Salvador Anzelmo, a former New Orleans city attorney and three-term state representative known for his forceful personality, political savvy and dedication to civil rights, died Sunday while in hospice care in Deland, Florida. He was 93.
During a legal career that spanned more than six decades, Anzelmo became known for his intellect and a bulldog approach to representing his clients, whether ordinary people or powerful politicians.
After serving in the state House of Representatives, he became an attorney for the Legislature and later the city attorney under Mayor Dutch Morial, whom he met while the two served in the House. He would also represent clients such as East Jefferson General Hospital and the Regional Transit Authority.
In the 1960s he took a stand against segregationist legislation and endured verbal abuse and threats because of his views, said former Mayor Moon Landrieu, who served alongside him in the House.
“He loved public service,” said Tommy Anzelmo, his son. “He was a natural in the Legislature.”
Salvador Anzelmo — known as Sal, Sam or Mr. A — was born in Chicago in 1920. His family moved back to the New Orleans area when he was a boy, first to St. Bernard Parish and later to the city.
A clarinet and saxophone player, he graduated from Warren Easton High School and attended LSU on a music scholarship, Tommy Anzelmo said.
His college career was interrupted by World War II, which saw Anzelmo deployed to London as a musician with the Army.
The staff sergeant was twice wounded and received two Purple Hearts. One of the injuries popped an ear drum, preventing him from properly hearing music and ultimately ending his days as a musician, Tommy Anzelmo said.
While he played for British royalty and during the Potsdam Conference in 1945, at which the leaders of the U.S., Soviet Union and Britain decided on punishment for the defeated Nazi Germany, Anzelmo also played with a quartet fronted by a 12-year-old girl. That child, according to Tommy Anzelmo, was singer Petula Clark, who would go on to be a pop sensation in the 1960s.
Following the war, Salvador Anzelmo graduated from Loyola Law School in 1950. He would practice law for six decades.
He served in the House of Representatives from 1960 to 1972.
His first term began as Gov. Jimmie Davis called a special session to try to block court-ordered desegregation of New Orleans public schools. He and Landrieu were the only two representatives to vote against a barrage of segregationist legislation. Landrieu said legislators “just went crazy” after the session began, introducing “every bill you could imagine to maintain segregation.”
As someone with an Italian background who grew up during a time when Italians bore the brunt of some racist attacks, Anzelmo understood the plight of minorities, leading to his anti-segregation views, Landrieu said.
“He was really a rock. He held his ground despite some unbelievable criticism and threats on his life,” Landrieu said. “Sam stood up virtually on a daily basis and opposed the obnoxious legislation that was being proposed.”
Despite his views, Anzelmo was still respected among those who did not agree with him politically because of his steadfast demeanor, Landrieu said.
Anzelmo served as the city attorney during seven of Morial’s eight years in office.
He led the city’s legal department during a time that saw frequent battles between Morial and the City Council, where a so-called “gang of five” often thwarted Morial’s agenda. That strained relationship led the council to take the unprecedented action of hiring its own attorney, Okla Jones II. Jones succeeded Anzelmo as city attorney after Sidney Barthelemy — one of the “gang of five” — was elected mayor after Morial.
Anzelmo is survived by his wife, Fran; four children, Tommy Anzelmo, Don Anzelmo, of Monroe, Jean Borne and David Anzelmo; two stepdaughters, Terry Stewart, of Deland, and Tonya McAdam, of Durham, N.C.; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
He will be buried with military honors at 11 a.m. Friday at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida.
A memorial service will be conducted locally June 14 at St. Rita Catholic Church, 7100 Jefferson Highway. Visitation will begin at 9 a.m., with eulogies at 10:30 a.m. A Mass will follow at 11 a.m.