Lowell Weicker had a soft spot for Bridgeport that benefited the city in solid, tangible ways be it congressman, U.S. senator and especially as governor for his one, historic term. He has passed away at age 92 leaving enormous legacies at local, state and federal levels.
Weicker, the maverick Republican, transcended politics and proved it by forming A Connecticut Party after losing his senate seat to Democratic Joe Liberman in 1988 on his way to capturing the governor’s office two years later.
He often credited Bridgeport politicians for backing his early public service life. An excerpt from a 2015 article about his enduring impact.
If Bridgeport had a Monument Park for politicians, former Governor Lowell Weicker, now 83 years old, deserves one measuring his full 6’6″ stature. He was the closest thing the city’s ever experienced to a benevolent dictator.
And dictate he did, on behalf of the state’s largest city. Tom Dudchik, who runs the popular CT Capitol Report, recalls the day he suggested Weicker relocate the Troop G State Police Barracks from swanky Westport to Downtown Bridgeport.
In the early 1990s Dudchik was Weicker’s deputy chief of staff. The city was suffering from explosive violent crime: crack heads, drug gangs, gunfire shredded neighborhoods, good people were held captive in their own homes.
“I came with up the idea because State Police officials were going to build a new barracks in Westport,” says Dudchik. “If you’re serious about Bridgeport why is the state police barracks in Westport? How about Downtown Bridgeport? The minute he heard that Weicker got on the phone with the commissioner of Public Safety Nick Cioffi. Weicker said we’re putting the police barracks in Bridgeport.”
The building that had occupied Sears was available on Lafayette Boulevard near I-95.
“They all figured that was a perfect place to do it,” says Dudchik. “And that was it. That’s a true power of a governor. You can tell commissioners what to do and make them do it. If you’re governor you can move heaven and earth. Weicker believed that a state is only good as its cities. He understood what Bridgeport meant.”
That meant at a time the city was battling historic crime, 100 troopers assigned to the barracks would work in Bridgeport, travel through the city, buy coffee and eat lunch in the city, and build stronger relationships with local law enforcement.
Not long before that, Weicker was at war with Republican Mayor Mary Moran for placing the city into federal bankruptcy court in June 1991. As a municipal child of the state, Weicker said the filing compromised the state’s credit worthiness. Then Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal challenged the petition. A federal judge sided with the state. Moran appealed the decision, arguing the city needed a fresh start from years of financial neglect.
Meanwhile, 32-year-old Joseph Ganim defeated Moran in November 1991. The next day Weicker and Ganim met in the governor’s office. Basically he told Ganim withdraw the bankruptcy petition. You do your part, I’ll do mine. Weicker was true to his word.
Weicker had cashews that clanked. Within the next two years, in addition to the State Police barracks, here’s what happened to benefit Bridgeport at Weicker’s direction:
· $500,000 to clean up the disgraceful “Mount Trashmore,” a 35-foot-high, two-block pile of illegal demolition debris that had scarred the East End.
· Relocated Housatonic Community Technical College from the East Side to the site of the vacated Hi-Ho Mall Downtown.
· Authorized the state purchase of Beardsley Park and its zoological gardens from the city for $10 million, providing a much-needed infusion of cash.
· The state also assumed financial responsibility for several other city functions such as operations of the city train station.
· Developed an incentive package that retained major employers such as Chase Manhattan Bank of Connecticut and Southern Connecticut Gas Company.
· A gaming compact Weicker signed with two tribal nations provided $10 million more annually to the city for years.
· Weicker established an office in Downtown Bridgeport where he summoned state commissioners for regular meetings.
Weicker provided the city financial breathing room and additional law enforcement security at a critical stage. Maybe someday a permanent marker will remind people how it happened.