When Public Hearings Were Jammed, Plus: The Scratchy Relationship Between Mario Testa And Ex-School Chief Jim Connelly, A Study In Political Pragmatism

Mario Testa
When Mario Testa, center (finger in eye), wasn't fighting at Democratic Party mayoral conventions, seen here in 1989, city school chief Jim Connelly was on his radar. Photo by Jim Callahan from the late great Bridgeport Light.

The City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee has set a tentative date Saturday to vote on Mayor Bill Finch’s $520 million spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. The full council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the budget May 13, but in the world of the city’s legislative body dates, times and locations can change. Ah, such respect for city taxpayers.

As the council prepares to vote on the budget your last chance to speak for or against it comes Tuesday (tonight) 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers. In the old days of city budget public hearings, before the brain-dead era of current city electors (brain dead means folks who don’t vote), council chambers would be loaded with folks, many of them education advocates who’d attend at the urging of Superintendent of Schools Jim Connelly who was as much politician as educator.

Connelly, now more than 10 years retired, generally maintained decent relationships with mayors throughout the years, but he’d jam council chambers with parents and school supporters just to remind mayors and City Council members they couldn’t take advantage of  him. Bridgeport mayors don’t have ultimate control over schools but they and the City Council members do decide how much moolah schools will receive. Connelly had a disarming way about him when it came to mayors. He regaled them in state minimum expenditure requirements, 20,000 students, parents nipping at his heels, a school board demanding this and that. Fact is, most of the time, Connelly had school board members high on his charm.

The only real enemy Connelly had 25 years ago was a little restaurateur Mario Testa who through his fundraising party loyalty found his way elected into the Connecticut State House. Mario, today the Democratic Party chair, was a big proponent of residency: Bridgeport jobs for Bridgeport people. He did not take kindly to the school super who had a city car to drive to the suburbs every night. Mario wanted to take his car away. It was probably a simple matter of Connelly not writing a campaign check to Mario. Mario thought Connelly was cheap. Either way, Mario and Connelly weren’t the best of buds.

And then one day, after Mario became party chief in 1992, he looked around and realized the city, fighting its way out of federal bankruptcy court, didn’t enjoy the mayoral discretionary appointments as once before. He had district leaders beating him up for jobs for their peeps. The city’s traditional political dumping grounds were evaporating. Where could Mario shoehorn a job for a custodian or a painter? Oh my, the school system! Soon enough Mario wasn’t talking about taking away Jim Connelly’s car. They became good friends.



  1. I would agree with this assessment.

    For all of his pissing people off, incompetency, disingenuousness and total ineffectiveness, Finch and his Administration have totally brought home the bacon to this cadre with the Harding project as well as the other new school projects. All these union jobs mean big campaign contributions. All those bonding contracts for Pullman and Comley. All in the name of the children. A formula that for a very few power brokers, works. It is not for the children or the populace of Bridgeport who will have to pay the bill of increased maintenance, loss of tax revenue, loss of parkland and greenspace, loss of historic buildings and increased taxes for our 20% of the bill.


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