Tizzy, Mandy, Lenny; The Mega 1983 Mayoral Turnout

Tisdale, Mandanici, Paoletta, Cennamo
1983 mayoral debate in City Council chambers, from left Charlie Tisdale, John Mandanici, Lenny Paoletta and Ralph Cennamo.

On Tuesday primary voters will decide which three Democrats advance to the general election as prohibitive favorites to win seats on the Board of Education. The percentage turnout will be death valley. Will it hit the teens? Same thing for the November general election when five school board seats and all 20 seats for City Council will be on the ballot. There was a day when turnouts for municipal election were huge, including 30 years ago when Charlie Tisdale became the first African American to be nominated by a major party in Bridgeport, winning a Democratic primary in September before falling short in the general election. Oh, what an election ride!

Republican Lenny Paoletta’s 64-vote win for mayor over Democrat John Mandanici in 1981 set up the 1983 general election between Paoletta, Tisdale, Mandanici and perennial independent candidate Ralph Cennamo.

Mob hits, fire bombings, bulletproof vests, charges, counter charges: you name it, elections in the early 1980s had it all. The ’83 race, 30 years ago, is memorable because you’re never going to see a turnout like that again in a mayoral election. Turnout was approximately 70 percent. Yes, that’s correct, 70 percent. Three full-blown operations. By contrast the turnout for Bill Finch’s 2011 reelection win for mayor was 18 percent.

Mandy had served the city for three terms before Paoletta squeaked a win, amidst an FBI probe of Mandy’s administration and party chaos. (Mandy was not charged.) Think of a cross between John Fabrizi and Archie Bunker and you have Mandy. Pure emotion, in your face, sausage finger in reporter’s chest: “Look, you little bastard,” he’d say, “here’s how you’re going to write this story.”

For his part, Lenny had balls that clanked. Handsome and stubborn, he could turn a pretty good line. Mandy really didn’t worry about appearances, so Lenny promised: “One of the images we will improve upon is how the mayor conducts himself in public.”

Tizzy, who had managed (like he does today) the city’s anti-poverty agency, emerged as the single greatest political organizer in the city stitching together disaffected Dems, young political organizers and swelling registration ranks by inspiring the black community. His followers were dubbed the Tizzies. Cagey, calculating, smart policy wonk, he had challenged Mandy in a 1981 primary. Mandy won, but couldn’t make peace with Tizzy. Fifty percent of the black community, believe it or not, voted for the Republican Paoletta. Two years later, following a deadlocked party convention in which no one received the endorsement for mayor, Tizzy won the primary, in a field loaded with white guys including former mayor Mandanici and future mayor Tom Bucci, becoming the first African American to run on a major-party ticket in the city.

After the primary Arthur DelMonte, who had secured a ballot spot on the Taxpayer Party line, ceded his ballot line to friend Mandy.

Some Democratic party regulars, and white voters suspicious of Tizzy, split off with Mandy. Electorally, the city was a much different place, white voters were the majority and the gap between registered Democrats and Republicans not nearly the 10 to 1 of the current registration. Seemingly it was the best chance, considering the times, for Tizzy to win the general election, three white candidates splitting that constituency. Tizzy fundamentally did not campaign north of Capitol Avenue in heavily white neighborhoods. He worked turnouts in heavily black precincts. He ran a close spirited race.

Lenny won the election approximately 16,000 to Tizzy’s 15,000 to Mandy’s 10,000.



  1. As a BOE candidate and one of the so-called “young political organizers” for Charlie in 1983, I remember those days well.

    I especially remember the night I was one of the 100 or so Tisdale supporters who camped out in front of McLevy Hall to ensure Tisdale would turn his petitions into the Registrar of Voters first the following morning and thus be on the top line come primary day.

    At about 3 am a rumor started there was a tunnel from the underground Superior Court garage on Main St. to McLevy Hall and the forces of evil (our opponents Tom Bucci and/or John McNamara) were using it to beat us to the registrar’s office. Needless to say, after an hour or so of frantic searching no tunnel was found. We won the top line and went on to win the primary.

    Unfortunately, come November Charlie lost the general election. However, I would like to point out everyone else on Charlie’s slate, including me, won. Usually the top of the ticket gets the most votes, but not that year.

    Now I have my own opinion(s) on why this happened but I would be interested in what other OIB readers think the reason or reasons for this extremely rare occurrence were.

  2. Lennie, thanks for the historical look at the climate of voting 30 years ago. What I don’t understand is why some OIB bloggers get so upset with me whenever I bring up the subject of race.

    Well, today Bridgeport is like “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, it was the best of times and it was the worst of times. Blacks have not increased in having any power but what has changed in 30 years in the explosion of Hispanic voters in Bridgeport, with whites still running everything.

  3. Hi Lennie, thanks for the memories! I was one of the council members elected for my first term representing the 132nd district. I can’t believe it’s been 30 years, and I’m still out there trying to bring present political practices to somewhere in the middle of what they once were. Although I didn’t run on Charlie’s original line, I remember he stood out as the best candidate, and I was honored to share the last end of the ride with him.

  4. I hate to say this, but Charlie lost because of the huge anti-black voter turnout. It was Charlie’s time and he should have won but the North End voted Republican because they could not fathom a black mayor. Sad but true. You’d think after 30 years things in Bridgeport would have changed. But you still have a bunch of white males controlling the city even though they are far outnumbered demographically. The biggest travesty is when you have many of the black and Hispanic clergy backing Finch and his gang of bullies. As far as I can see, only Reverend Bennett has the integrity to tell it like it is.

    1. The Fixer, you make some very good points but also remember during that timeframe the City had just lost two racial discrimination lawsuits, first in the police department then a few later in the fire department, it was during that time there was a backlash against Mr. Tisdale.

        1. The Fixer, racial tension in the Bridgeport police and fire departments was the worse in the City’s history and that tension spilled over into the election. And remember, at that time ALL firefighters and police had to live in Bridgeport plus all the other City employees had to live here. Now Lenny Paoletta wins and owes NOTHING to any of the City unions because they didn’t support him but in voting against Tisdale they got nothing for their vote.

  5. Ron, you are not going to like the following but here goes. There will never be a minority mayor as long as the Hispanic leaders and the black leaders keep playing mine is bigger than yours. The whites have been the minority race for at least 20 years or more.
    I find it interesting the clergy almost always comes out for a white mayoral candidate. I believe they do that for their own betterment. Would I vote for a minority mayoral candidate? Yes I would and the Rev Bennett comes to mind.

  6. *** It was “not” such a surprise Tisdale lost the Mayoral general election with just about everyone else running on his slate “winning” their political seats! The “fix” was in during and after the Democratic primary as plan (B), should Tisdale win the Bpt Democratic endorsement. (Some reasons) personal and too many city white jobs could be subjected to be lost to blacks and minorities as well as white limited new ones gained! The Democratic powers that be at that time voted Republican or not at all! Why do you think Tisdale later in his political endeavors became a Republican? Also, the political powers that be at that time and many voters in general were not ready for a black Mayor in the city of Bpt. The rest is history with things having changed somewhat, due to shear numbers of registered voting blacks and minorities who can make a difference “if” and when united for a political cause! *** THE MORE THINGS CHANGE, THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME, NO? ***

  7. I would also add many Democrats who could not, for whatever reason, bring themselves to vote for Tisdale, instead split their ticket voting for Mandanici and then the rest of the Democrat line minus Charlie.

    Hell, I got well over 16,000 votes, (which BTW was more than any of the mayoral candidates received) having never run for elective office before. Now, while I’d like to think these 16,000-plus voters recognized me for the outstanding BOE candidate I believed myself to be, the truth of the matter was, outside of my family and a few friends, nobody knew who the hell I was.

    1. Good point, Salty. I forgot to mention in my piece in 1983 party levers still existed. Paoletta and Tisdale, as the party nominees, had a lever … pulling the lever cast a vote for all the party nominees. Mandy had only a button, for lack of a better word, no lever. So thousands of Dems and independents voted for Mandy and then cherrypicked the under ticket votes for the major-party endorsed.


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