Fourth of July weekend: fireworks, burgers, buns, beers, political bantering.
Has me thinking about my favorite political campaigns because the 2009 cycle — so far — is death valley.
I’ve been involved in a whole bunch the past 30 years (ouch, that long) as both scribe and operative. My favorites include Bill Finch’s state senate win over Republican Lee Scarpetti, one of the nicest people in politics, in 2000. Joe Ganim, a popular mayor with whom I had a falling out, and Mario Testa, a powerful town chair didn’t lift a nostril for Finch. We won big in the city, won Trumbull as well, and ran just about even in Monroe.
Paul Ganim’s primary win over Kevin Boyle for judge of probate in 1998 is right up there. Boyle was the party endorsed candidate and it was a chance to test the vaulted Democratic machine (sometimes it’s more like a jalopy)against the unknown brother of a popular mayor. Won that in a squeaker.
I’ve lost my share of races too.
But as a scribe covering an election, the 1981 mayoral contest between irrepressible Democrat John Mandanici and indomitable Republican Lenny Paoletta was as wild a contest as ever. Lenny was banging away at the number of Mandy officials that had been charged with corruption. Mandy also was suffering from a party split, some of it his own doing. When you tell the two most significant pols in the black community — Charlie Tisdale and Margaret Morton — to jump off the Pleasure Beach pier, it does not make for happy East Enders.
The mayoral campaign that summer of 1981 bumped against a series of nutty incidents involving law enforcement. The feds were all over the city, looking at Mandy, looking at Police Superintendent Joe Walsh, one of the best pols in the city, who they thought ran a corrupt department in a wide open town.
The feds prevailed upon Tommy Marra, who had gotten into all sorts of trouble, to offer Joe cash to get back the city towing contract operated by his family that had become an embarrassment to the city. Joe knew the set up was coming and had his boys poised downtown to move in on Marra when he offered the loot.
It was a great day for Super Joe who appeared on front pages of national pubs making the FBI look silly. Mandy made a lot of hay out of it as well, claiming Lenny, who had represented Marra on some legal matters, was all part of a conspiracy to taint his righteous police department. It was all so hysterical.
Then a month later at the corner of Main and Jewett, two shotgun blasts disconnected Frank Piccolo, a capo in the Gambino Crime Family. City police charged Gus Curcio, who the feds said was affiliated with a rival mob family, with the hit, but then something amazing happened, a state grand jury refused to indict Curcio, making him the first person in the history of the grand jury procedure — something that was always automatic — not to be charged. The Piccolo hit was never solved.
Meanwhile, Mandy accused Lenny of being connected to this guy, and Lenny accused him of being connected to that guy. Marra’s car blew up in front of Lenny’s campaign headquarters. Two cars blew up in Mandy’s driveway. Paoletta’s house was burglarized. Mandy was fitted for a bullet proof vest.
Meanwhile Lenny’s campaign operatives played a winking game with Charlie Tisdale for minority votes. It paid off. The Republican managed to run even with Mandy in the minority community. In fact, a check of precinct totals show that Mandy and Lenny ran basically even in every voting place except for Hallen, Mandy’s home turf, and Black Rock, the solid Republican district.
Lenny won by 64 votes.
So, what’s your favorite election?
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