A 28-year run on any business level is mighty impressive. Paul Timpanelli, who has served as president and chief executive officer of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council since 1988, is expected to announce soon his retirement from the business organization effective sometime this summer.
Bridgeport native, Sacred Heart University alumnus, Trumbull school teacher, first selectman of Trumbull for six years, 2014 Barnum Festival ringmaster, Timpanelli has been part of the Bridgeport area political and business fabric for about 40 years.
Timpanelli joined the business group when the banking industry was the backbone of the business community led by People’s Bank, Citytrust, Mechanics & Farmers, Bank Mart and others. New England’s economic crisis in 1990 changed all that. Now the one bank standing out of the bunch is now called People’s United Bank. The rest folded. Still, People’s today is not what it was back in the day when executives such as David Carson and Jim Biggs (full disclosure: I am their biographer) invested heavily in the city both in job creation and corporate good will. Most of the People’s executives today drive into the city from suburban towns and leave without a clue about the makeup of the city.
The banking decline impacted both statewide influence and potent dues-paying members to the business organization.
Timpanelli was at the helm of the business community when a young Joe Ganim became mayor and shepherded progress such as tax relief, lower crime, ballpark and arena. Timpanelli was also there when Ganim’s first mayoralty imploded, replaced by John Fabrizi whose personal issues also imploded, followed by eight years of Bill Finch, who once worked for Timpanelli, as mayor.
Despite six years as first selectman of Trumbull, Timpanelli’s political skill set was dubious. He sometimes freelanced positions when it was prudent to sit back and let things play out. It was never more evident in the most recent mayoral race when Timpanelli publicly announced over and over a Joe Ganim return to the mayoralty would set the city back. This despite Timpanelli and business leadership never taking a stand against city employees serving on the City Council in defiance of the City Charter because they wanted to appease Bill Finch and City Council President Tom McCarthy, both of whom said one thing and did another when it came to government reform. Privately, business community leaders all said no checks and balances in government were bad for taxpayers, publicly Timpanelli and company said nothing because they feared taking on Finch and McCarthy.
When the dust settled in the last mayoral election the business community-backed Finch lost to Ganim in a September primary. Much of the business community then supported Mary-Jane Foster as a petitioning candidate in the general election. Ganim won handily. Ganim issued a sarcastic shiv to Timpanelli at his business community address last week thanking the business leader who worked against his comeback for moving up his table from last year.
Going out the door, Timpanelli can embrace successes in recent years such as the Steel Point redevelopment site that is home to anchor tenant Bass Pro Shops.
All in all, Timpanelli’s 28-year run is remarkable for a business community often out of touch with city politics.