Bridgeport’s mayoral campaign has begun. Will there be any drama? Thirty years ago the municipal election between Democrat John Mandanici and Republican Lenny Paoletta was a reporter’s dream, for the force of the candidates personalities and all the explosive background noise. Mandanici was the incumbent keeper of the keys to city’s Democratic machine. Paoletta was the enemy loosening the bolts to the wheels.
Mandy had all kinds of issues including political and investigative. Politically it had started when Margaret Morton took on the establishment by knocking off State Senator Sal DePiano in a Democratic primary to become the first African American woman to win a Connecticut state senate seat. Mandy couldn’t, wouldn’t heal the political wounds. He was also the target of a federal investigation that had already nailed several members of his administration on a variety of corruption charges. Charlie Tisdale, a cunning political organizer with a strong following in the black community, stepped up to challenge Mandy in a Democratic primary. Mandy won the primary but the split remained. Meanwhile Paoletta was hammering Mandy’s indictment-filled administration (Mandy was never charged himself.)
Mandy could return fire with the best of them, especially after the feds had employed a local car thief to lure Superintendent of Police Joseph Walsh, himself a target of a federal grand jury probe, into a bribe. Walsh was prepared for the set up and arrested Thomas Marra Jr. for attempted bribery, making the feds look like the Keystone Kops. A howling Mandanici claimed it was Paoletta, who had an attorney relationship with Marra, that instigated the whole thing.
About a month after the sting attempt, Frank Piccolo, leader of the local operations for the Gambino Crime Family, was blown away while he stood at public phone booth on Main Street in the North End. And then Daniel Bifield, a member of the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club escaped from the Bridgeport Correctional Center. Bifield had been described by federal authorities as the “most dangerous man in Connecticut.” A young U.S. Attorney Richard Blumenthal (yes, that Dick Blumenthal) announced several days later that Bifield’s body was possibly fished out of New York’s East River, a theory proven false. A bewildered Bifield watched the exaggeration play out on television, holed up in Bridgeport with an old girl friend. Only then did he leave Bridgeport. The feds would catch him six months later in Colorado.
The nutty election season continued when Marra’s car was firebombed outside of Paoletta’s campaign headquarters, and then two cars parked in Mandy’s driveway were torched. Mandy wore a bullet proof vest. Paoletta’s house was burgled. It all got so crazy that local scribe Jim Clark cracked, “Bridgeport…where the circus never left town.”
In the end Mandy failed to make peace with Morton and Tisdale. The black community supported the Republican. On election night when the votes were counted Paoletta won by a stinking 64 votes.