By Danielle Blondin
The first thing that you’ll think about Alexandra Cardinale, assistant director of Admissions at Fitchburg State University, is that she’s about 110 percent Italian. If she is laughing, you can hear her no matter where you are in the Admissions office, and most of the time that’s enough to get you laughing, too. She’s exuberant – a people person. The second thing that you’ll notice is that she must get that from her father. You may not know Cardinale, but there’s a pretty good chance that you do know her father, Stephen DiNatale, current state representative and Fitchburg mayoral candidate, who won 68 percent of the vote in the preliminary election on Sept. 21.
Cardinale’s new last name is the first indication that she’s almost as busy as her father. She’s gotten married and finished up her master’s degree within the last year, while simultaneously occupying a seat on the board of directors for Fitchburg Access Television and the Fitchburg Alumni Association. Like both of her parents, Cardinale is a proud graduate of Fitchburg State. However, that wasn’t always the case. “I did not want to come here,” she laughs, “but my parents dragged me, and I fell in love with it.” Such is the story with many Fitchburg State students, it seems. “My parents never let us feed into the ‘Dirtyburg’ thing, because that’s not Fitchburg. They taught us to be proud of Fitchburg, and to promote it when we can,” she said. “Be proud of it, and educate people who might have a misconception. Working here, I’m able to do that, and I think my dad is proud.”
As impressive as Cardinale’s resume is, she is only one of the two successful DiNatale children. Her older brother, Marcus, is a financial analyst and consultant – and also the backbone of their father’s campaign. “Marcus eats, drinks, sleeps, and breathes politics,” says Cardinale. “He’s instrumental in my dad’s campaign.” Although Marcus DiNatale did not attend Fitchburg State or study sociology like his father, he did follow in his father’s footsteps straight to the city counselor seat. Marcus DiNatale is a counselor-at- large, meaning he is one of several individuals who oversee the entire city of Fitchburg. But behind the scenes, he’s the brains of his father’s campaign website and Facebook page and an integral part of the structure of the campaign itself. “Marcus sees black and white,” Cardinale laughs, “while I’m all about the gray area.” Sure enough, her undergraduate degree is in communications media.
So, will Cardinale be running for city counselor? Or state representative? Or mayor? “No,” she says with a chuckle, “the politics of politics is why I don’t have any interest in it. People can’t separate personal from political anymore.” If she had little interest before this mayoral election began, she certainly has none left now that it is under way. Stephen DiNatale has run unopposed for the state representative seat for the past nine years, which is why this election – now with three opponents – has been particularly rough. “Something we really didn’t have to deal with before was scrutiny from other camps; social media brings things to another level,” Cardinale explains. “There’s plenty of forums with people’s opinions out there, some which are particularly nasty. That’s been really hard. People tell me not to read it, but how could I not?”
One could argue that Cardinale inherited her father’s personality and people skills by way of “nature,” but, according to her, “nurture” had a lot to do with it, too. “He was at every single football and field hockey game. Anything that was important to us, he did not miss,” Cardinale noted. “He was always a real presence.” But while he was always a presence for his family, he was – and is – also a presence for Fitchburg, she said. “It’s pretty hard for him to go anywhere now,” she laughs. “I had lunch with him and my mom yesterday and he ran into someone he knew; he didn’t sit down with us for probably 10 minutes.” But this is nothing new. “When I was in high school, people would see my name and ask if we were related. As a young person I thought it was really cool,” Cardinale recalls. The influence that her father has had on both his family and his beloved Fitchburg is evident here, but Cardinale is convinced that her mother, Joanne, a teacher of 40 years, has a lot to do with her father’s passion. “He calls my mom ‘Mrs. Fitchburg’ because she really loves this city,” she says, “and she’s probably the reason why he loves it so much, too.” Stephen and Joanne DiNatale both attended Fitchburg State, met in Fitchburg, and haven’t lived anywhere else since. Cardinale, although she lives right next door in Leominster, says that it is as far from Fitchburg as she will go. “We wanted to be close, and they wanted us close too,” she shares. “We’re a close family and we have a strong love for this city.”