Raise Your Hand And Swear With Me, Plus: Tie One On

This week a whole lotta pols will be swearing. And after they’re sworn in it won’t take long for OIB’s posters to be swearing at them.

Yup, raise your hand and swear for the privilege of a cursing rejoinder. Goes with the territory. Me, I’ve been swearing at George Bush for eight years and I’m so excited at the departure of the most dangerously incompetent prez of my lifetime just two weeks hence that I’m feeling all warm and gooey inside.

Yes, weapons of mass destruction, mission accomplished, end to major combat fighting, we’ve got Osama right where we want him … dead or alive. Yes, we’ve got our presidential finger in the dike, don’t sorry New Orleans. What, only poor and black people will be flooded out? Hey Dick, get your finger out of the dike. No, not that one, the middle one.

On Tuesday in DC Jim Himes will be sworn into the 111 Congress by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who campaigned for gentleman Jim. It will mark the first time in 21 years that Chris Shays will not be representing Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District and the first time in more than 40 years that a Democrat’s in office.

Himes’ Bridgeport office is located at 211 State Street downtown. Stop in and say hello to the staff. Must be a strange feeling for Shays after all these years. I wonder if Barack will appoint him head of the Peace Corps?

Closer to home, new state house members Auden Grogins and Ezequiel Santiago, and State Senator Anthony Musto will join veteran members of the local legislative delegation in what will not exactly be a Santa Claus session. The city’s broke, the state’s broke, the country’s broke. Okay, Barack, baby, start printing money and fire up that trillion dollar rescue plan.

You know, I’ve been thinking (that usually gets me in trouble) about what Auden, the Blonde Banshee from Black Rock, will say when it’s time to raise her hand and repeat after me. “Fuckin’ A, baby!”

Courant Ties One On

Thanks to Hartford Courant scribe Jesse Leavenworth and his Sunday piece about Bow Tie Banker, my biography of David Carson retired chief executive of People’s Bank. See interview below:

Former Political Player Fascinated By Corporate Power Broker
By JESSE LEAVENWORTH | The Hartford Courant
January 4, 2009

As a young newspaper reporter in Bridgeport, Lennie Grimaldi was fascinated with the urban underbelly, where cockroaches scuttle and the steamiest stories lie.

For Grimaldi, the most interesting crannies were in the politics of Connecticut’s largest city. Starting in the late 1970s, he established a reputation as a determined reporter; wrote books, including “Only in Bridgeport: An Illustrated History of the Park City;” and made connections with power brokers and up-and-comers, including a pol named Joseph Ganim.

Then, in the 1990s, Grimaldi found himself running in the shadows. As a pal of then-Mayor Ganim and a public relations consultant, Grimaldi commanded an intersection of money and influence. Enmeshed in a pay-to-play scandal that bounced Ganim from his high-living perch, Grimaldi was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and filing a false tax return and sent to prison for about a year in the summer of 2003.

Now a biographer and blogger–onlyinbridgeport.com–in addition to his public relations work at Momentum Communications, Grimaldi’s latest project is focused on another powerful man he met in the 1990s, a different kind of man. “Bow Tie Banker” is an authorized biography of David E. A. Carson, former insurance executive and retired head of what is now People’s United Bank. In Carson, Grimaldi says, he found intelligence, innovation, integrity and even a bit of redemption for a 50-year-old newspaperman and writer, who, as Grimaldi acknowledged, made some “boneheaded decisions.”

Recently, Grimaldi answered questions about the book and its central character.

Q: You write that Carson started working at The Hartford Insurance Group in 1960 and was stunned by the bucolic business atmosphere in the Insurance City, compared with New York City, where he had worked before. Did Hartford and its insurance industry give Carson the chance to become an innovator, more of a chance than he would have found in New York or other larger cities?

A: Carson was radical for the times, so he’d have been a pain in the butt to any reluctant organization because change does not come easy to corporate institutions, particularly one as revered as The Hartford, and Carson was all about change. Understand that Carson was dramatically younger than the other senior officers at The Hartford–he wore white suits, he had facial chops, shoulder-length hair, he wore bow ties and he talked technology–anathema to some decision makers at The Hartford.

As a trained actuary from the University of Michigan, Carson’s whole mantra for change was based in research and mathematical fact. For instance, the numbers didn’t lie: teenage drivers were more prone to accidents than experienced drivers. … But Carson does not make decisions based simply on the math. He invests in people. He believes in the productivity of the human spirit and had confidence in the skill of American engineers. When Carson served in the U.S. Army he had the remarkable job of testing the detonation accuracy of hand grenades, so this is a man who understands ultimate risk.

Q: After ITT purchased The Hartford, Carson decided he should move on, in part, you write, because such large companies “cultivated serpentine bureaucracies that put the brakes on innovation.” So with Carson, there has to be ample room within a company to make changes, experiment, rip up the old plans, right?

A: When Carson joined an organization, he wasn’t afraid to break the china. Carson actually did the unthinkable when he left The Hartford in 1974. He was a senior vice president earning $90,000 a year–that was a lot of money back then–with thousands of employees underneath him, and took a one-third pay cut to become chief executive of Middlesex Mutual Assurance in Middletown, that had 90 employees in total.

In Carson’s view, sometimes it’s better to take a financial step down to move up. He was the No. 5 guy at The Hartford and the prospect for becoming chief executive there was way off. So Carson proved that you can follow an unconventional route to power.

Q: Carson has dealt with many politicians in Connecticut and even the president’s chief of staff. You portray him as a man of smarts, guts and integrity, a guy who knew when to hold back and when to bare his teeth. So would he have made a good professional politician?

A: Yes, if he wanted to go that route, he would have been successful because he has a gift for retaining his composure when everyone else is falling to pieces. …

As you note, Carson through the years has interacted with dozens of politicians and government officials in areas of insurance and banking regulation, and he’s been successful in moving them to positions of sanity without being a lawyer or a lobbyist, an accomplishment he duly notes. Carson is not a big fan of lawyers. And temperament is key for Carson. It is rare for Carson to blow a cork, so when he does, it’s a memorable moment.

Q: Carson was at the helm of People’s Bank during dark financial times in the early 1990s. The bank survived and it seems a big part of the reason was Carson’s steady hand and his faith in his staff. Now we’re in the midst of an even bigger meltdown, caused in large part by greed, ignorance and poor leadership. So is Carson a rare bird in the business world? Do we need more like him at AIG and General Motors?

A: During the recessions of the late 1970s and early 1990s, Carson rejected pay raises. Amazing, considering that millions and millions of taxpayer money, in this unprecedented government bailout, will cover salaries of chief executives that helped to steer major corporations off a cliff. Although Carson has done well financially, he’s not driven by money. He says follow your interests and the money will follow. Greedy executives follow the money, damn the consequences. Well, we’ve seen where that has gotten us.

When People’s Bank was in trouble in the early 1990s and federal regulators were knocking on Carson’s door, Carson managed to avoid layoffs while some on People’s executive row urged layoffs. Carson was focused on keeping his major commercial accounts in business to keep his bank in business while other lenders were throwing their major borrowers under the bus. It takes rare insight and a stomach to match to pull that off.

Q: You ran into some trouble yourself a few years ago. What did you learn about yourself from writing this book? Has talking to and writing about David Carson been at all redeeming for you?

A: Yes, I’m fortunate. I write about the lives of accomplished people, and each subject I write about is a lesson to embrace. One of the noble aspects of Carson is how he sizes up people. One hundred people can say, “This person is no good; he screwed up, stay away from him,” but Carson believes in redemption. When he sizes up a person, he doesn’t ask, “How can this person hurt me?” He asks, “What can this person contribute to the effort?”

• For more about the book, visit www.bowtiebankerbook.com



  1. Lennie I grant you Bush was not the greatest president we ever had but he is not the worst in your lifetime. Take a look at the 8 years Clinton was in office. Look at the terrorist acts commited against the USA around the world. It was Clinton that had Osama in his sights and could have easily taken him out and he refused to pull the trigger.

  2. America got in a recession while amassing a $10.3 trillion debt!
    Conclusion: you cannot borrow your way to prosperity although some got wealthy while we tried. Debt destroys–prepare for The Big Payback, initiated by a guy named BARRY who just happens to be President of The United States.

    Best Kept Secret: Barry Obama is a peerless C.E.O.

  3. Bullshit. Bush should be held criminally liable for the mess he made of the WORLD. That Roe v. Wade pandering son of a bitch stole the election in Florida and not once in his entire administration did he implement any policies that improved the life of WE THE PEOPLE. BTW Wondering, the ole man had a shot at really normalizing the middle east but didn’t have the brains and the balls to do it. Now these idiots want son Jeb to run. Who do they think we are, Bridgeport Union Democrats?

  4. Hey Ripper;
    You are an insult to every true reaper who is out there. Why don’t you Thai Won On for 2009 and maybe that will put some teeth back into your bite.

  5. Sorry to post off topic, but does anyone know what’s going on with the NAGE negotiations? 51 people are scheduled for layoff this Friday unless the union agrees to concessions. NAGE Prez Frank Bisogno is refusing to give back because he says his contract is in effect until June 30 2009. He’s right about an existing contract but is it right to let those 51 people lose their jobs?

  6. In my opinion he is wrong. He should sit down with the mayor and work this out. These are tough economic times and most of the other unions have agreed. It is my undertsanding that he does not feel that there is a $20million deficit. Maybe there is not a deficit that large but I am sure there is a deficit. I don’t see what he has to gain by not speaking to the mayor and putting any offer he gets before the membership and letting them decide. These 51 people are going to have a tough time finding another job. I hope he wakes up.

  7. A big part of the problem is that no one trusts Tom Sherwood’s numbers. He has produced a smoke-and-mirrors budget for the last 6 years. He guided us into this mess. Would you trust him? Plus the City keeps spending on unnecessary things like I have said over and over. If we were truly in a fiscal emergency, we would not have parties; give raises; renovate offices; buy new furniture; etc., etc. That’s why Frank doesn’t believe there’s a $20m deficit. Not saying I agree with him but I certainly understand where he’s coming from.

  8. *** #6- The way the city’s been operating, union contracts mean very little! They can be broken, rewritten & broken again over time and reason. The city would still lay them off, only to bring them back on a court settlement later, within reason. As I’ve stated before on this OIB forum, things will probably get worse before they get better, hope I’m wrong. Even after Obama takes charge, & as “$” opportunities start to fall in place for many different reasons and in different forms, can the city of Bpt. take full benefit of what’s out there? “NO”, not without a fully staffed experienced grants dept. and an experienced capable director to oversee the department. In my #6 yrs. as city councilman, every time I would meet with Lieberman, Dodd or Shays down in D/C; also with other councilmembers with me; they & their staff would always point out that Conn. was #47th out of #50 states in grant writing! Why do you think Shays paid Rina Bakalar more money to leave City Hall? He knew she was very good @ what she does & could make much more $ elsewhere. She’s a Dem. by the way so it wasn’t about politics in gen. Fabrizi understood this, especially after speaking with him about the meetings in D/C. That’s one of the reason’s he gave her a raise to keep her; Finch on the other hand didn’t really bother to try & keep her. *** Unless the Finch Admin. along with the “expertised” city, state & Fed. legislator’s that we have representing us are working on a master economic plan that the public & media know nothing of, we are in deep, “doo doo”! “What’s gonna be in your wallet”? ***

  9. Fabrizi was an excellent supporter of the grants department and staff, he looked at the results and let them all do their jobs. They ALL appreciated that very much.

    city hall smoker, whoever you are you are right on the button. Your posts are honest and refreshing.

  10. Mojo, I agree 100%. Alanna Kabel, with the assistance of Tom Sherwood, is slowly but surely destroying the grants office. Rina and her staff did an excellent job. They brought in tons of money. Alanna doesn’t have a clue what to do so she does nothing. She treats her employees like shit; that’s why they all left. They are down to 1 grantswriter. I am VERY worried that if the big money comes down from D.C. there will be no one to write the grants. And we will all lose.

    Mojo, you remember when you were on the council, Central Grants was always before you getting approval for new grants. Check with your council buddies and you’ll see that has slowed almost to a halt. There aren’t any new grants being written. The federal money is out there; we’re just not applying for it. You’d think the council would be concerned about all the missed opportunities to bring free money into the city. What is going on? And since when does Tom Sherwood have a say in the grants? Hasn’t he done enough damage with the city budget?

  11. I was just catching up on the weekend blogs and I saw Finch’s list of infrastructure projects. Some are worthwhile but others are clearly special-interest projects and should not have been included. The list was not well thought out; it reads like last year’s CDBG wish list. Let’s hope that when the money comes in (and it will) that we prioritize that list and concentrate on the most pressing like the Congress Street Bridge, sewer system and new government center.

  12. Hey Lennie, where is the Finch press release?
    Smoker, NAGE has an attorney negotiating with the City.
    Why and who hired Bucci to represent NAGE? It’s obvious who hired Bucci. The hiring of Bucci is one of those things that makes me go Hmmm. An attorney with a history of working for the City is not one I would trust to negotiate on my behalf with the same city that gives him or his law firm other legal work.
    Frank Bisogno is negotiating according to what NAGE members think is fair. At least 67% percent of the members feel that they cannot afford to give back too much. I am aware that the city will give NAGE a proposal today or tomorrow and that by or before Friday NAGE will take a vote of its members.

  13. *** 11- Not only new grant proposals but I’ve seen little on simple resolutions to make any type of neighborhood or local district improvements. The only things that have come across the city council floor that I’ve noticed on the agendas have been regular Mayor’s admin. stuff & or city committees business! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference in the interest put forth, actual rate & type of quality work being done by this admin., the city & state legislators so far. Maybe I’m just venting due to anger like a few bloggers on this OIB forum have written, or getting old & grumpy. But when I was in the Army over #36 yrs. ago, I remember a Drill Sargent state, “You only get out of life what you put into it”! *** P.S.-(Leave no man behind!) ***

  14. Charlie Carroll should have GPS put in his vehicle. The one the taxpayers own that he removed the City Of Bridgeport plates from. I wonder why he did that? Maybe he should set the example for the rest of his Dept. Be the stand-up guy everyone says he is! Only in Bpt!


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