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Former Mayor Tom Bucci’s Kiddie Korps Gang Rides Again

January 2nd, 2014 · 31 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Budget, News and Events

Bucci, Norko

Relaxing in Testo’s Restaurant on Monday, former Mayor Tom Bucci left and John Norko who served as city chief administrative officer have been friends for 40 years. All photos courtesy Anna Maria Virzi.

It’s hard to believe nearly 25 years after Tom Bucci served his last day as mayor, a dozen friends and members from his mayoral staff gather each December between Christmas and the New Year to reminisce, needle, pontificate, argue, compare crow’s feet, laugh lines, hairlines and waistlines. This is a crew with a sense of humor; you need one to survive in city politics. They’re much older now but still the Kiddie Korps.

Dunn, Grimaldi

Kiddie Korps table at Testo’s Restaurant. At left David Dunn, city personnel director, who served as labor relations director under Bucci. That droopy looking thing to his left is me. The others we will not identify to protect the innocent.

The Kiddie Korps has its roots under sweet-and-sour John Mandanici, mayor from 1975-81, who hired a number of young guns to key administration positions, all in their late 20s. John Norko as comptroller, David Dunn as director of Labor Relations, Robert Buccino as chief aide and Tom Bucci in the City Attorney’s Office. When Bucci became mayor in 1985 he did the same, a bunch of us in our late 20s. I was communications director and adviser.

Bucci is the cousin of Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa whose restaurant on Madison Avenue serves as the annual venue. The other day, it did not take long for the ribbing to commence.

Merly

Larry Merly, the city attorney during the Bucci years, took on the insurance companies after the L’Ambiance collapse.

“Hey Dunn,” one at the table cracked, “what’s it like getting the crap kicked out of you on Only In Bridgeport?”

Dunn currently serves as the city’s personnel director in charge of Civil Service. Employment and labor relations have been his life.

“Who’s been picking on me?” Dunn draws back in mock horror.

“Mackey and Day.”

Ron Mackey and Donald Day, members of the Firebirds that represent black firefighters, have knocked heads with Dunn over a variety of personnel issues for about 30 years. Both served as city firefighters.

“So what else is new,” Dunn responds.

Goldwasser hands

The able hands of Jeff Goldwasser, who served as Bucci’s campaign treasurer, counts the dough to pay the Testo’s lunch bill. Everyone trusts Goldy with the money.

At this annual event no one is really safe from the verbal knife. The conversation gets around to government holdovers from the Bucci years now in the Bill Finch administration. “Yeah Tom, thanks for giving us Sherwood!” one at the table declares.

As city employees go, Tom Sherwood is a survivor among survivors. He serves as the city’s budget director. He knows more about the city’s $500 million spending plan than anyone on the planet. Need to find money, talk to Sherwood. Need to transfer money, talk to Sherwood. Need a bad guy in the budget process, push out Sherwood. Navigating Sherwood’s forest is never an easy thing. What’s second nature to him in discussing the complexities of a budget is a maze of befuddling details for the common person.

Sherwood joined city government as a bean counter during the Bucci years around the time Bucci sought state assistance to tourniquet a bleeding budget. Throughout the years Sherwood graduated to chief bean counter. He has now served under five mayors.

A couple of city scribes who covered the Bucci administration have become honorary members of the Kiddie Korps, Anna Maria Virzi who covered City Hall for The Telegram and John Gilmore (an occasional contributor to OIB) who chronicled politics for the Bridgeport Post, predecessor papers of the Connecticut Post. Back then it was not uncommon for 15 journalists to attend an ordinary mayoral news conference. The Post-Telegram papers had scribes to cover just about every city department. Those days are long over.

Virzi and Gilmore, who’ve done well professionally outside of journalism, were pros. They put the work in. Rational pols could do battle with them without it being all-out war.

Testa, Bucci

Mario Testa and Tom Bucci, cousins, in the old Testo’s Restaurant location more than 10 years ago.

It’s hard to think about the Bucci mayoral years without the collapse of L’Ambiance Plaza, the most gut-wrenching 10 days in the history of the city. On April 23, 1987 Bucci was lunching at a restaurant when he got the call. He raced back to discover the horror of a massive building collapse a couple of blocks from City Hall. A half-completed rental housing complex on Washington Avenue overlooking the route 25-8 Connector came apart burying workers under tons of twisted steel and shattered concrete. Twenty-eight men died.

Bucci delivered the painful news to the grief-filled families of the victims at a support compound in the Kolbe Cathedral High School across the street. National media converged on the city trying to unearth every possible angle. Builders had used a construction process called lift slab. Concrete foundations for each floor of the building were poured on the construction site and then I-beams were jacked up and welded into place. Federal investigators eventually determined that the jacking mechanism hoisting the slabs had accidentally slipped.

Larry Merly was the city attorney appointed by Bucci. He took on the state’s powerful insurance companies that balked at underwriting the city’s disaster costs as the struggle to locate the buried workers continued. Merly has cashews that clank. Speaking before a crew of national journalists, Merly called the insurance companies “barracudas content to allow the workers to rot in the rubble.” Merly pried loose an insurance fund of more than $1 million to aid the rescue efforts.

Bucci and Norko, his chief administrative officer, made multiple daily visits to the L’Ambiance site. One day as they walked over together Norko had a sobering declaration for Bucci, “So this is what being mayor is all about.”

Who doesn't love Mario and Ralph's linguine and white clam sauce?

These days Bucci’s a practicing attorney specializing in employment discrimination. Many city employees who believe they’ve been wrongfully terminated or due process violated have sought his expertise. He knows his stuff.

If you’re wondering if the venerable Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa joined the lunch party at his restaurant on Monday, he was busy attending to his other restaurant near the Fairfield-Bridgeport line just a few minutes away.

“Where’s Mario?” someone asked about the political leader who has felt a few OIB zingers throughout the years.

Said Bucci, who has a twisted sense of humor, “He’ll show up as soon as Lennie leaves.”

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31 Comments so far ↓

  • Ron Mackey

    Think about this, 38 years later David Dunn is still on the City’s payroll, this is 2014 and Dunn is no Kiddie, he’s an old man milking taxpayers for all those years. There are those who bitch about employees, how about always being given City jobs by all these mayors and he has never taken an exam for anything. On a brighter note, I’ve always had the highest respect for Tom Bucci, he has always been a gentleman.

  • Lisa Parziale

    I joined these guys around 1975, when we all worked in one capacity or another for Mayor Mandinici. I find it interesting all of you have not acknowledged one female from that group. While Tom Bucci was the best Mayor I served with, and there were five, both D’s and R’s, I went on to serve 20 years on the City Council, 10 as Council President. Come on my friends, none of you lasted that long. And by the way, I’m still going strong while most of you are enjoying the twilight of your years living in the suburbs. Now you all know I’m digging it in; I love and miss all of you, especially Tommy. And one more comment to my friend Ron M., David Dunn always was and still is one of the best. Sure beats the newbies the past three administrations have hired.

  • DonTito

    At least now we know for certain David Dunn has been a certified a-hole for 38 years along with others.

    Has he been running his private consulting business on City time as a paid City employee for 38 years?

    David J. Dunn Consulting
    3380 Main Street
    Stratford, CT 06614
    203-378-6857

    New website coming soon!!!

    Happy New Year!

  • Bob Walsh

    Lennie,
    Talk about the Kiddie Corp, where is Jimmy Elmo and Richie Marcioni?

  • Bob Walsh

    Lisa,
    I guess from the lack of women we can call it the Boys Club but due to the lack of color I guess it would have to be the North End Boys Club.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Hey Lennie, any plans for the Hello Kiddie Korps Gang action figures? What are you guys waiting for? I can’t wait to get that little cute Donkey with Lennie’s face on it.
    japandailypress.com/hello-kitty-to-celebrate-40th-birthday-by-turning-into-a-mechanized-robot-0438951/

  • Lisa Parziale

    Hey Bubba, we still think alike, I thought of that after I closed my computer. You’re so right, “The good old boys club.”

  • Ron Mackey

    Lennie, “The Kiddie Korps,” I must say I find this topic and pictures very educational and telling. You wrote, “The Kiddie Korps has its roots under sweet-and-sour John Mandanici, mayor from 1975-81, who hired a number of young guns to key administration positions, all in their late 20s. John Norko as comptroller, David Dunn as director of Labor Relations, Robert Buccino as chief aide, Tom Bucci in the City Attorney’s Office. When Bucci became mayor in 1985 he did the same, a bunch of us in our late 20s. I was communications director and adviser.” Just look at those names and the positions and jobs and power this Kiddie Korps had then and now.

    Lisa Parziale acknowledged there was not one female from that group and Bob Walsh said, “Lisa, I guess from the lack of women we can call it the Boys Club but due to the lack of color I guess it would have to be the North End Boys Club.” Well, think about those pictures and those white males who got jobs and positions because Mandanici liked them and just gave them power but where are the blacks in all of this? The issues is not Donald Day and Ronald Mackey getting in David Dunn’s ass, this topic is about The Kiddie Korps that had NO blacks, no women and no Hispanics and guess what, that was not a problem in 1975 and little has changed in 2014. This group sat around talking about issues involving the entire City of Bridgeport and not one black, Hispanic or female, well it’s like what Bob Walsh said, we can call it the Boys Club but due to the lack of color I guess it would have to be the North End Boys Club. There has been no power sharing, no bringing in of blacks, Hispanics and women but they will make someone a commissioner but nothing to do with money and power.

    And to my friend Lisa P., David Dunn could be to you one of the best but not to me, I’ve had to deal with him on different levels and I find him two-faced back-stabbing.

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Ron, why must you make this about race? One of the points of the story whether black, white or brown, male or female is this group has remained friends long after Bucci was mayor. If you want to look at diversity, in all the years I’ve either covered or been a part of government no mayor did a better job of appointing folks who represented the makeup of the community than Bucci. Many were in important decision-making roles be it economic development or housing or part of his inner-office staff. Bucci as mayor was respected in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. In fact, many white politicians and some white voters despised Bucci because he gave “everything to the blacks and Puerto Ricans.” Bucci has friends of all shades and colors be they male or female. I simply wanted to share a story of how friendships can endure. If you don’t like David Dunn so be it, you’ve banged heads with him on a number of issues throughout the years, but it’s unfair to broad-brush Bucci based solely on this group of friends.

      • Ron Mackey

        LennieGrimaldi, I think it is GREAT co-workers and friends get together like this group does, in fact more people should follow getting tighter. I spoke highly of Tom Bucci and I mean no disrespect to him. But Lennie, let me ask you, you attended those meeting when John Mandanici was mayor from 1975-81, that is the timeframe I’m talking about, not a group of guys getting together, did it ever cross your mind wow, there are no women, blacks or Hispanics anywhere in John Mandanici’s “The Kiddie Korps?”

        • LennieGrimaldi

          No doubt Ron, Mandy was not a racially sensitive mayor. He had major issues with the black community that led to his defeat by Republican Lenny Paoletta in 1981. Bucci, however, was completely different in his approach to assimilating a city.

          • Ron Mackey

            Lennie thank you, that was one of the points I was trying to make and who in John Mandanici’s “The Kiddie Korps” was going to tell Mandy there are no blacks, Hispanics or women in the “The Kiddie Korps?” These kiddies were so glad they were in the Korps at such a young age. Later that forced Charlie Tisdale to organize and to register new voters to challenge Mandy for mayor. As for Tom Bucci, I still say he was the best mayor Bridgeport had and his approach to assimilating a city has never been matched, in fact it’s going in the wrong direction with the last three mayors.

    • Bond Girl

      I don’t know how race came into this post but I for one am truthfully sick to death of having most of the posts turned racial on this blog whether it’s appropriate or not. Enough already. I am truly sorry some of the folks on this blog live in a racial hell, whether it be a self-created racial prison of the mind or otherwise. I don’t even think that way. People are who they are, and if they treat me well, I will respect them. There are a lot more folks who think my way than in a bigoted manner, I promise that. I will not, however, apologize for the color of MY skin, and I don’t expect anyone else to either.

      I also think David Dunn is decent guy, and am kind of hoping the conversation on this blog can be elevated to a level where name-calling is a thing of the past (pipe dream, I know).

      That linguine and clams dish looks righteous, though.

      • Lisa Parziale

        Hi Bond Girl, I don’t know who you are, but I like you! you’re always the “voice of reason” when people get a little testy and off-topic. I don’t blog a lot, but if I ever fall into that category, please let me know. I like and respect Ron Mackey forever. I wish he were still active.

      • Godiva2011

        Bond Girl–I completely agree with you. The racist overtones on these forums seem to surface ad nauseum and to the point of overkill. It’s totally uncalled for and is a real detriment to the subject matter. I also agree that dish looks absolutely delicious. I’m a big fan of Testo’s stuffed shrimp, best I’ve ever had! Kudos to you for having the courage to post your sentiments on this bashing, you said what I’m certain many other posters were thinking!

        • Bond Girl

          Godiva, it just gets old. I am convinced posters are refraining from posting and engaging because the likelihood of folks putting a racial bent on topics seem to be increasing. Nobody wants to spend so much time in that “space” because some topics are just not about race. And thank you.

          • Ron Mackey

            Bond Girl, I guess I didn’t see the memo or read the rules, regulations and policies of Only In Bridgeport about NOT bringing up the subject of race or to express my honest opinion and I should view everything through the eyes of whites because the views of blacks have no place on OIB. I do see people are afraid to talk about race on OIB but they can talk about anything else as long as they want. So Bond Girl I guess I will have to learn how to think like you.

          • Bond Girl

            I am not going to apologize for the color of my skin, and I don’t ask you to either. Once again, I am truly sorry you feel the way you do. I wish you did not. I wish for you that you find peace with your racial issues this year.

            There is nothing about this post that screams race. Nothing. It was simply a post Lennie wanted to share. There was not a reason in the world to take it there. None.

      • Jennifer Buchanan

        Amen!

    • Godiva2011

      Ron Mackey, time for you to give this type of commenting a rest, don’t you think?

  • Ron Mackey

    Godiva2011, would you spell out what you are talking about and if I was wrong about something would you please say what that was.

  • Bridgeporteur

    I wish to comment on the North End Boys Club. In the ’60s there were more exclusively white neighborhoods in Bridgeport that are now integrated neighborhoods including the North End. Keep in mind the North End has always had black neighborhoods starting in the early ’60s and the North End Boys Club provided a common ground for integration through sports. More energy from both the black, Hispanic and white communities should be spent on opening The Club back up. Don’t get me wrong, debate is good too. It beats silence. GET INVOLVED, GET INVOLVED!

    • Ron Mackey

      Bridgeporteur, I’m glad you brought up the subject of the Boys Club, yes North End Boys Club was almost a exclusively white and Middle Street Boys Club more of a place blacks played but also whites who lived in the Hollow. Boys Clubs kept kids like myself out of trouble, it was a great place to go and play ball and to meet different kids. I attended Middle Street Boys Club and Bill McBride (who was white) was the director and he was like a second father to me whenever I was there, he pushed me, taught me and was concerned about me and those who came there every day.

      North End Boys Club had a swimming pool and was newer and much bigger than the other two Boys Clubs, Orcutt Boys Club and Middle Street Boys Club. If you loved basketball and competition then you would visit all three Boys Clubs and play and you were treated the same at all of them. I wish we could do what Bridgeporteur said, “More energy from both the black, Hispanic and white communities should be spent on opening The Club back up.”

  • Andrew C Fardy

    I am tired of all of this racial bullshit that is showing up in just about every topic posted on OIB. Ron, you sit home at Seaside Village and post this shit yet you won’t get involved in things that are being done to make this a better city for all.
    You have been crying racism for about 40 years that I know of. I was one of your targets when you were a rookie firefighter. You and another black firefighter called me a racist because I made the two of you put up the American flag in the morning or take it down at night. I explained to the both of you it was the rookie’s job to handle flag duties. You two did not like that answer and I told you both to file a complaint, you never did.

    • Ron Mackey

      Andrew C Fardy, you are full of shit on this one. Two things, first I’m a veteran of the United States Air Force and I’ve NEVER had to put up the American flag in the morning or take it down at night, NEVER. Second, I was fighting fires before you even became a firefighter, I was fighting fires in 1965 in the Air Force and would NEVER disobey a order. And as a rookie I never had a problem in talking to you about anything and I never disobeyed an order you gave me as my Lieutenant.

      • Andrew C Fardy

        What you say is partially true but you did question me on putting up the flag in the morning and in the evening taking it down. So you were fighting fires in 1965, big fucking deal. I never said you disobeyed one of my orders, I never said you had a problem talking to me but you CERTAINLY BROUGHT UP THE FLAG ISSUE AS BEING RACIST because only you and another black firefighter had to do it on my shift.

        • Ron Mackey

          Andrew C Fardy, I’m going to try this again. As a veteran I would never question anyone about putting up the flag or taking it down, never. The point of saying I was fighting fires in 1965 was only to say the respect I have for following orders and the flag has always been with me. Now I’m sure the incident with the flag happened but it was not with me. Race has nothing to do with the flag because black blood was ALSO shed defending this country and the symbol the flag has for all Americans.

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