Happy Birthday Phineas—Who’s Your Favorite Mayor? (Or Not)

P.T. Barnum

Phineas Taylor Barnum was born on this day 200 years ago in Bethel, Connecticut. Bridgeport became his adopted city. Barnum’s brother, who ran a Bridgeport hotel, introduced him to little Charles Stratton and P.T. would parade him as Tom Thumb.

Barnum loved Bridgeport and showered it with all kinds of stuff. Seaside Park, Victorian housing, spearhead for industrial development, a hospital, library, schools and water supply. He pushed for equal rights for blacks and women. In 1875 he even served as mayor when the term was largely honorific, fighting  for a variety of public improvements and police reform. He didn’t drink and he honored the dead. “Before there can be any reform in Bridgeport,” Barnum proclaimed, “there will have to be a few first-class funerals.” And his farewell speech to the Common Council (as it was known then) was a beauty. “And now gentlemen, as we are about to close our labors in a harmonious spirit, and bid each other a friendly farewell, we have like the Arabs, only to ‘fold our tents and silently steal away,’ congratulating ourselves that this is the only ‘stealing’ which has been performed by this Honorable Body.”

Ah, they don’t write speeches like that anymore. So Barnum’s birthday, his impact and mayoralty got me thinking (always a dangerous thing) who’s your favorite mayor? Feel free, in egalitarian spirit, to share your least favorite as well. A little context. Barnum served one, one-year term as many pols had in that era before Bridgeport went to a two-year term circa 1900 and then the current four-year term in 1999. Only three mayors (out of 52) have reached double digits in service: Republican Clifford Wilson, 1911 to 1921, who took the city out of the dirt, paved streets, motorized police and fire departments, established the city’s Recreation Department and emergency medical clinic; Socialist Jasper McLevy, 1933 to 1957, who came into office following corruption in both the Democratic and Republican parties, kept spending low and taxes down; and Joseph Ganim, 1991 to April 2003, who resuscitated the city following his predecessor’s bankruptcy filing, kept taxes down, but was chased from office following his conviction on corruption charges.

The post McLevy mayors are Democrat Sam Tedesco, Democrat Hugh Curran, Republican Nick Panuzio, Republican Bill Seres (for 55 days serving out the term of Panuzio who took a federal position), Democrat John Mandanici, Republican Lenny Paoletta, Democrat Tom Bucci, Republican Mary Moran, Democrat Joe Ganim, Democrat John Fabrizi and current Democratic Mayor Bill Finch. Phew! How’d I remember all of that?

I wonder what P.T. would think of them?



  1. Mayor Ganim without a doubt the best!!! Rick Torres has his yard signs plastered around Black Rock. I wonder how many Republicans will cast their votes at Black Rock.

  2. Your question is loaded and you know it Lennie.

    OK, tell them Grimaldi or I will.

    Times up.

    Lennie thinks Jasper was Bridgeport’s greatest mayor because he loved dogs.

    Our mushy historian–when he was putting together his Only In Bridgeport book in 1984-85–said that photographs of Jasper McLevy with dogs made the mayor look very kind.

    * * *

    On a serious note, I think the most important political figure, as least from the 20th Century forward, was Republican boss John T. King. King set the progressive political agenda for the community.

    He elected Clifford Wilson as mayor and influenced the political growth of McLevy.

    After that several mayors tried to trash McLevy for not looking forward enough instead of paying attention to the future themselves.

    McLevy had a rare quality in a political leader, the temperament to lead in a democracy and a feeling for his voters. He was cheap, but he could explain why. He did a better job at that than successors did in explaining why money was being spent.


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