By Ken Mammarella
One way that Claire DeMatteis accomplishes so much is that she gets up at 4 a.m. Another is her sense of order. “I’m probably one of the most disciplined people that you ever met,” she said. “I’m very much a planner.”
In January, she became secretary of the Delaware Department of Human Resources. That’s on top of serving on the boards of Nemours and the University of Delaware. She’s also an adjunct professor at UD, and she made time to care for her mother for 18 months in her Wilmington home before she passed on this winter.
“There’s a common theme among my jobs: I like to be part of the group forming strategy and delivering results,” DeMatteis said. “I never had a job and I don’t think I would function well in a job where I sit on the sidelines or that I wait for 5 o’clock so I can leave. I’ve always had a job where there’s a lot of action, a lot of public policy and a lot of very meaningful projects, and that’s what drew me back to public service.”
The Delaware Italian American Foundation in February recognized her accomplishments with its Order of Merit. Other recipients were Michael A. Begatto Sr., executive director of the Delaware Public Employees, AFSCME Council 81; Italo Carrieri-Russo, general manager of Vincenza & Margherita Italian-American Bistro; and the Delaware Asian American Business Association.
DeMatteis is a Delaware native, one of six children raised by her mother, following her father’s death when she was 9. Her grandfather’s family is from Naples, her grandmother’s from Milan. She’s visited cousins in Milan but “sadly” does not speak Italian. “That’s on my retirement bucket list,” she said.
She earned her bachelor’s degree from UD and her law degree from the Delaware Law School.
Two years working for Gov. then U.S. Rep. Mike Castle led to 10 with Sen. Joe Biden and 13 in the private sector. When work took her to Florida and New York for nine years, she kept her Delaware house.
Just before her current job, she coordinated federal COVID-19 funding for Delaware and served as commissioner of the Depart-ment of Correction, the state’s largest law enforcement agency.
DeMatteis rises early to exercise: swimming 2 miles, plus a lengthy run near the Rockford Park home she shares with her husband, Michael Marquardt, CEO of Global Kompass Strategies.
“It’s not an option to not exercise,” she said. “I think through problems, clear my head and control my stress. Exercise makes me feel better.” And it keeps the 57-year-old at her high-school weight.
She also makes time to be with family and friends. “My husband’s a big wine collector, and we have a lot of parties,” frequently as fundraisers for the many nonprofits they support. “Italians know how to throw a party!” she wrote on Instagram in 2019 about the St. Anthony’s Italian Festival.
Her profile on the state’s website prioritizes three issues: recruiting a “a new generation of workers,” since a third of the state’s 16,000 workers are eligible to retire in five years; addressing “compensation inequities across state government agencies”; and increasing professional development, particularly for newly promoted staffers or staffers who want to be promoted.
“We have to make state government cool to work for,” she said, and that entails flexible schedules and builds on raises announced recently by Gov. John Carney, benefitting the most those on the lowest of the state’s 26 pay grades.
She hopes that reducing duplication of responsibilities among HR staffers at the state’s 16 agencies will release resources to enable those goals and other improvements.
She said her proudest achievement has been becoming a Delaware attorney by going to law school at night while working full time as a broadcast journalist. That degree led her to being a law firm partner and working as general counsel for three companies, plus “increasing the contribution of women attorneys in Delaware, particularly women on the bench.”
And she cited her work with Family Court and against domestic violence as key accomplishments. “The public policy that truly impacts people’s lives is what’s meaningful for me, and I think that is what has defined my career more than anything – and will continue to.”
So what could be in her future? “I know I’m not done yet.,” she said. “I have a lot of years left and certainly will work through the end of the Carney administration. I have a couple ideas, and I would love someday to be the author of a meaningful book.”