Reliving Democratic Convention Craziness With Mario And Joe–Plus: Testa Fight Tape

Mario, Joe
Will Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa and Mayor Joe Ganim be roomies in Philly?

When Democrats converge on Philadelphia next month to officially nominate Hillary Clinton for president, two old buds will be shoulder to shoulder as delegates, Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa and Mayor Joe Ganim. City Councilwoman Mary McBride Lee will also be there as a delegate. Joe and Mario enjoy a heralded history of fascination at party conventions. For Mario and Joe what a difference a year and a decade make.

Last June Ganim was retail politicking his butt off filleting incumbent Mayor Bill Finch over low police staffing levels and high violent crime rate. Mario was preparing for the convention for mayor in July pondering how he’d throw Finch under the bus for the September primary. Mario and Bill were not buds, but Mario was not quite ready to make public his private rooting for Joe. The week before the endorsement Mario, frustrated by Finch’s lack of “respect” for the chair, announced if there was an endorsement tie he’d break it for Joe. And it appeared Joe was right there for the endorsement. But Finch, as mayor, still controlled the candy store and he reeled in a couple of votes leaning for Joe.

Finch was endorsed at the raucous convention, but then Joe and his campaign crew hit the streets the next morning and in quick time secured plenty of signatures to make the primary ballot where Joe lanced Finch in September on his way to a general election win.

As conventions go, however, it’s hard to beat the 1994 Democratic convention for governor.

Ganim, in his second term of JG1, was a candidate for governor. Joe got into the race after Governor Lowell Weicker, who had helped bail out the city from fiscal hell, decided not to seek reelection. The campaign was cash rich and delegate poor so when making the ballot wasn’t in the cards for Joe (you could not petition your way on back then), Joe backed out of the race one week before the Democratic convention throwing his support behind likely endorsed candidate State Senate leader John Larson (today Congressman Larson) with the hope he’d select Joe as his running mate.

During the Democratic convention in Hartford, as Larson’s boys including Senate Majority Leader William DiBella pondered the selection of the second slot, a contingent of Connecticut mayors who wanted one of their own on the ticket adjourned to a watering hole in the Hartford Civic Center, among them Hartford Mayor Mike Peters and  Waterbury Mayor Ed Bergin as well as Mario and Ganim.

Mayor Mike and Mayor Ed were lubing up the joint. They were feeling pretty good. Finally the call came. Larson had made his decision. They all squeezed into a conference room while delegates in the civic center convention hall waited for an answer.

Larson, facing dozens of Democratic big shots, announced, “I think it’s time to embrace Rich Balducci,” he told the crowd. Balducci, a long-time legislator, had also been a candidate for governor. Emerging from a back room thumping his chest, Balducci announced, “I want everyone to know that I’ll be running as an independent lieutenant governor,” suggesting he’d take the second slot but he’d not be breaking his ass for the ticket. Balducci had also given his word to State Comptroller Bill Curry, the other Dem guber candidate in the race, that he would not work against him.

The place was in stunned silence. This is the person Larson chose? Bridgeport Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa would have none of it. The little man with big ones edged closer to Balducci. “Wait a minute, Mr. Balducci,” drawing out his name, “are you telling us you’re not going to support Larson?”

Balducci stammered on his words. In a flash there was chaos.

“What the fuck is going on around here!” Mayor Peters screamed.

“Yeah, what the fuck is this!” Mayor Bergin yelled.

Peters walked up to Larson and declared: “We’re going to settle this right now.”

Peters, Bergin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano circled with Ganim. “Joe,” Peters asked, “do you want to be lieutenant governor?”

Joe nodded yes.

“That settles it,” Bergin chimed in.

The mayors walked up to Larson and said “Enough of this horseshit, Joe’s gonna be the candidate.” So it was done. That’s how 34-year-old Joe Ganim became the candidate for lieutenant governor in 1994. It didn’t work out. Larson lost the primary to Bill Curry and Curry lost the general election (with Joe as his running mate) to John Rowland.

For Mario, however, that afternoon in the cramped room was political bliss. So the next time you’re in Mario’s restaurant, ask him about the 1994 gubernatorial convention and he will crack a Kermit smile.

But then there was the party endorsement for mayor in 1989. And that one was also a beauty. How could we let this moment pass without reminiscing about Mario’s fight with town committee member Mike Rizzitelli. Check out the video below for your enjoyment. At the opening of the video you’ll see standing a young Danny Roach, Ganim’s mayoral chief of staff, with young Joe in the background. Joe was a candidate for mayor in 1989 and Danny was supporting him. Ganim won the mayoralty for the first time two years later. The guy speaking at the podium was then Democratic Town Chair John Guman.



    Interviews will be held on Monday, June 13, 2016, beginning at 5:00 pm at Geraldine Johnson School, 475 Lexington Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604.

  2. Lennie,
    Today’s story becomes tomorrow’s history. We are gifted by your memory and writing to know more about Bridgeport’s political history than otherwise.

    I noted above, you guided us to ask a question of Mario the next time we are at Mario’s restaurant. So for those of us not in the know, where is Mario’s restaurant today? In Bridgeport or Fairfield?

    And I guess it might be reasonable to ask if there is another way to ask a question of the Democratic Town Committee. For instance, does the DTC have a web site or other internet capacity? If not, why not? Don’t need to communicate? A place to post pictures and celebrate events? Perhaps a place to celebrate all the people of the party? Or maybe just some of the chosen few?

    Apropos of Lennie’s article, such a site might have archives that would show Joe Ganim ran in the primary last year with a sticker that said: “STOP RAISING TAXES!” Perhaps Joe was walking in front of the vehicle with that as a rear bumper sticker. And then I heard today about the Ganim statement that he would stop flat-funding schools. How did that work out? Could this be the reason the most powerful political institution in the largest City in the State of CT, Mario’s machine, fails to have a technology base? Is it an integrity issue? Time will tell.

    1. Way back then he was a hooligan, and we’re still stuck with him. A little history, Mike Rizzi is my second cousin’s Dad and John Ricci’s roommate. Ricci has breakfast, lunch and dinner with Mario every day, funny how things end up.

  3. John Marshall Lee, the Democratic Town is totally run by whomever is the Chair, right now it’s Mario Testa. I suggest you go to the Registrars of Voters and see the Democratic Registrar: Santa I. Ayala (Sandi) or Democratic Deputy: Patricia A. Howard and ask for a copy of the rules of the Democratic Party. That will spell out what is required of the officers and the DTC. You might also want to ask for a copy of the 90 members of the DTC but I would first get the party’s rules. I don’t know if there is a fee, if there is it should around 50 cents a page but you’re only talking about five or six pages for the rules and the same for the DTC membership list.

    1. Good luck, JML. Getting a copy of the DTC rules is like finding gold at Beardsley Park. Under Mario’s tutelage no one is allow to ask a question or make a statement, and I mean TC members. If you happen to be nominating or making a second to a nomination you can get in what you want, but that’s it. Back in the day, if this happened the Chair would be challenged, and a majority of the DTC members could force him to present the Party Rules or he would be outvoted and have to relent. But I doubt the present DTC members realize they have that option.

      1. Lisa, I didn’t know it was that bad but I’m not surprised. I’ll look to see if I can find the one I have and give it to JML. Hopefully it wasn’t with the papers that were destroyed from hurricanes Irene and Sandy.

    2. Ron and Lisa,
      Read Article VII of the State Democratic Party Rules.

      It lays out important information about rules and procedures at the local level. Not all towns/cities adopt their own rules, but if they do they MUST file it with the state party and be in compliance with the state rules.

      I am a member of the Rules Committee of the TDTC and we are in process of revising our old rules, which predated the 2014 State rules, to be in compliance.

      Your City registrar may not have a copy of the Bridgeport Party rules as it is not required by State party rules to file locally. You should be able to get an answer from the state party if Bridgeport has its own rules. If not they are obligated to follow the state-prescribed rules.

      1. Marshall, thank you! I became a member of the DTC in 1980, and since that time never saw what you so graciously sent. I have served with at least two other Chairmen of the DTC, they were professional and open. On the other hand, Mario Testa makes up the rules as he goes along. Mayors aside, a change of the City Council, and a civil Chairman of the DTC will go a long way in changing the politics of Bridgeport.

        1. One of the most important rules of the State Democratic Party that applies to EVERY community is DTC meetings MUST be open to all members of the party. I attended TDTC meetings long before I was a member. Non-members have no vote (in Trumbull they may speak and are welcomed by the committee), but their presence reminds the DTC chair and officers that this is not a closed group and they answer to all members of the party. It also can entice new people to join and take power.

  4. May I present an example. A while back I had the privilege to nominate Judge Carmen Lopez to be a member of the BOE. She didn’t make it because Mario stacked the deck against her, but my nominating speech was compelling enough to cause the vote to be closer than Mario had expected. Judge Lopez is a lady and a professional and wanted to take just a minute to thank the members who supported her. Mario was so vindictive he almost lost, he refused to allow the Judge that courtesy. I hope that answers your question.

    1. Lisa, thank you for bringing that up and that’s Mario at his best and that’s why I didn’t like Maria putting Angel up to run against Mario.

      Yes Lisa, Judge Lopez is a lady and a professional and how dare Mario Testa to treat her that way, this reflects the members of the DTC to allow Mario to disrespect Judge Lopez like that and say or do nothing and nothing has changed.

        1. Lisa, a few points. First, I was asking for a person in Bridgeport who has a strong relationship with both Trumbull and Tom McCarthy who was/is on State Central. What Marshall posted is nothing near what Bridgeport has. Finally, Marshall Marcus has truly shown why he shouldn’t be elected to anything in Trumbull because his mentor is Tom McCarthy the President of the Bridgeport Common Council who has guided Bridgeport into 20 million dollars of red ink and that’s Marshall’s hero. Plus Marshall wants this same Tom McCarthy to bring those same skills to help with the State budget. Lisa, have you noticed how Marshall is not talking as much and I think someone from Bridgeport told Marshall to cut it out.

          1. Ron, I don’t know Marshall and just recently realized he was quite engaged in the 22nd Senatorial election. Since I don’t know him or anything about him I will give him the benefit of the doubt. It could be he knows Tom McCarthy personally other than being fully aware of Tom Mac’s politics. I don’t know. But I will put my two cents in in the event Marshall is not fully aware of the many sides of Tom. Politically he has been a version of the ambulance chasers, where there’s a camera or reporter Tom sniffs them out. He earned his living off the backs of the Bridgeport taxpayers for almost 10 years, and not chump change, $125,000 at least. What is most egregious is that as an attorney, he knew very well the City Charter was being manipulated at least, violated at best. He implemented practices while Council President that he had no authority to do. i.e. the improper use of stipend funds, hiring and firing council liaisons, firing if one didn’t do as he said, hiring if one did. This has nothing to do with the scope of a council member, which is all he is. I held the title of Council President for 12 years, I know what I’m talking about. With just this information, I don’t understand why Marshall feels he will be a credible representative for Bridgeport/Trumbull/Monroe. The word around Bridgeport, from folks who know him well, is he needs a paycheck and is trying to recapture the political attention he received with the blessing of Mayor Finch. I don’t think Tom is a bad person, but he’s certainly not a good candidate for the State Senate.

          2. Ron,
            Why must you continue to Lie? I’ve met Tom MCCarthy exactly three times in my life and have had three phone conversations. He is not my mentor, I’m quite a bit older than him. Why would you assume because I support someone’s candidacy he is my hero?

            As for the frequency of my comments, they are only made on threads that interest me or involve me (WPCA, D22).

            What I posted about local rules is a link to the State Democrat Party Website (Rules section). Anyone with internet can access that. No one from Bridgeport or elsewhere tells me when to speak or not. I know you don’t like Tom McCarthy, but that in no way entitles you to lie about me.

        2. Lisa, John Fabrizi was a member of the State Central Committee, he is a good friend of Mario Testa and Tom McCarthy and Trumbull First Selectman Timothy M. Herbst.

          1. Ron, FYI.
            I have never met: John Fabrizi. Mario Testa, Bill Finch, Joe Ganim. I met Tom McCarthy when he addressed the TDTC and at the D22 Convention. I do know Tim Herbst, I disagree with most of what he does in politics, but we are civil to each other and speak when in the same room at town meetings.
            I’ve eaten at Mr. Testa’s restaurant exactly twice in my life, 10 years ago for lunch with my wife, and about seven years ago for dinner with wife and another Trumbull couple. I wasn’t at all involved in local politics at the time and would not have known who Mr. Testa was or his position in Bridgeport politics.

          2. Ron, Fabrizi is not a good friend of Mario’s anymore, he was banned from the two restaurants owned by Mario because he voted for Finch at the convention.

  5. Lisa,
    I don’t know Tom McCarthy well enough to know if he needs a job, but the $28,000 per year State Senators make in CT is not a ‘good’ living. Most State Senators have other full-time employment or practices to support themselves.

    As I mentioned in a reply to lying Ron, I’m older than Tom McCarthy. I remember back when the citizen legislators of CT met every other year and enacted a two-year budget. It was a simpler and cheaper time.

  6. Marshall, I believe you don’t know Tom McCarthy, I mean really know him. Since Tom has no family responsibilities he can manage on the salary paid to State Senators. I’m sure if he were to be elected, he’d use his position to get supplementary income. With the money he earned over the many years he was employed by the City, albeit a blatant conflict, I’m sure he has a nest egg. He has only himself to support, and he only recently rented an apartment, prior to that he lived with his parents.

    1. Lisa,
      Thank you for actually reading my words and not jumping to conclusions and attributing things I didn’t say to me. It seems to some participants on this blog if you reside in Trumbull or choose not to support Senator Moore’s reelection you are automatically a racist or under the control of Tom McCarthy. I’ve repeatedly made it clear I am not involved in internal Bridgeport politics. I answer to no one except the members of my party who elected me to the TDTC.
      I will campaign for the winner of the primary as there is no way I want Elaine Hammers to be the D22 State Senator, I’ve had enough of her rubber stamp Trumbull BOF.

  7. *** Catch a Philly’s game and an original Philly steak & cheese sandwich or see City Hall on Broad St. Maybe even see the statue of Smokin’ Joe Frazier; adopted son of the city of “Brotherly Love!” ***


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