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OIB Rewind: Fireworks Break Out At 1989 Democratic Convention

July 4th, 2015 · 19 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Politics, News and Events

On this July 4th weekend we salute the fireworks at the July 1989 Democratic Town Committee endorsement session for mayor, just a few weeks away from what could be a contentious battle for party support between Mayor Bill Finch and Joe Ganim at Testo’s Restaurant. Both Finch and Ganim, by the way, were in the room on the night of the fight that broke out between Mario Testa, today the Democratic chief, and Mike Rizzitelli, captured on film by community activist Cecil Young.

In the summer of 1989, 500 pols jammed the Days Hotel on Lafayette Boulevard for the Democratic Town Committee endorsement for mayor and other offices. Mayor Tom Bucci was endorsed for another two-year term but in November was turned away by voters for Republican Mary Moran as the city’s first female chief executive. But on this night that was beside the point. What’s all the hullabaloo in the video?

Democrats in the city’s 133rd District were fighting for control following the death of long-time District Leader Paul Macciocca. Committee members elected former State Rep. Mario Testa,  Bucci’s cousin, as the new leader over the objections of crusty committeeman the late Mike Rizzitelli who’d been fighting Mario for years.

Rizzy-Mario fight photo

Jim Callahan’s award-winning photo. Far left is party chairman the late John Guman who appears to be enjoying it all. Mario Testa has a lock on Mike Rizzitelli’s nose. Rizzi’s fingers gouge Mario’s eye. Committeemen Raul Laffitte and David Fischer break up the battle royal.

Rizzi claimed the vote was illegal. Mario told him he was full of crap. Rizzi was your classic smoke-filled-room operative who’d fight anyone, anyplace even at age 66.

Community activist Cecil Young, for our historic-preservation benefit, served as videographer for the evening. An examination of the video above, now digitized on YouTube courtesy of OIB webmaster Ray Fusci for the world to see, shows a 29-year-old Joe Ganim, a candidate for mayor, leaning against the wall. Chris Caruso, then a city councilman, managed Ganim’s race for mayor. Democratic Town Committee Chairman the late John Guman is running the meeting. Sitting next to him is a young Carmen Lopez, then an organizational Democrat, who’s now an establishment fighter. Sitting next to Lopez is the late State Comptroller Eddie Caldwell.

In the far background is the media row including me when I served as publisher of the community weekly newspaper The Bridgeport Light, and the late OIB correspondents John Gilmore, then political reporter for the Bridgeport Post, predecessor to the CT Post, and Jim Callahan, cigar in mouth, then editor of The Bridgeport Light, who snapped the classic photo we described in a screaming headline “DUKIN’ DEMS.” If you look closely at the video Callahan grabs his camera and the two combatants miraculously fall into his clicks.

Rizzi’s the guy standing up, pointing his finger, calling Mario a liar. You see Mario bark back, sip from a glass, sit down and then react when Rizzi challenges him to step outside. As the fight breaks out the video camera is dropped to the floor. Cecil decided he wanted to help break up the fight. You’ll see political operatives Raul Laffitte and David Fischer swarm in to break up the battle.

After the fight and ensuing chaos, Bucci ordered the bar at the back of the room closed. Order was restored and Bucci was endorsed. He’d be challenged in a primary by Ganim, State Rep. Jackie Cocco, State Rep. Bob Keeley, 1983 Democratic mayoral nominee Charlie Tisdale and former City Clerk Lenny Crone. Bucci was facing a cranky electorate unnerved by tax increases and a state bailout sought by the mayor more than a year earlier when the budget blew up. Bucci’s challengers split up the anti vote, allowing Bucci to survive the primary for the general election won by Moran. Cocco finished second in the primary and Ganim a surprising third ahead of Tisdale, the first African American nominated for mayor by a major party in the city, who saw his voter base gravitate to Bucci. Two years later Ganim defeated Moran in the general election.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Jeff Kohut

    It could get worse than that this year. If Bill approaches you fast, duck, Mary-Jane! (Bill won’t bother you, Joe; he’s scared to death of your prison connections.)

    • Ron Mackey

      Jeff, you got that right but Finch knows who to mess with but trust me, he going to walk on the wrong person one day and the next thing he’ll know is he will be picking his teeth off the ground. Time will tell.

  • Steven Auerbach

    I expect a cool, calm and respectful meeting. This is 2015, I expect Mayor Finch to get the nod. I expect Mary-Jane will not waste her time and Ganim will have some friends’ support.

    Btw, nice to see Mayor Finch at lunch today and greeted very enthusiastically at the 50s Diner. I would be remiss if I honestly did not add, between downtown, Tiagos and Pleasure beach, this is the truth, six police officers in total did not live in Bridgeport and in fact thought Mayor Finch was doing a great job. They do not support Joe Ganim and were disappointed with the vote. They live in Derby, Shelton and Trumbull. So there you have it. Btw working the beat at Pleasure Beach must be really rough. What a serene place. Free parking. Free water taxi. Did not hear one boombox playing music I didn’t want to hear. Just peaceful and I imagine as Steelpointe proceeds, that area by Dolphin’s Cove will thrive. There was only one house that actually capitalized on the nautical theme and was lovely and then again there is that disturbing artistic nightmare across the street from Dolphin’s Cove. Back to our policemen, I thanked them all for the great job they did and the respect I had for them. Given their age bracket, I was impressed they supported Finch as they were in the 28-35 age bracket. They represent the future and are just learning about the potential Mayoral candidates.

    Note to Tiagos–Start making Piña Coladas! Food always great!

  • Maria Pereira

    Steve, what are you doing at 50s Diner without me? Those greeting Mayor Finch warmly must have lived outside of the 138th.
    If the police officers are the ages you stated, they have probably worked only under Fabrizi, Finch, or both. Therefore, they don’t know or remember the good Joe Ganim contributed to Bridgeport.

    • Steven Auerbach

      Now Maria, you should know better. I of course mentioned Joe Ganim respectfully. Yes, Joe did good. Finch has done amazing and today’s press didn’t hurt. I know, how dare I go to your stomping grounds. The place had a nice crowd I am happy to say. A very long day and I ate from 11 am ’til 8:45. Lot of Living to do!

      The concession stand at Pleasure beach was not serving food until tomorrow, so we ended up at Tiagos for Calamari with sweet chili sauce and an assortment of tacos. We were craving Piña Coladas but ended up with something so much better! I love bartenders who can improvise!

  • charlie

    With the children and the criminals running Bridgeport, does anybody not understand why decent businesses will not come to the city unless they get a free ride like Bass?

    • Steven Auerbach

      Charlie, do you believe children and criminals are running Bridgeport? Seriously? I suppose we all see what we want to see. If I saw life through your eyes of the opposition, I would kill myself. I would do it before the primary! :-)

  • charlie

    Civilized people do not act like that or contemplate re-hiring felons. Why don’t you look at the surrounding towns and see their businesses vis-à-vis what we have.

    • Steven Auerbach

      Well Charlie, it is sad convicted felons cannot get a minimum wage job in Bridgeport, but they can run for Mayor and try for a job making $132,000 and hire some friends and get the endorsement of the police department. Would any developer or business think this was the place to be? I think John Fabrizi and certainly Mayor Finch has put us on the right track. If everyone on this blog is upset with the Bridgeport getting better campaign, they are just like poison to any positive efforts.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Steve,
    What did the City do to dissuade John Fabrizi from patiently waiting for the FOIA process to provide him with an answer relating to his revaluation in 2013? Speaking of the right track, I mean.
    Steve, this is a diverse city as you celebrate when it comes to events where you can eat, right? So your artistic sensitivity and opinions: “the nautical theme … was lovely and then again there is that disturbing artistic nightmare” indicate some things don’t live up to the high opinions you hold about food establishments in the City.
    And there you have it. Our current Mayor, the one you attribute all “good, better, best” activity in the City to; the one whose work will be poisoned by criticism; the one “saluted” by your City police officers who live outside Bridgeport (because the Pension package for them in retirement can be twice what it has been for folks hired more than 30 years ago) and paid for by you and me (but taxes are “icky” to you I think and you don’t like to talk about financial issues. Kinda like Mayor Bill in that regard. Time will tell.

    • Steven Auerbach

      John Marshall Lee, it is 3:56 pm and I am running late to an affair in Watertown. You are correct, Bill Finch is doing a great job regarding the arts and restaurants. BTW John, there is a very interesting exhibit at the ground floor of the Reads building. I think that was one of the Mayor’s success stories when he was a State Senator. I am so in the mood for real July 4th food. Everyone have a fantastic July 4th weekend.

  • Jeff Kohut

    Steve: Great accomplishments, great venues, and great leaders don’t have to be promoted, especially in the context of their own environments/time periods.

    People living in San Francisco, Seattle, Paris France, et al. don’t have to be reminded their cities are great, wonderful places in which to live.

    Great leaders don’t have to use a lot of time and energy defending or promoting themselves, their accomplishments speak for them. Golda Meir never had to do much campaigning when she was running for office in Israel. George Washington had to resist an involuntary coronation in the nascent US. Mayor Koch was so popular in NYC, his bid for higher office was derailed because New Yorkers didn’t want to let him go.

    No one has to be reminded about the miracle performed for the world by the United States in World World II.

    Now contrast these situations with the present state of Bridgeport and its leadership. Why are you, and the cash-rich political machine of Mayor Finch, working so hard–at much taxpayer expense for the latter effort–to convince the local populace their city leadership and momentum of their city is so wonderful and positive? Could it be there isn’t much reality-based evidence to indicate such?

    • Steven Auerbach

      San Francisco has been gentrified, not so great to live there. Cashiers make $80,000 a year, a little cottage costs $3.1 million and unlike those great cities, Bridgeport needs to promote itself 24/7 and we have the man in office to do it. Jeff, just for a moment, could you imagine the city was in the hands of enthusiastic leaders like yourself and JML? How exciting and happy the city would be. :-)

      • John Marshall Lee

        Steve,
        Did you make your affair in Watertown on time? You don’t have time to answer questions about Finch handling of revaluation, you do have time to misquote me about Finch handling of arts and restaurants, both of which have been a part of the Bridgeport scene before Finch and hopefully will be alive when Bill leaves office.
        And I for one am excited about what the City can become and have been working towards it in terms of creating real structural balance in our governance mechanisms. In case you have forgotten, I link OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE and TRANSPARENCY in government procedures to actual issues in the City regularly and have done so for five years. During that time the City Council President saw fit to eliminate any legislative staff positions. He says he did it to cut City jobs, but at the same time he increased a position in the City Clerk office. Why don’t you ask what the parties involved in that situation, three City employees, have to say about that staffing mess? And did Tom McCarthy care how he has handicapped new members of the Council in terms of researching issues that face them for a responsible vote? Steve, is this serious stuff? Can you answer the questions? Does it really matter? You are betting the rest of your property owned in Bridgeport, aren’t you? Time will tell.

        • Steven Auerbach

          John Marshall Lee, thank you. I did make it to my affair on time in Watertown. First, I think Mayor Finch has been very supportive of the arts scene. I do not think the Mayor patronizes the arts as much as, say, you or me. But truth be told, I do not think we have ever had a Mayor who regularly attended the Symphony or City Light Galas etc. etc. etc. Next Saturday 10-6 Downtown is the arts festival and then many of us may be going to the Bijou.

          I do know Mary-Jane Foster is cultured and supports the arts. I do know Joe Ganim is a class act and I do know Mayor Finch was instrumental in getting the Read’s building/Sterling Lofts and artists located downtown.

          I am assuming you are talking about Tom White. I cannot answer to that but everything is politics. I get it, don’t you? I remember when Tom White a Republican so unsupportive of Mary Moran like the rest of the Republican losers who were elected on her coattails voted to eliminate my position. It happens, some of us move on and others sue the city. Look, I understand it is the popular position to dislike Tom McCarthy on so many issues. I do not have a problem with Tom. He is smart and supports the Mayor, I know, crazy, huh? I think his constituents like him and I am assuming he does his job. I am assuming of course. I worked for the city seven days a week. I suppose I could have shown up one day a week. I know Tom White, full disclosure, does work for you, is a very nice man. I agree he was an asset to the city. But his position never existed before and it has not existed since. Tom was not replaced by a crony.

          John Marshall Lee, who is your candidate of choice?

          • Steven Auerbach

            Btw, I thought I mentioned this before but I think I need to be clear again. I am supporting Bill Finch. I will not be taking questions about any aspect of his in-house business since I am not a spokesperson for his administration or his campaign. You know what John Marshall Lee, whenever I had a question regarding a candidate, I always called the campaign headquarters and asked the question. If it is a legitimate question, usually the Mayor or Senator would call back or a paid key operative.

            I am sorry my support for Bill Finch seems so ludicrous to you but your questioning every development proposal, park, school, playground, green sign, marketing effort, train station etc. Is extremely peculiar to me. So we Respectfully disagree.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Steve,
    What is peculiar to me is your unwillingness to look at the money trail or to consider it has anything to do with the way the City runs. All you want to know is “Who is my candidate of choice?” as if that is the most important thing in the coming election.
    What is critical is more questions are asked about past Mayoral activities of both candidates who have held the office. Is that happening? I don’t think so. So yes, I am asking about the wisdom of activities undertaken and initiatives being considered; I am asking where money comes from to pay for the number of recent activities and people including you do not seem to be able to answer; and the entire notion of using words like ‘good,’ ‘better,’ or ‘best’ is what is ludicrous at this time because they do not compare, just baldly state, and they do not take in the expense to be borne by the taxpayer. And is that fair?
    My questions of the current administration have existed for longer than four years, most of which time there is no campaign HQ to ask. So I use Only In Bridgeport to keep the discussion alive. And why is that activity “extremely peculiar” to you? Did you not recently reduce the amount of property you own in Bridgeport and on which you pay taxes? Are we near a market top, or do you sincerely have some reservations about the financial ability of the City to sustain itself over time? Time will tell.

    • Steven Auerbach

      JML, maybe you will be at Captain’s Cove on Wednesday at 5. I am certain all the people you need to answer your questions will be there.

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