TAMPA — Every year, Al Noto moved mountains of spaghetti to help developmentally disabled adults. The Feast of St. Joseph, which Mr. Noto organized to benefit the MacDonald Training Center, took days to execute, months to plan.
Mr. Noto, a warehouse foreman, his family and many others pulled off the feast each March, most recently at the West Tampa Convention Center. It often brought out more than a thousand voters, especially among West Tampa's Cuban community, to hear politicians who made the feast a mandatory campaign stop.
Judges, county officials and governors wanted to be seen with Mr. Noto, a Democrat, and other key players, whose recommendations counted.
"Any politician who went to Tampa would look for Marcelo Maceda, Tony Garcia, Bebe Castro or Al Noto because they were considered people of influence," said former Assistant Hillsborough County Administrator Jack Espinosa, 78. "And they were."
Property Appraiser Rob Turner, 57, volunteered for the feasts each year, often ladling the food onto plates himself. Though viewed primarily as a force for Democrats, Mr. Noto was beholden to no one, Turner said.
"He supported those he believed could help our city," Turner said. Those who passed his muster got their names on a handy card voters could consult inside the booth.
"Al could pass a thousand palm cards in half a dozen precincts in Tampa," said Victor DiMaio, 54, son of civic leader Victor E. DiMaio, a friend of Mr. Noto's. "That would make a difference. You could sway a thousand votes that way."
Mr. Noto died June 13. He was 83 and had suffered strokes in recent years.
The son of Sicilian parents, Mr. Noto was born and raised in Ybor City — a melting pot for immigrant families from Spain, Italy and Cuba, said Ybor City native Espinosa.
"Those three cultures are different, and we didn't get along very well," Espinosa said.
But constituencies merged over time, as minorities found in each other a powerful voting bloc. The geographic base once defined by Ybor expanded to the west over the years, as cigar manufacturers looked for more space to build.
Mr. Noto, a foreman at Tampa Wholesale Liquor, sometimes used his political capital to help people find jobs.
"I remember many times Al coming to see me," said Elvin Martinez, 74, a former state representative and county court judge. "A person needed this favor or that favor from the state of Florida, or to have this person qualify for food stamps or something of that nature."
He made eye contact, and impressed with sincerity.
"When somebody hits your heart in the right place, you do whatever you need to do to get it done for him," said DeDe Grundel, 45, the executive director for Kids Charity of Tampa Bay. "Somehow or other, when Al asked you to do it, you did it."
He tried to arrange favors for others without the recipients knowing about his efforts. But at the annual feast, there was no hiding.
Volunteer cooks boiled hundreds of pounds of spaghetti, which was then covered with Mr. Noto's sauce and a host of ingredients (fish, homemade breads, fried pastries) worthy of a celebration of St. Joseph, who is said to protect immigrants and working people. Guests could make a donation or eat for free.
The event's biggest beneficiary was MacDonald Training Center, which gained anywhere from $9,000 to $20,000 a year, said Sue Mesko, an executive administrative assistant at the center.
Mr. Noto's obituary did not run in local newspapers. That's the way he wanted it, his family said. The feast will go on as scheduled in March.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]