Mary Chapar Moran was the first female to occupy the mayor’s office and the last Republican as well, elected in 1989 defeating incumbent Democrat Tom Bucci.
She was a newbie as politics go, 58 years old, a real estate broker by profession who connected right place, right time. The city was in the throes of an economic downturn, companies leaving, tax revenue declining, the crack cocaine epidemic ripping up neighborhoods with record-breaking violent crime and roughly 60 murders a year. By comparison today less than one third of that.
Moran also brought an exuberance to the table that connected with blue collar workers. She had a natural gift for conversation, confident and enthusiastic, proud of her Syrian heritage.
Community groups were then part of the city fabric. One came along called People For Bridgeport’s Future that included a cross section of community interests that got behind her campaign.
The man Bucci defeated in 1985 to win the mayoralty, Republican Lenny Paoletta, returned to be the party standard bearer. Moran defeated him in a tight primary. Meanwhile, Bucci survived a large primary field, the challengers splitting the anti vote.
Demographically Bridgeport was a much different place, racially and ethnically. Republicans were extremely relevant. In the 20 year period from 1971 to 1991, 10 of those years were occupied by Republican mayors. The Republican registration was roughly 13,000, Democratic registration a little more than twice that. A large bloc of unaffiliated voters, depending on the political tide, tilted Republican. Today Bridgeport Dems outnumber Republicans 10 to 1.
When Bucci’s budget blew up in 1988, he sought state financial support, the legislature saddled him with a Financial Review Board that had final say on the budget. It was a messy time for the city.
Moran defeated Bucci handily in 1991 and a year later dealing with the city’s beleaguered finances, challenged state power by placing the city into federal bankruptcy court in part to provide a fresh start.
The move sent a shockwave across the state, caused Governor Lowell Weicker and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to move against it and provoked Wall Street to suspend the city’s credit worthiness that handcuffed the city from making municipal improvements.
State leaders argued Bridgeport as a child of the state required authorization to pursue such a decision because it impacted the state’s credit rating. Moran argued it was the only way to provide relief from burdensome union contracts and a heavy debt burden. In the end a federal bankruptcy judge ruled against the city saying the city was not insolvent. Moran was defeated by Democrat Joe Ganim in November of 1991 that led to historic state support and eventually 10 straight years without a tax increase.
Still, the financial challenges of urban areas across the country continued.
Decades later Moran wrote: “I do not for one moment regret my sincere attempts to breathe new life into this very deserving sleeping giant, Bridgeport. May God continue to bless Bridgeport, its leaders, all those who live and work there, and our great country, the United States of America.”
Mary and her husband Stephen relocated to Trumbull in 1995. She returned to public service years later as tax collector during the Tim Herbst first selectman years.
A joyous 90th birthday Mary Chapar Moran.