Democratic Party State Chair Nancy DiNardo serves as the grand marshal of this weekend’s Columbus celebration, the parade marching south starting at Madison and Jewett, Sunday at noon.
DiNardo’s profile in state politics is such that all a person need intone is “Nancy” to register identity.
She is the first woman to serve as grand marshal, a notable designation in one of the oldest continuously running celebrations in the country.
What follows is an interview that captures the essence of her public and professional careers.
Q. You have a special aptitude for firsts, including the first woman to lead Connecticut Democrats. What do you think will be on your mind when leading the parade down Madison Avenue?
A. Since I had a “practice run” in the Puerto Rican parade, I can say it’s seeing the people who are out there watching the parade and interacting with some of them. I will want to make sure that I acknowledge the people there by waving and looking at them as we go by. I am proud to have been selected to be the grand marshal this year and believe that there will be more women elected in the future.
Q. Please share some tidbits of your experiences growing up in the DiNardo household to parents Peter and Josephine.
A. Both of my parents had a number of siblings – my father had 11 siblings and my mother had 6 siblings so there were large family gatherings around the holidays. Family was important. While some of the families have moved away, many of the cousins are here and we still connect particularly for weddings and the holidays.
Both of my parents were involved in politics, so it was not unusual to have meet-and-greets or fundraisers at the house. One of my favorite photos from one of these parties is a photo of me with Ella Grasso.
Q. You’ve held such a high profile in state politics that so many don’t know your roots, a first grade teacher at Maplewood School and then director of psychological services for the Bridgeport Board of Education. Did that latter role help prepare you to deal with a cross section of politicians?
A. When people hear about my background, they often ask that question. But I don’t think that was what made the difference. I believe it was my experiences in Trumbull politics. I was 21 when I first ran and won a seat on the Town Council. I also served on the Board of Finance, Board of Health, and Police Commission, as well as being Town Chair for many years. Although Trumbull would vote Republican in state and federal elections, Democrats often won in the municipal elections.
We had a strong local Party and everyone tended to get along.
But that is not to say that working in Bridgeport public schools did not help me as well. I loved my jobs in the schools; as a teacher, school psychologist and then director. During that time, there were people who asked why I stayed in Bridgeport. I loved working in Bridgeport and felt that I learned a lot from the other educators and the families that I worked with there.
Q. You have now nearly 20 years in as party chief in combined tenure. What highlights come to mind?
A. I would say first and foremost, it’s the people that I have met over the years. Getting to meet and have pictures with Presidents, Senators, Congress people, Governors is wonderful, but it’s also the other state party chairs and Party members that have become friends that I treasure.
I am also proud of our Connecticut Democratic leaders. They all get along and are helpful to the Party. Our annual dinner, formerly the Jefferson Jackson Bailey dinner (JJB), now the Bailey dinner, has always been successful and we have had great speakers because our leaders have brought in the keynote speakers. They are also supportive in attending our Party events.
Q. I recall you were quite the skier back in the day. Do you still hit the slopes? Favorite destination?
A. I haven’t skied much in the past few years because of COVID, but plan on going again this year. I have been skiing out West with family and friends the past several years, primarily Vail. Considering how long I have skied,I don’t know that I would say I’m quite the skier.
Q. When you entered politics it was still very much a male-dominated vocation. I think of you in the mode of Ella Grasso, a Connecticut first as governor, also of Italian ancestry, navigating the trap doors of politics. What advice can you share to women aspiring leadership roles in politics?
A. Fortunately, today, it is not unusual for women to be in leadership roles in politics. I would definitely encourage them to get involved. I would also encourage them to speak up and offer their opinions on issues. Let the other people they are involved with know that they are willing to participate in whatever ways it is necessary to make their organization successful. They also should make sure that people know that they aspire to be in a leadership role at some point.