Bicentennial Interview: Charles ‘Don’ Clemons, Star Athlete, Firefighter, Public Servant

Some call him Charles, others call him by middle name Don, and still others Clem. Say hello to Town Clerk Charles ‘Don’ Clemons who’s enjoyed an eclectic public service career including the Fire Department, City Council, State House and currently in his second four-year term heading the office that oversees municipal land records, licensing and issuance of absentee ballots. He’s OIB correspondent Bob Fredericks’s latest interview celebrating Bridgeport’s Bicentennial.

A star football player at Notre Dame, Clemons played for the Bridgeport Jets, the professional team owned by the late Francis “Hi-Ho” D’Addario, and also time on the taxi squad of the New York Jets. Those were the days Joe Namath was throwing to John Riggins coming out of the backfield.

Clemons played football for the Bridgeport “Hi-Ho” Jets.

He was also one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit seeking to end racial discrimination in the Bridgeport Fire Department, where he served for about two decades. He shares his thoughts on growing up and working in the Park City.

Q. What is your first memory of Bridgeport?

A. Well, one thing that stands out is the Barnum Festival, the Fourth of July parade. I grew up Downtown. I remember most vividly the parade, the festival, and leading up to the parade, my mother entered me in the Wing Ding competition in Beardsley Park. If you won you got to march in the parade. I remember 1960 North End Little League, very important and instrumental for my life. And the boys clubs were instrumental in our lives, building character, competition. North End, Middle Street. Those years were the most memorable I had. I remember watching the [Harlem] Globetrotters play at the armory, which is now the [Cardinal] Shehan Center.

Q. What are your ties to Bpt., and what do you do, either work or volunteer work, that benefits the city and its residents?

A. I was a Firefighter, and  part of the plaintiffs who sued the city for racial discrimination. I went on the job April of 1981. My uncle was the first black firefighter in the city of Bridgeport. He applied for the police department, they offered him a position in the fire department. George Clark. We all got five years seniority from when the suit was filed.

In 2000 I was  elected to the City Council, 135th district. I served in the State House from 2003 to 2015. Spent four years as chairman of the Black and Puerto Rican caucus. In 2015 I ran for town clerk. Played for the Bridgeport Jets in ’74. In ’75, I was on the taxi squad of the NY Jets. In ’76, I tried out for the Redskins, but I got cut pre-season. I was also a [high school] basketball official for about 15 years. And I belong to the Mt. Avery Baptist Church, in my old neighborhood.

Q. What do you like best about Bridgeport?

A. The diversity. Bridgeport to me a microcosm of New York City, I’ve always felt that.

Q. Where is your favorite spot in the city to visit and why?

A. Well, over the years there are a lot of nostalgic places. Pleasure Beach and Seaside Park, Beardsley Park. When I’m at Beardsley Park I get a little choked up. They built the [Routes 25 and 8] artery, went right through Beardsley Park. I always ask, what if? The northbound lanes went right through where the beach was. They had horse trails, and people could rent horses.

Q. What’s your favorite Bridgeport eatery and what do you like there?

A. Have to break that down by ethnicity. I love Jamaican food, CJ’s Jerk Center on Stratford Avenue. Italian, of course I go to Mario the Bakers. For the price and the amount of food they give you, Testo’s is good. Ralph and Rich’s, even when it was Pjuras on Gold Street.

Q. Where do you see the city going?

A. I’ve always felt it, but it has taken a long time, I see Bridgeport being, I hope in my lifetime, a destination hub, because I always look at the geography, the location. You’re talking half way between New York and Boston.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make a miracle happen for the city, what would it be?

A. Bridgeport needs to take advantage of what it has to offer. The administrations over the years, they didn’t have a vision. Industries left, but they had no vision. Bridgeport should take advantage of the diversity here, take advantage of being 50 miles from New York. We’re right in the middle, on the I-95 corridor, with the most diverse population. I would like to see Bridgeport as being a cultural destination. We have to have have a plan that works. I traveled a lot, coast to coast, even out of this country. Believe it or not, I always run into someone who is from Bridgeport, or knows somebody from Bridgeport. Bridgeport has potential, but at what point does the potential turn into progress? Hopefully opportunity will come about. You hear the word, potential, but what are we doing to manifest that potential into things that work?

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19 comments

  1. I was reading in the NYT today about how New Zealand has a new law requiring Mandatory FMLA for stillborn or miscarriages. It is the only country in the world that requires that. The only thing is it is only 3 days.
    Of course the good old capitalist USA doesn’t have any mandatory FMLA of any length even if it is full term for married parents only.
    When you read about some of the laws in other civilized countries you realize just how cheap we can be.

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  2. Nothing is going to happen in Bridgeport with policital leadeship from top to bottom in the Demoratic Party, nothing. Bridgeport is waiting for that goose that lays golden eggs of a casino. Bridgeport has no vision because it has no leadership.

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  3. Nice article n Mr. Charles Clemons. I had stopped down to Mr. Clemons awhile back to congratulate him on his impressive win in the past election. He has lead a most impressive life and it was a treat to hear about his family roots in the city. Photo’s in his office. He is a man of substance and his life story would make a very interesting red and movie. I am always appreciative when somebody takes the time to share their personal story. I could listen to him for hours. He is a Bridgeport legend and somebody should take this Bridgeport legends life and publish it while he is alive and well and willing to share. He would inspire so many. His life story could lift so many in our community. Much respect.

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  4. Stevie A,
    Good to have you back. Joe let you say something nice about Clem now go back into your hole again.
    Ron,
    Stevie A must have heard about a job opening in the Town Clerks Office. It sounds like he’s kissing up big time.

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    1. Bob, Stevie A. can not post anything during work hours but Joe and Mario allow Stevie to post on non working days but as long as it positive. Kissing up big time is what Stevie A. does best, Stevie come back to OIB, you are still the super star in your mind.

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  5. Don Clemons and Local Eyes are on the same page.
    Here’s why:
    We both understand the intrinsic value of Bridgeport’s location between New York City and Boston.
    An OIB reader owns web sites in both cities.
    We both understand the value of local presence.
    An OIB reader owns EXIT27A.com
    We both want to see Bridgeport thrive.
    An OIB reader owns BridgeportCTUSA.com
    Here’s why I’m writing:
    Vision is a lot easier once the infrastructure is in place.
    Can we substitute grand design for political leadership?
    Let’s find out.
    (wink)

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  6. Ron
    Nothing is going to happen in Bridgeport as long as there is any semblance of the political machinery that is in place today. Nothing.
    I remember talking to the town chair from New Haven when Joe was being investigated.
    She told me New Haven was as bad until they changed the structure of the DTC.
    As long as there is the potential for a your scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours there will be the potential for corruption.

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  7. Bob, you are 100% right, “As long as there is the potential for a your scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours there will be the potential for corruption,” Bridgeport is known for you have to “pay to play.” As for corruption, the top story in Bridgeport is the corruption with testing for police chief with the Personnel Director and the Police Chief getting ready to go to federal prison.

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  8. Hey Lennie,
    When you are running your OIB Stories of t he year, I nominated the Police Competency Test because Only In Bridgeport could they give a test for Chief of Police and the winner is so incompetent that he brings down the Civil Service Director with him!
    Only In Bridgeport.

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    1. Hey Bob,
      Did you not spend your entire political career is the same climate you describe today?
      You parrot yourself when you cite corruption’s potential — it’s been that way since
      the world began.

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        1. Maybe the reason you keep talking about corruption is because you’re closer to it than I am.
          Are you having trouble washing the sins of corruption from your hands?
          If corruption is part of the stigma, the answer involves finding an aura.
          Wise folk concentrate on that.

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  9. Cool Piece for OIB. Love to see more of this, BPT has many interesting and influential story tellers over the years. I’ve gotten to know Don better over the years. I actually grew up with his son who was a pretty talented basetball player himself.

    Looking forward to other Q/A’s

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    1. Q: What does Bridgeport need?
      A: Bridgeport needs an aura to replace its stigma.

      I suggest a city-wide aura discovery movement. (stop laughing)
      That means mass replication of the newly found aura followed
      by cultural indoctrination, which requires everyone to practice it. < — Bridgeport is fantastic at this.

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