Marie Iassogna Scinto was a special politician because she was a special person. Elected Republican town chair in 1978, she became the first woman in Bridgeport history to lead a city political party. She also was active in city politics during the period from 1971 to 1991 in which Republican mayors occupied City Hall for 10 of those years. She was both genial and cunning in her approach to politics, but also always very approachable, representing an era in which you could fight an adversary one day and sit down for a cocktail the next day. She passed away last week, leaving a political legacy that championed the two-party system. See her obituary here.
Scinto was a charter member of the Republican Action League that consisted of a number of young political guns including James Stapleton and Nick Panuzio that transformed the Republican Party through a voter registration drive in 1969-70 that dispatched old-time political hand Edward Sandula. The result helped to elect Panuzio mayor in 1971.
OIB correspondent Jim Callahan who covered her for years as a leading political writer in the city shares observations.
A young reporter was babbling about issues in the mayoral campaign.
The political pro was turned away at a wall with a magic marker going over a list of 60,000 registered voters posted in a campaign headquarters.
She finally heard enough chirping.
“Look it, Jim,” said Marie I. Scinto, turning around and pointing a yellow marker at her annoyance. “I don’t care about issues. I only care about 50 percent plus one.”
Marie was the ultimate nuts-and-bolts pol.
Other people run for office. They have to create sizzle with the voters to vote for them.
Marie was the organizer. She was the person who helped that person get their message out to the people who are going to vote for them.
The crack about not caring about issues was not quite true. She cared about candidates, Republican candidates. But it was up to a candidate to articulate the issues. It was her job to help organize the people to help find the voters who agreed with the candidate.
And get those voters out to vote, the “50 percent plus one.”
Marie Scinto was good at that. She didn’t care about polls or trends or buying TV or radio ads. She wanted a campaign headquarters and telephones and literature for volunteers to hand out.
Marie was a leader of the Republican faithful, the rank-and-file Republican committee members. These are the people who worked for their political party because they believed in it. She was good at making those people feel wanted, and to enjoy a task that was frequently thankless.
There are going to be disagreements, personality conflicts, among any group of people. She was good at working through that. Hearing them out.
“All my children,” she would sigh, taking her wisecrack from the popular afternoon soap opera of the time. Marie came out of the Republican Action League movement of the late 1960s when a younger generation of Republicans challenged the status quo of their own party and the city.
Other guys came up with the ideas–this was a revolt led by radical red caps of the Republican fringe–the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Bar Association. Attorney Jim Stapleton and fellow ringleaders were the face of a largely middle-class revolt against the Democratic Party status quo in Bridgeport at the time. It was liberal enough to reach out to the entire city, trying to sweep up whatever votes they could find in the poorer precincts–driving Democratic operatives nuts by seeking (and sometimes finding) voters who were “supposed” to be birthright Democratic.
Marie Scinto’s public political career came out of that. She emerged as one of the volunteers good at organizing a headquarters. She was made vice chairman of the party.
She thought that was the limit. But many of the people who recognized her ability to run a headquarters also felt she was the best person to keep the party in general together.
Republicans in Bridgeport were always going to be the minority against the Democrats. They were always going to start behind. At first it was two to one. Republicans won. Then it was three to one. Republicans won.
They had issues, generally handed to them by Democratic ineptitude. That was the start. To overcome the numbers, precise organization was needed.
Marie Scinto was better at leading a voter turnout that favored her side better than most Democrats of the era. The Dems could afford to mess up a page or two of voters on Election Day. They could afford a few missed rides for people who wanted to vote. Republicans could not. Scinto’s group didn’t leave many voters that favored their side behind.
That she did that with good humor and empathy was unusual.
Gossip and criticism among people involved in politics is pandemic. The usual criticism about Marie Scinto was that she was too nice. She should have been tougher. Most people in politics are. Some are crazy. She was not.
She got the job done despite being nice.
She certainly did not win all elections she ran. She knew going in the odds were against Bridgeport Republicans.
She helped make the best out of what she had available, and she helped bring out the best in the people who were working with her.
That doesn’t always happen in politics.