to run for council,” she told him.
While the city’s progress and challenges were all a part Grillo’s service to the city, losing one of their finest, police officer Derek Kotecki, who was ambushed and killed by a fugitive in 2011, still tears at Grillo.
“It was one of the hardest days of my life,” he said.
Grillo is proud of a number of accomplishments, including the city hall renovation and other projects. He is happy that U-Haul has taken up half of the large hole left in the city’s commercial corridor along Leechburg Road, which used to be home to J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward department stores.
“We’re halfway there,” he said. “It would be really nice if the other part of the J.C. Penney site would get occupied.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “I am an eternal optimist.”
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