25 Years Ago, Dems Mario Testa And Mike Rizzitelli Duked It Out At Party Convention

It’s been 25 years and this video is more priceless than ever. This weekend and into next week a series of political conventions will take place to endorse candidates for an assortment of local, state and federal offices. Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa’s restaurant on Madison Avenue will host candidate conventions on Monday and Wednesday next week. In the summer of 1989 Mario had a starring role when 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, (yes, the same Mario Testa now party chairman) Bucci’s cousin, as the new leader over the objections of crusty committeeman the late Mike Rizzitelli who’d been fighting Mario for years.

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 media row including me when I served as publisher of the community weekly newspaper The Bridgeport Light, and current 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.

Rizzi-Mario photo fight
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.

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.



  1. Attending City Council and Board of Ed meetings in recent years has revealed the emotional depths sometimes reached in advocacy or defensive positions. To deal with disruptions that go beyond verbal into the physical realm, as in “you put your hands on me first,” we not only have one public safety officer (and often more) present at such meetings.
    Indeed behind the gates and fence that separates the elected (and/or appointed) from the registered (though not all vote I suspect) and unregistered (read: they do not count in a political process) is a booth for a member of the Bridgeport Police Force.
    I have wondered about it on more than one occasion as I have listened to speakers. And though it is unusual to see the duty officer sitting there, it is most reasonable. The most recent altercation (also available on Grimaldi TV, I suspect) was between Council members. Remember? There may have been more movement due to people being in less than fighting shape, however the emotions were there and it was too late for any appeal to reason. Does the presence of recording equipment of all kinds serve as a constraint on “duking” it out in our time? Or does such activity become “famous” and provide “local celebrities” with dubious glitter? Time will tell.

  2. Lennie failed to complete the story. Here’s what happened after the Democrats were done with the Days Hotel on Lafayette Boulevard. The camera dropped by Cecil Young was intentionally stepped on and crushed, we will never know who did it, but the culprit was wearing Italian shoes as the final footage shows. After the bar was ordered to close, a group of Democrats left the hall and set up a bootlegging operation out of a rented room. The next day, dozens of hotel patrons signed out complaining of rooms broken into, noise all night and people passed out drunk in hallways and elevators. Days after, an infestation of crabs plagued every room in the hotel. The Days Inn was never the same and its downward spiral began that day. Ten year later, the City of Bridgeport gave the property to Alfred Lenoci and the first thing he did with the building was:
    www .youtube.com/watch?v=5qRJA_m2KAM


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