PLAQUEMINE — Friday’s gloomy weather was a reflection of the emotions running through City Hall as officials struggled to deal with the unexpected death of Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta.
“It’s very somber, very shocking,” city spokeswoman Ellie Hebert said Friday afternoon. “I don’t know how to think about the city of Plaquemine without Tony leading. He has been a wonderful leader for so long.”
Gulotta, 57, was visiting a friend Friday morning when, it is suspected, he had a massive heart attack. The mayor’s family has a history of heart-related illness.
Gulotta, who has served as the mayor for 22 years, was pronounced dead by the parish coroner about 11:30 a.m. after he was transported to the Ochsner medical facility in Plaquemine.
He is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren.
Family members were not immediately available Friday for comment.
“He was satisfied making sure the residents of his town were taken care of,” Iberville Sheriff Brett Stassi said. “He really kept things on an even keel for all his residents, despite who they were or where they lived.”
Gulotta’s death comes five months after his older brother, Orian Anthony Gulotta, the town’s police chief, died from complications of his six-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Shortly after his brother’s death, Gulotta said he and his brother were one of the last few remaining sibling sets in the state that held the two highest-ranking elected positions in a small town.
City officials say the Bayou Waterfront Park project will be Gulotta’s legacy.
The recreational site, which is adjacent to the Plaquemine Lock State Commemorative area near downtown, was once a vacant 3-acre lot the mayor helped transform into the popular public park it is now.
The first phases of the project kicked off in August 2000 and were completed in June 2006.
A third phase is underway to add additional parking, an open-air pavilion and a meeting room at the site, which already has floating piers, lighted walkways and seating, a picnic area and wooden boardwalks over the waterway.
“He went everywhere, talked to everyone, to get the funding to get that done,” Hebert said.
Under his leadership, Gulotta also launched numerous campaigns to keep litter off city streets.
Gulotta spearheaded partnerships with the local Association for Retarded Citizens, the state’s Elayn Hunt Correctional Center and Plaquemine City Court to clean up the streets through the use of clients, inmates and community service workers.
The city also saw a $12 million road rebuilding project under his administration, construction of a $16.4 million new wastewater treatment plant and more than $7 million worth of improvements to Plaquemine’s electrical system.
Gulotta will also be remembered for his hands-on approach to governing. He wasn’t shy about jumping into ditches with city workers.
“Plaquemine was his passion,” Hebert said. “He liked being involved in what was going on.”
The city has 14 days to appoint an interim mayor or it will forfeit the decision to the governor.
Hebert said the city’s Board of Selectmen is holding a special meeting sometime next week to appoint an interim mayor to finish Gulotta’s sixth term in office until the city holds it next elections in November 2016.
The city’s mayor pro tem, Oscar S. Mellion, will handle any day-to-day operations at City Hall until the interim mayor is appointed, Hebert said.
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.