Friday night I was part of a four-member panel that reviewed a newly cut version of The Accidental Mayor, filmmaker Larry Locke’s real-life shadowing of Mayor John Fabrizi’s emotionally charged political fallout from addiction and the courtroom appearance on behalf of a sexual offender that cratered his mayoralty.
Lots of OIB friends were among the guests including Ralph Mojica, big Mojo, who served on the City Council while Fabs was mayor. Fabs himself stopped in before the film was aired for the packed audience at City Lights on Markle Court downtown to thank them for showing and recite the signature Fabs mantra: enjoy all things Bridgeport and spend money at restaurants.
Locke is wonderful behind a camera and Fabs provided him complete access to poise his camera inside the mayor’s office, at events, meetings with senior staff and constituents, and even during sessions with his therapist. Yes, that’s Fabs, one giant ball of emotion. Michael Daly, editorial page editor of the Connecticut Post, Brad Durrell, who covered the Fabrizi years as editor of the Bridgeport News and Caryn Kaufman, Fabs’ communications director and one of the stars in the film, were also on the panel. We see Kaufman, and other mayoral advisers such as Charlie Carroll and George Estrada chewing on strategies to save his mayoralty after Connecticut Post articles forced Fabs to go public with his substance abuse. And then, just when it appeared he had survived the fallout just months from 2007 reelection, he walked into a city courtroom to ask a judge for leniency on behalf of a sexual offender who was a friend of his son Michael. Fabs blindsided his entire staff. He told no one, fearing perhaps they’d have handcuffed him to his desk for the day.
Fabs hadn’t counted on Connecticut Post reporter Dan Tepfer to be in the courtroom that day. When the news hit the front page the electorate freaked and Fabs’ political supporters ran for cover. Everyone knows someone with a substance abuse problem, and it appeared Fabs would have survived that disclosure. But the courtroom gaffe was entirely different, it cut across the horror of every electoral demographic group, North End to South End, East Side to West Side. The church ministers so supportive of Fabs after his substance abuse went public could no longer sell him to their substantial flock of voters.
It was painful for Caryn Kaufman to sit through the film and answer questions. As she so admirably pointed out, in her mind she was part of the cleanup crew in the years after Joe Ganim resigned the mayoralty following his sentence on corruption charges that elevated Fabs, the City Council president, mayor. And now she had to explain, as communications director, the actions of her own boss.
Think of a political version of Tony Soprano in a docudrama, that’s the appeal of The Accidental Mayor.