WATERBURY'S LONGEST SERVING MAYOR

‘Mike’ Bergin, ex-mayor, dies at 74

Political titan left long legacy

BY MICHAEL PUFFER

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WATERBURY — Former Mayor Edward “Mike” D. Bergin Jr., died Thursday evening at Saint Mary’s Hospital. He was 74.

Bergin’s friends describe him as unpretentious and down-to-Earth, but he was a titan in city politics. With 14 years in office over seven terms, he’s the city’s longest serving mayor. Bergin’s influence is still felt today through his close friend, protégé and current city mayor, Neil M. O’Leary.

“He was a real good person,” said William J. Bergin Sr., younger brother to the former mayor. “He was a family man. He was a religious person and he was a city of Waterbury person. He and my brother Tony were about the two most pro-Waterbury people in the city. They really put their heart and soul into Waterbury.”

Bergin, a Democrat, was known for running a tight See BERGIN , Page 7A

Bergin

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BERGIN: Seven-term mayor inspired city’s current chief executive

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ship, keeping a firm grip on all aspects of city government, but also for being approachable.

He came from a large, wellliked, Irish family. Bergin was one of six brothers and three sisters. He followed in the footsteps of his father, Edward D. Bergin Sr., who was elected to four terms as mayor, but died in office in 1971.

Longtime Democratic political operative Joseph D’Orso said the Bergin family was liked, especially by the city’s Irish, in part because they kept a blue-collar sensibility.

“I used to think that Massachusetts had the Kennedy’s but we had the Bergins,” D’Orso said.

One of Bergin’s biggest accomplishments was launching a project that would tear down and replace the Scovill Manufacturing plant, a sprawling industrial complex decaying in the heart of the city. It was replaced with the Brass Mill Center mall, which remains the city’s single largest taxpayer.

Francis Sullivan, Bergin’s chief of staff for his last two terms, said much of the mayor’s energy was spent overseeing day-to-day operations and contending with a shrinking industrial tax base.

“At that time, it was hard just to maintain what we had,” Sullivan said. “We were going through some hard times.”

THE CITY FACED a $10 million deficit in its $56 million budget when Bergin first took office. Sullivan blamed mismanagement from the prior administration, along with industrial decline. Bergin was forced to push through a 17 mill tax increase. After 10 years Bergin was defeated by Republican Joseph Santopietro, but left the mayor’s office with a $2.5 million surplus.

Patricia Mulhall, a friend and former town clerk, recalled Bergin meeting with Democrats to warn them of the coming increase. Some advised to push off until after the next election.

“He said it has to be done right now,” Mulhall said. “He said: ‘If we are never elected again, as long as we can tell our grandchildren we turned the city around, that should be enough.’” Bergin expected the move might turn him into a oneterm mayor, and squeaked through his next election 477 votes ahead of the competition.

“In all the political years we’ve been together, he never once disappointed me,” Mulhall said. “He always did the right thing.”

Bergin’s reputation faced a deep challenge in 1988, when he was arrested and accused of having accepted a $3,000 bribe as mayor in return for a city towing contract. At the time of his arrest, he had been two years out of office.

Bergin was found not guilty later that year in Superior Court. Bergin prevailed again in a second trial, this time at the State Supreme Court, in 1991. Later that year, voters decided to send Bergin back to the mayor’s office.

Anthony Monteiro, a barber with a shop on Bank Street, half-joked that nobody ever believed the charge because Bergin was never wealthy.

“Mike wasn’t one of the mayors that left office and had a lot of money,” Monteiro said. “He never cheated anyone.”

CAMPAIGNING IN 1981,

Bergin declared his net worth of $17,400, with no stocks, bonds or interest in any business.

Monteiro remembered meeting Bergin as an 11year-old Boy Scout at Camp Mattatuck in Plymouth. Bergin was a few years older, already a leader. Bergin ran the waterfront, overseeing swimming, canoeing and fishing, Monteiro said. He recalled Bergin reassuring younger Scouts who were away from home for the first time.

“He was nice to everyone,” Monteiro said of Bergin as mayor. “He would always take time to listen to your complaints and made sure everything got handled.”

Friends and close family came to Bergin’s bedside earlier this week as it was clear he was nearing the end. Mayor Neil M. O’Leary spent three days at the hospital.

“He knew what was going on and told everyone how much he appreciated them and how much they meant to him,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary’s family had long been close to the Bergin’s. O’Leary, a former city police officer, spent years as Bergin’s driver and confidant. When Bergin would meet in gatherings of big-city mayors, he’d invite O’Leary to sit at the table while other drivers waited in the cars.

O’Leary was also struck by Bergin’s habit of scheduling meetings with constituents on Saturday mornings.

“I never saw anyone care so much about everyone,” O’Leary said. “People just gravitated toward him.”

AFTER LEAVING OFFICE,

Bergin, a licensed funeral home director, was hired by the Connecticut Department of Public Health to inspect funeral homes. He maintained an interest in city government, volunteering occasionally to help his friend, Mulhall, at the Town Clerk and, later, Registrar of Voters, offices.

Bergin continued to attend political fundraisers and Democratic Party events. He was by O’Leary’s side during his 2011 election victory but steered clear of the office afterward. O’Leary said Bergin didn’t want to be perceived as inserting himself. Even so, O’Leary would call on occasion for advice and tutorials on the city budget.

Bergin’s family is grateful for the compassion shown by nurses, doctors and staff at Saint Mary’s Hospital, along with the longer attentions of the staff at the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center.

Bergin is survived by his wife, JoAnn (Mulholland) Bergin, sons Michael Bergin of Goshen and Patrick T. Bergin of Chantilly, Va.; brothers William J. Bergin Sr. and Martin J. Bergin; and sisters Ellyn Scully, Margaret O’Connor and Elizabeth Bergin.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. Calling hours will be at the Bergin Funeral Home from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, and from 1 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

See a photo gallery on Mayor Bergin at

rep-am.com

Mayor Edward ‘Mike’ D. Bergin Jr. dancing with his wife, JoAnn, during the 1994 Inaugural Ball in Waterbury.

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

 

Top photo: Former Mayor Edward D. Bergin Jr. speaking at a rally in November 1985. Bottom: Bergin counting ballots at the registrar’s office in Waterbury following the November 2007 election. Bergin was helping check results of new optical scan voting machines.

CONVICTED MAYOR RUNNING AGAIN

Former mayor who spent time in prison seeks office run
Posted: Jul 19, 2017 4:51 PM EST Updated: Jul 19, 2017 6:08 PM EST

TEACHER OF THE YEAR

Obama Honors National Teacher Of The Year From Waterbury

Teacher of the Year

 

Smiling from ear to ear, Jahana Hayes stood next to President Barack Obama at the White House Tuesday finding it hard to believe she was being honored as the nation's top educator.

Hayes, 43, got pregnant while in high school and considered dropping out. But her teachers pushed her to dream bigger. She went on to college and for the past 11 years has taught at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury.

"Our teacher of the year here stands as proof that we can't set expectations high enough for our kids," Obama said. "There's magic in those kids. We just have to find it. We have to unleash it."

As she accompanied President Obama into the East Room, Hayes took a few seconds to compose herself before stepping up to the lectern.

"Teaching is about special moments," she said. "As amazing as today is, it's just one of many incredible moments I've shared with my students over the years."

As teacher of the year, Hayes will spend a year on a paid sabbatical from Waterbury, traveling the nation to represent educators and advocate on behalf of teachers.

In introducing Obama, Hayes thanked the president for his commitment to education. She spoke of the struggles she had overcome as a teenager — Hayes grew up in the Berkeley Heights public housing project with a mother who was addicted to drugs and lost their apartment at one point — and how the lessons she learned help her connect to her own young students.

"I see myself in every one of those students and I carry my own experiences as a reminder that as a teacher I have to be better," she said.

Obama said Hayes "remembers what it's like to be one of [her students].

"She sees a grace in them and a possibility in them," he said. "And because she sees it, they start seeing it."

Obama said of all the various dignitaries he hosts at the White House he gets a special sense of enjoyment out of hosting the nation's top teachers at an event that coincides with National Teacher Appreciation Day. He said he'd be proud if his own daughters — Sasha and Malia, the latter of whom will attend Harvard University — pursued careers in teaching.

Hayes' daughter Asia Coxton, 26, is a teacher in West Hartford.

While taking some time to mention the progress his administration has made for education — expanding access to broadband and wireless in classrooms, training new teachers in STEM — Obama said there was more work to be done. He said teachers need to be paid better. And educators need to be given more flexibility to teach creatively rather than teaching to a test.

"We do have to do better in too many of our schools," he said. "We need more teachers like this and all of you. We've got to make the profession more attractive. We do have to have accountability in the classroom … we've got to come up with measures that are meaningful."

Hayes said educators are at a critical juncture.

"We must lead the charge and change the dialogue surrounding conversations about this profession," she said.

State Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, who accompanied Hayes to the White House, thanked her for "shining her light so brightly and reminding us that every student matters and every student has their own bright light to shine."

For being named the National Teacher of the Year, Hayes was presented with the "crystal apple" award by Obama.

THE WORST PLACE IN AMERICA?

Wounded Waterbury: No Place to Go but Up

IT is a Chamber of Commerce nightmare. There lies Waterbury, perched up and down on some hills in western Connecticut, still known as the Brass City though the big brass companies have all passed away, a community down on its luck that obviously could use a bit of encouragement.

So what happens? Money magazine, in its annual survey of the best and worst places to live, rated the city No. 300 out of the 300 largest metropolitan areas in the country. That's dead last, the end, the pits. Adding insult to injury is that it is the second straight year that Waterbury has attained the status of lowest of the low: 1991, No. 300; 1992, No. 300.

What the survey seems to have accomplished, in addition to angering the business and political establishments and ordinary citizens as well, is the urge to fight back.

The anger is mostly based on the contention by city leaders that the Money survey is unscientific and unfair, biased toward isolated cities of the Midwest and the Great Plains that have little relationship to the older cities of the crowded Northeast.

How, they ask, can a city like Sioux Falls, S.D. -- this year's No. 1 -- be compared with Waterbury, Conn.? Industrial vs. Prairie Town

Sioux Falls has a far more homogeneous population of 123,000 spread over a huge area by Eastern standards. "If we had that area, we could include Boston if we went one way or New York City if we went the other," commented Waterbury Mayor Edward D. Bergin. His city's population of 110,000 is tucked into about 28 square miles.

Waterbury has always been an industrial city while Sioux Falls is a prairie town currently enjoying prosperity as a center for back-office bank operations that were attracted to South Dakota because the state places no legal limits on usury.

Critics of the Money survey also charge that cities in states with big economic troubles, or with income taxes, do not fare well in the survey, an additional economic burden for Waterbury to bear.

"We have the highest unemployment rate in the state," said Frank D. Fulco, president of the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce. Waterbury has an unemployment rate of about 14 percent while the rate Sioux Falls is 2.6 percent. Bridgeport's Weather Better?

Economics aside, Mr. Fulco said other aspects of the survey baffled him. One of the most puzzling was a category on the weather. He can understand why, for instance, Honolulu would be rated better for weather than Waterbury. But so was Bridgeport. Waterbury was given 18 points out of a possible 100 for weather. Bridgeport was given 28 points. "They've got different weather in Bridgeport than here?" he asked.

Richard Eisenberg, a senior editor of Money, denied that the survey had any geographical bias and he noted that five years ago, when the Northeast was booming, the No. 1 city for quality of life was Danbury, Conn. He said that he found "the difference" in weather between Waterbury and Bridgeport "an interesting question," but that the weather statistics were based on Government statistics and, to his understanding, even neighboring cities could have different weather patterns.

Regardless of how the Money survey was conducted, and its fairness or unfairness, this year's slur on Waterbury's name, following the indignity of last year, seems to have galvanized the old city.

A citywide forum, "Town Meeting for Tomorrow," is going to be held in February, to give residents a say in what direction the city should go, Mr. Fulco said. In addition, he said, the American Institute of Architects has given preliminary approval to a request for a team of architects and planners to study the city and make recommendations for its future.

But the best bet for getting Waterbury out of its economic doldrums could be a $100 million shopping center planned for a 100-acre tract near downtown and along Interstate 84, which cuts through the city. The site is that of the old Scovill brass works where the brick ghosts and pollution of the city's manufacturing past must be cleared before the developers of the mall can come in.

The city's cost of clearing the land could run as high as $30 million, but Mayor Bergin said the city had a "novel approach" for obtaining some of the money. The idea is to have the Department of Defense participate in demolishing the buildings because the Defense Department, the Mayor noted, helped create the plants that provided materials like shell casings in World Wars I and II and, therefore, should help in taking them down.

But even if that approach does not work, he said, he is convinced the land will be cleared, the mall built and 3,000 jobs produced in a city that needs jobs. Image From Interstate 84

An added benefit of clearing away the Scovill mills, Mayor Bergin said, is that it would also clear away the image of Waterbury presented to motorists passing by on Interstate 84 or Route 8. In this, Mr. Fulco concurs: "People driving by see old factories, the image of a blue-collar town. 'It's dying,' that's what they say."

Waterbury even gets little respect from other cities in the state, Mr. Fulco added. "Radio and television stations, particularly the ones in Hartford and New Haven, don't even mention Waterbury when they give the weather," he said. "They mention the three biggest cities, Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, and then Danbury. But Danbury isn't the fourth biggest city in the state. We are."

As Mr. Fulco sees it, that and other slights have created sort of a municipal inferiority complex in Waterbury. Residents, he said, do not readily admit they come from Waterbury. "The enemy is us," he asserted. "We've got to change our image of ourselves." Municipal Politics

The level of city politics could be one reason why some residents don't broadcast where they live. Connecticut's most famous corruption case, in the era before World War II, was known, rightfully, as "The Waterbury Scandal," which involved the conviction and imprisonment of the city's Mayor, T. Frank Hayes, who was also the Lieutenant Governor of the state, and about two dozen cronies, for embezzling several million dollars from the city. Then, in June of this year, a former Mayor, Joseph J. Santopietro, was sent to prison for embezzlement. Even Mayor Bergin, whose long tenure was temporarily interrupted by a loss to Mr. Santopietro, was once indicted on charges of taking a bribe but was found not guilty. Politics in Waterbury is heady stuff.

Despite that, and despite the judgment of the Money survey, city officials and many others maintain that Waterbury is a fine place to live, a place of proud and hard-working people, with charming old business buildings of brick or brownstone, with the old-fashioned department store, Howland-Hughes, which dates back more than a century and specializes in the customer service once common in retail establishments before the chains took over.

"This is not a city of the very rich and the very poor," Mr. Fulco said. "It's middle-class American and we've maintained our middle class."

Mayor Bergin said Waterbury has not had the suburban flight that the three larger cities in the state have experienced. "Residents may have moved to other parts of town for better neighborhoods but they stayed in the city instead of fleeing to the suburbs," he said. "To people who live here, this is a good city." 827 Hotel Rooms, 300 Restaurants

It is also a good city to people from the outside, said Jim Whitney, executive director of Waterbury Convention and Visitors Commission. He said he felt that the Money survey was "totally flawed" but it was not going to change his approach to attracting visitors. His boasting runs on: "We have 827 hotel rooms, more than Hartford. We have 300 restaurants. We have one of the prettiest greens in New England. We have accessibility. And the cost to stay here is 25 percent less than other cities in state."

These are people, of course, who are expected to say nice things about the city. Their jobs depend on the city. Not so though for a Roman Catholic nun who has become a Waterbury booster.

Sister Marguerite Waite, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary's Hospital, said she looked on the results of the Money survey as a lack of knowledge about Waterbury. It does not reflect the Waterbury she knows. "This is a nice city with wonderful health care and a symphony orchestra and a great museum," she said. "I think it's a great place to live. And the people here are special, who pull together."

If that kind of testimonial isn't enough, there are always the comments of a real outsider to consider. Sioux Falls Disk Jockey

His name is Kevin Flynn but in Sioux Falls, S.D., he is known as Maxx Boogie, the morning disk jockey for radio station KPAT.

After Sioux Falls was named the best city in the Money survey, Mr. Flynn thought it would be fun to hold a contest with first prize being a trip to Waterbury, "the First to the Worst." He arrived in Waterbury with the contest winner in tow and said both were delighted with what they discovered and how they were received -- dinner with the Mayor, an aerial foliage trip, a tour of the historical areas, riding the sightseeing trolley.

Back home in Sioux Falls, Mr. Flynn now sings the praises of Waterbury.

"What is Money magazine thinking of?" he asked, with some wonderment, on a recent day after his chores at the station were done. "Waterbury is a wonderful place. If we're No. 1, we've re-ranked Waterbury from No. 300 to No. 1 1/2. No, make that 1 1/8." Mr. Flynn is a real civic booster, for Waterbury.

Photos: The old Scovill brass factory is site for proposed $100 million shopping center that will produce an estimated 3,000 jobs. (pg. 1); Mayor Edward D. Bergin said Waterbury has not had the suburban flight that the three larger cities in the state have experienced.

BRASS CITY ASTRONAUT

Richard Mastracchio

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Richard Alan "Rick" Mastracchio
Richard Mastracchio 2013.jpg
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Born February 11, 1960 (age 57)
Waterbury, Connecticut
Other occupation
Engineer
Time in space
227 days, 13 hours, 38 minutes
Selection 1996 NASA Group
Total EVAs
9
Total EVA time
53 hours, 4 minutes
Missions STS-106, STS-118, STS-131, Soyuz TMA-11M (Expedition 38/39)
Mission insignia
Sts-106-patch.svg STS-118 patch new.svg STS-131 patch.svg Soyuz-TMA-11M-Mission-Patch.png ISS Expedition 38 Patch.svg ISS Expedition 39 Patch.svg

Richard Alan "Rick" Mastracchio (born February 11, 1960) is an American engineer and a NASA astronaut. He has flown on three NASA Space Shuttle missions as a mission specialist in addition to serving as a Flight Engineer on the Soyuz TMA-11M (Expedition 38/Expedition 39) long duration mission aboard the International Space Station.

Personal

Richard Mastracchio was born in Waterbury, Connecticut[1] and graduated from Crosby High School in 1978. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering/computer science from the University of Connecticut in 1982, a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1987, and a Master of Science degree in physical science from the University of Houston–Clear Lake in 1991.

He is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Engineering career

Mastracchio worked for Hamilton Standard in Connecticut as an engineer in the system design group from 1982 until 1987. During that time, he participated in the development of high performance, inertial measurement units and flight control computers.

NASA career

In 1987, Mastracchio moved to Houston, Texas, to work for the Rockwell Shuttle Operations Company at the Johnson Space Center. In 1990, he joined NASA as an engineer in the Flight Crew Operations Directorate. His duties included the development of space shuttle flight software requirements, the verification of space shuttle flight software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, and the development of ascent and abort crew procedures for the Astronaut Office.

From 1993 until 1996, he worked as an ascent/entry Guidance and Procedures Officer (GPO) in Mission Control. An ascent/entry GPO has both pre-mission and real time Space Shuttle support responsibilities in the areas of onboard guidance, navigation, and targeting. During that time, he supported seventeen missions as a flight controller.

In April 1996, Mastracchio was selected as an Astronaut Candidate and started training in August 1996. Having completed two years of training and evaluation, he is qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. Mastracchio has worked technical issues for the Astronaut Office Computer Support Branch, for Space Station Operations, and the EVA Branch. He next served as lead for cockpit avionics upgrades.

Mastracchio flew as a mission specialist on STS-106. His next mission was STS-118 in August 2007, followed by STS-131 on April 2010. He has logged over 283 hours in space.

Mastracchio was a flight engineer on Expedition 38/39 aboard the International Space Station and was one of the astronauts repairing the malfunctioning main cooling system during the mission. He returned to Earth on May 13, 2014.

Spaceflight experience

Mastracchio rides the CETA Cart on the STS-118 mission.

STS-106 Atlantis (September 8–20, 2000). During the 12-day mission, the crew prepared the International Space Station for the arrival of the first permanent crew. The five astronauts and two cosmonauts delivered more than 6,600 pounds of supplies and installed batteries, power converters, a toilet and a treadmill. Two crewmembers performed a space walk to connect power, data and communications cables between the newly arrived Zvezda Service Module and the other station modules. Mastracchio was the ascent/entry flight engineer, the primary robotic arm operator, and responsible for the transfer of items from the Space Shuttle to the Space Station. STS-106 orbited the Earth 185 times, and covered 4.9 million miles in 11 days, 19 hours, and 10 minutes.

STS-118 (August 8–21, 2007) was the 119th space shuttle flight, the 22nd flight to the station, and the 20th flight for Endeavour. During the mission Endeavour's crew successfully added another truss segment, a new gyroscope and external spare parts platform to the International Space Station. Mastracchio was the ascent/entry flight engineer and participated in three of the four spacewalks. Traveling 5.3 million miles in space, the STS-118 mission was completed in 12 days, 17 hours, 55 minutes and 34 seconds.

STS-131 Discovery (April 5–20, 2010), a resupply mission to the International Space Station, was launched at night from the Kennedy Space Center. On arrival at the station, Discovery’s crew dropped off more than 27,000 pounds of hardware, supplies and equipment, including a tank full of ammonia coolant, new crew sleeping quarters, and three experiment racks. As the EVA lead, Mastracchio performed three spacewalks during this mission and logged 20 hours and 17 minutes of evtravehicular activity. On the return journey, the Leonardo Multi-Purpose Logistics Module inside Discovery’s payload bay was packed with over 6,000 pounds of hardware, science results, and trash. The STS-131 mission was accomplished in 15 days, 02 hours, 47 minutes, 10 seconds, and traveled 6,232,235 statute miles in 238 orbits. Mastracchio launched on Expedition 38/39 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station along with Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata. During his stay aboard the space station, Mastracchio conducted three spacewalks, the first two to remove and replace a faulty cooling pump, and the third to remove and replace a failed backup computer relay box. Mastracchio, Tyurin and Wakata returned to Earth after 188 days in space. During the expedition, the crew completed 3,008 orbits of the Earth and traveled more than 79.8 million miles.

 

SCANDALS AND SCOUNDRELS

Politics And Prison: From Serving The Public To Serving Time

It was during a run of particularly good luck for law enforcement but bad luck for the political class that the FBI issued an assessment of the local political landscape that has lost none of its bite.

"If things keep going the way they have been in Connecticut," deputy FBI director Chris Swecker said, "you're going to run out of mayors."

Mayors?

It was 2005. Former Gov. John G. Rowland had just been convicted — the first time — for taking bribes. Over a decade or so, federal law enforcement had convicted a state treasurer, a candidate for secretary of the state, three big-city mayors, a judge, a city manager, a handful of alderman, bureaucrats, inspectors and dozens of their political colleagues, not to mention the bankers, financiers, lawyers, fundraisers and construction executives and criminals who paid them off.

The New York Times was moved to point out that, "For the record, not everyone in Connecticut is a crook" after a particularly busy two weeks when a Bridgeport mayor was convicted of bribery, a Waterbury mayor was found guilty of sex crimes, and a Rowland deputy admitted being paid off in gold Krugerrands.

Englehart Cartoons About Connecticut's Political Scandals

Connecticut's image as an oasis of Yankee propriety was in real jeopardy. The frequency of convictions showed that the FBI and the IRS were running aggressive operations. But events may have said more about the grasping avarice of Connecticut politicians: Barrels of ink were drained on scandal coverage, yet they never stopped lining up as grand jury targets.

"Whatever has happened to poor little Connecticut?" a federal judge asked.

The answer, in retrospect, should have been: Nothing new.

Headline writers remade Connecticut into "Corrupticut" in the early 2000s. But the duplicity and embezzlement to which it refers had been part of the state's political culture for far longer, emerging every generation or so over the past century in bursts of prosecutorial zeal and reformist indignation.

The most recent scandals have again begged questions about what came first. Has Connecticut been blessed with lawmen particularly adept at flushing out miscreants? Or is corruption thoroughly ingrained in the political culture, a legacy of the political machines of a century ago? Experts say — and history shows — there is probably truth in both propositions.

Machine politics and graft were at the center of the scandal that was for decades the high water mark of Connecticut corruption. It nearly pushed Waterbury into insolvency in the 1930s, even as the brass mills geared up for war. A footnote to the scandal is almost as interesting as the main article: It was Sherwood Rowland, grandfather of the former governor, who emerged as the city's savior by unmasking the political ring that stole millions from the city.

Waterbury's debonair mayor, T. Frank Hayes, was the villain. He was a Democrat and called himself a reform mayor. He also was part-time lieutenant governor under then-Gov. Wilbur L. Cross, who revisited the scandal in his 1943 autobiography, "Connecticut Yankee."

Among other things, Hayes and his collaborators were accused of steering city money to ostensible city contractors. But the contractors did little or nothing for the city. They kept only a fraction of their fees and kicked back the rest to Hayes, who had a banker launder his illicit earnings.

Hayes became a state problem when, as lieutenant governor, he pressed legislation that would have required the installation of something called electric steam sterilizers in public bathrooms. Only one company manufactured the contraptions. Hayes was an investor.

Waterbury re-elected Hayes in 1937, even as fiscal stability become an issue. But city Comptroller Daniel Leary, a Hayes collaborator, wasn't so lucky. Sherwood Rowland edged him out by about 30 votes and, soon after taking office, discovered the city's books were doctored.

Hugh Meade Alcorn, Connecticut's leading Republican and Hartford state's attorney, prosecuted Hayes. Twenty-seven members of the Hayes ring were convicted. Hayes and Leary got 10- to 15-year sentences. It was the longest trial in state history and it unfolded as Alcorn's once-dominant Republican Party lost clout to immigrants, big-city Democrats and their increasingly formidable state machine.

Lawman's Rise, Fall

The Democratic machine built by state and national power broker John M. Bailey still controlled Connecticut's government in the mid-1970s, when another high-profile, anti-corruption push began. But this one ended badly for the crime fighters, raising questions in some quarters about how serious the state's political establishment was about rooting out skulduggery.

The state prosecutor behind the push was Austin J. McGuigan, a young lawyer who arrived in Hartford as a law clerk for John B. Cotter, associate justice and later chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

When the state legislature created a new office of chief state's attorney in the 1970s, McGuigan joined it, first as an assistant and later as its chief. The office was empowered to investigate sophisticated crime. At the time, state prosecutors were appointed by the state judiciary, a system that endured from the Colonial era. The new chief state's attorney was appointed by the chief justice.

McGuigan learned quickly that prosecutors in Connecticut lacked — and still lack today the legal tool that is essential to the success against corruption of prosecutorial offices everywhere else in the country: an efficient means of issuing subpoenas and compelling testimony of witnesses in criminal investigations. The state legislature continues to deny state prosecutors what's known as an investigative subpoena.

But McGuigan found that he could use another relic from the state's legal past to compel testimony — something called an investigative, one-man grand jury — and he employed it aggressively, opening 20 or more investigations.

Building on evidence developed by the state police, his team built a case demonstrating that the sport of jai alai, a parimutuel gambling business that the legislature had just legalized, had been penetrated by the mob.

New York gangsters and their allies in the Teamsters union were involved in building the jai alai venue in Bridgeport. Boston gangsters associated with James "Whitey" Bulger had infiltrated the company that operated the jai alai venue in Hartford. Jai alai matches were being fixed. And, although a state judge later dismissed the testimony as not credible, a Florida businessman told the investigators that he expedited the licensing of jai alai in Connecticut with bags of cash.

In New Britain, the chief state's attorney won numerous convictions in a municipal corruption case. Police and fire officers had been forced to pay for promotions. Gangsters were paying to have gambling operations protected from arrest.

McGuigan's undoing may have been his choice of targets, according to law enforcement insiders. Many of his investigations, including one involving the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, were directed at allegations that businessmen were paying politicians for state contracts.

Pay to play was a solid investigative premise, as the FBI and the IRS would prove, over and over again, a decade or so later. But McGuigan, young and brash, attracted powerful critics who accused him of overreaching and empire building. He also became embroiled in a public dispute with the state police commander.

In 1985, with multiple investigations underway, the leadership of the legislature decided it was time to change the questionable constitutional process by which the judicial branch of government appointed executive branch prosecutors, including the chief state's attorney. The legislature transferred the appointment authority to a newly created commission, the members of which were appointed by the governor.

McGuigan was out. His successor began closing down investigations.

"I may take up admiralty law," McGuigan said at the time. "My ship just sunk."

The history of the chief state's attorney as an engine of reform was short, fast and over. But some believed there was more to be done.

Feds Move In

A new U.S. attorney — Stanley A. Twardy Jr. — arrived in New Haven as McGuigan was departing. Twardy had big plans and was worried, according to an associate, by what the replacement of McGuigan suggested about the state's appetite for fighting graft.

"Not only did the state have no appetite for it," the associate said, "there was a fear that somehow, orders had come down from on high not to do it."

Twardy, a Republican, planned a campaign. He recruited the FBI and the IRS as partners. Federal law enforcement — which had authority to issue subpoenas and compel testimony — filled the void. A remarkable record of conviction has followed, transcending successive local administrations at the FBI, the IRS and the U.S. attorney's office.

Danbury Mayor James Dyer had the dubious distinction of being federal target number one — but the good fortune to emerge unscathed. He ran Danbury during a period of explosive growth and was accused of taking money from developers. Dyer was defended by Hugh Keefe, whose work on the case helped make his reputation as a top white-collar defense lawyer.

When a jury acquitted Dyer, Twardy's team regrouped and moved to Waterbury, where federal law enforcement seems to have set up a permanent outpost.

In 1992, Waterbury Mayor Joseph Santopietro, then Connecticut's youngest mayor, was convicted in a payoff conspiracy with six political associates and a dozen or so bankers, lawyers and city bureaucrats. There was testimony that Santopietro and others took so much from their team of banker and developers that they contributed to a bank failure.

A civil engineering firm implicated in the Santopietro scandal left a trail leading to Meriden, where the city manager was next convicted of taking payoffs.

Connecticut's political heavyweights were paying attention to the feds by the late 1990s — and hiring lawyers, too. The federal team had targeted state Treasurer Paul Silvester and the $20 billion state employee pension fund he controlled. Silvester's would become one of the state's most explosive corruption cases.

He personally directed the investment of pension fund money. The FBI learned he was investing in ways that enabled him to steer millions of dollars in sleazy commissions, or "finders fees," to politically connected friends.

Remarkably, it was legal in Connecticut for the treasurer to steer half-million-dollar fees to friends who did little or nothing at all to earn the money. But it was a crime if federal prosecutors could prove the fees were part of a pattern of bribery. At least nine people were convicted in schemes to bribe Silvester in return for fees, among them Republican candidate for Secretary of the State Ben F. Andrews.

Behind the scenes, Silvester proved to be an invaluable source of political intelligence for the FBI and the IRS. Plagued by guilt, he agreed to cooperate with the government, even though he knew it would guarantee his imprisonment. He revealed who, in his view, was paying whom and for what. He described political graybeards squabbling over money. He said some Democrats would sabotage their own candidates to keep him — and his fees — in office. He said he once made a pension investment to secure a substantial campaign contribution for Rowland.

While some agents debriefed Silvester, others were chasing more mayors. In short order, Philip A. Giordano of Waterbury and Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport were indicted, convicted and sent to prison.

Giordano, a Republican, was suspected of taking money from a mob-connected construction contractor. When agents bugged his telephones, they were stunned by the depravity of what they overheard. Giordano was using his office to sexually assault the pre-pubescent daughter and niece of a Waterbury prostitute.

Ganim was a likable Democrat and, in the view of many, his party's best hope against then-incumbent Rowland. But federal prosecutors put him at the center of an astonishing story of greed. They presented evidence that, over two years, he collected more in pricey meals, rare wine and hand-tailored clothing than many of his constituents earned.

While the political world devoured reports of Ganim's appetite for luxury goods, an obscure member of the Rowland inner-circle sneaked in and out of federal court in Hartford. While no one was looking, Lawrence Alibozek admitted taking money for steering government business to a construction contractor.

The news spread and within hours the most sensational political scandal in recent memory began unfolding. Rowland was an apex target for the FBI. In the press, almost every detail was a headline — how he got his hot tub, who paid for renovations to his vacation home, and what he did with his free flights to Las Vegas.

Rowland soon was gone, if only temporarily. Within two years he resigned and admitted taking more than $100,000 in bribes from businessmen looking for contracts or tax breaks. In 2004, he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

If the governor's experience was a political morality play, it was quickly clear that not everyone at the Capitol was watching.

Sen. Ernest Newton was packed off to prison in 2006. The Bridgeport Democrat who declared himself the Moses of his people apparently had been grabbing money with both hands. Prosecutors described him as a shameless hustler who worked for mobsters, shook down social service agencies, stole from his own campaign treasury and had the audacity to demand a raise after obtaining a no-show job through the city of Bridgeport.

Then the FBI went undercover, with government money and a concealed camera. In 2012, agents charged two young political aides, five Waterbury-area businessmen and a labor union activist with conspiring to use campaign contributions to persuade the speaker of the state House of Representatives to kill a new tax on some tobacco products.

A year later, Rowland was the target — again. Released from prison and re-introduced as a radio host, Rowland was accused of conspiring with a congressional candidate and her rich husband to circumvent campaign spending laws. A jury convicted him in September and he is scheduled to be sentenced with the others in January.

There is more.

The FBI was back in Hartford recently.

With new subpoenas.

 

ROSALIND RUSSELL WORLD PREMIERE "GIRL RUSH"

Roz Russell's Waterbury Premiere

Rosalind Russell experienced a very special, but precarious, movie premiere when her comedy “The Girl Rush” (1955) premiered in her hometown of Waterbury, Connecticut. What began as an exciting and poignant celebration of, as the newsreel narration put it, “hometown girl makes good”, ended in a frightening disaster when an unforeseen flood nearly obliterated Waterbury that night.

She wrote in her autobiography, “Life is a Banquet” (with Chris Chase, Random House, NY, 1977) “Nineteen fifty-five was my year for attracting natural disasters.”

Mayor Snyder, Rosland Russell, and Gloria DeHaven.



The festivities were scheduled for August 18th. Roz (as she was referred in the local paper), was due to arrive by train along with her co-stars from the film, Fernando Lamas, Eddie Albert, and Gloria DeHaven (who we last saw in this post on “Summer Stock” - 1950)

According to author Bernard F. Dick’s biography, “Forever Mame - The Life of Rosalind Russell” (University Press of Mississippi, 2006), Miss Russell arrived the day before, visited with siblings and her elderly mother, and prepared to take on the public mantle of hometown hero.

Miss Russell remarks in her autobiography, “Waterbury authorities explained that I was the only motion picture star to have a theatre named for her (I don’t know whether they meant in Waterbury or in the United States or in the entire world, but how could such a declaration not go to a girl’s head?)”

In “Life is a Banquet” she puts us right in the middle of the scenario, “Before the rains came, I rode in a parade in a white satin dress that was all beaded, with a matching little thing that sat on my head, being Princess Grace all over the joint.”

The stars, along with the flock of Paramount newsreel men, the inevitable publicity department, and some 10,000 townspeople straggling on the sidewalks to watch the parade, would be taken from the railroad station to the Elton Hotel, the swank spot in town.

After a luncheon, the Hollywood contingent were then to be whisked away to City Hall where Mayor Raymond E. Snyder, Sr. (who incidentally had bought Rosalind Russell’s parent’s home a couple of decades before and turned it into a funeral parlor, which it remains), would present her with the key to the city. They were also to get a tour of town, including some of the Brass City’s famous industries, and Roz’s birthplace.

Dave Garroway (who is mentioned as having a problem with chimpanzees on the set of The Today Show in this post from Monday), showed up with his Today Show crew to film the festivities live on television from the Elton Hotel.

Roz’s take: “There was a big dinner at the great snob Waterbury Club, and my brother had to make a speech, and everything was to be televised - crews had been there for a week, setting up cameras all over the Waterbury green.”

They were in the right place to broadcast an even bigger surprise story the next day.

The evening of the 18th, they all headed over to the State Theater, which had just been re-named the Rosalind Russell State Theater, to watch the premiere of “The Girl Rush.” The Mattatuck Drum Band and a U.S. Marine Color provided escort.

Roz writes in her autobiography that, “there was a drum and fife corps - that’s very big in Connecticut; they always wear tricorne hats.”

The shots of Roz accompanying this post are all from a newsreel. Here is the plaque Roz unveiled marking the occasion.

Limos downtown, and powerful spotlights sweeping the cloud-covered night sky. Nothing like it had ever been seen in this factory town. Nothing ever would again. By morning, the Rosalind Russell State Theater, like much of the downtown, would be under several feet of water.

That cloud-covered sky. It had been raining pretty steadily all day during the celebrations on the 18th. By late that evening, smaller brooks in the Naugatuck River valley would jump their banks. The mighty Naugatuck itself, which powered so much industry in Waterbury, would morph in the wee hours to a monstrous thing that scraped factories, stores, and homes to rubble before morning, and leave some 30 people dead in Waterbury and over 90 people dead or missing and presumed dead total in the towns of the Naugatuck Valley.

Astonishing was the suddenness of the event. To be sure, Hurricane Diane had spent a couple of weeks sliding up the Eastern seaboard, but it made a sharp right turn out to sea before ever entering New England. It, and Hurricane Connie, dropped more rain than the already sodden ground could take, and what had begun as a gloomy day became a fearful night of torrential downpour, causing destruction no one could have predicted.

Roz fortuitously left right after the premiere, rented a car with her maid and a driver, and they made their way to New Haven while the bridges were being washed out in Waterbury.

From Roz’s autobiography: “I directed the driver - ‘Go up this hill, go down that lane, I know this town’ - because I realized if we could get to New Haven, we could get from there to New York. There was no hope of driving along the Naugatuck Valley toward Bridgeport; the Naugatuck River had overflowed.”

Her intention was to make it to the next publicity chore, the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City on the 21st, for an appearance with co-star Gloria DeHaven to promote “The Girl Rush.”

According to Mr. Dick's book, Miss DeHaven, however, got stuck in Waterbury temporarily until train service resumed.

Recovery took weeks, months, even years for some people. Some businesses, and people, never did recover.


According to this Cinema Treasures information, the State Theater had at various times, been called the Broadway, the Bijou, or the Rialto. It was torn down a couple decades ago. Currently, it is a parking lot.


This remarkable event was the last time Rosalind Russell ever visited Waterbury. Truly, the dual theatrical masks of comedy and tragedy were worn on this night.

CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE

In Connecticut, a City Familiar With Scandal

First as a congressman and then as governor, John G. Rowland has elicited the occasional chuckle by referring to his hometown, only half-jokingly, as the ''center of the universe.''

For residents proud of Mr. Rowland and loyal to this faded mill city in the Naugatuck Valley of Connecticut, his quip carries a delicious conceit: while Waterbury's halcyon age as a leading manufacturer of brass may be long dead, it retains its outsize reputation for producing politicians infused with the same alloy.

But if the city occupies the center of Mr. Rowland's universe, it has also long been regarded as a sort of quasar of corruption, spewing it forth into the political galaxy of this small state. This reputation is so solidified that Senator Joseph I. Lieberman once felt comfortable joking that upon his death, he hoped to be buried in Waterbury so he could remain politically active.

''The names that keep coming up, most of them are buddies from Waterbury,'' said an aide to Mr. Rowland in Hartford, 30 miles away, referring to people involved in financial dealings with the governor that are under scrutiny. ''He's never gotten away from the whole Waterbury thing, his friends from down there.''

It is an impression reinforced by Mr. Rowland himself. Asked in December about disclosures that he had joined an investment partnership with a state paving contractor, a lawyer and a developer all from the Waterbury area, he shrugged off any possibility of a conflict, replying: ''When I look at these three individuals, I look at them as friends.''

No evidence has surfaced that the governor or his friends have done anything illegal. But enough questions have been raised about his financial affairs, including improvements made to his weekend cottage, that both a federal grand jury and a legislative impeachment committee are investigating.

As they do, the observation has been made more than once that this is hardly the first time F.B.I. agents, journalists or other investigators have found themselves making a pilgrimage to the Brass City in search of answers to some sort of scandal.

Before Mr. Rowland, the highest-ranking state official to be subjected to a criminal inquiry was Lt. Gov. T. Frank Hayes, a Democrat who doubled as the mayor of Waterbury and who was convicted of looting the city's coffers in 1939. It was Mr. Rowland's grandfather Sherwood L. Rowland, the Republican city comptroller, who blew the whistle on Mayor Hayes.

The city's reputation for political shenanigans was reinforced in 1986, when the statewide Democratic primary for governor was thrown into turmoil because of an absentee ballot scandal in Waterbury. Among other problems, dead people were found to have voted.

Then there is the uncomfortable fact that for more than 20 years, including the entire decades of the 1980's and 1990's, Waterbury was governed by three mayors who faced criminal charges at one time or another.

Edward D. Bergin Jr., a Democrat whose father had been mayor, was charged in 1988 with accepting a bribe from a towing contractor. He was acquitted three years later, and promptly announced his intention to retake the mayor's office from the Republican who had succeeded him, Joseph J. Santopietro.

By then, Mr. Santopietro had been indicted in a sweeping corruption investigation of his administration, and was seeking re-election. One of his supporters drove around the city in a truck festooned with balloons and huge placards that read, ''Santopietro: Innocent Until Proven Guilty!''

Prosecutors portrayed a greedy clique of Republicans, led by Mayor Santopietro, plotting within months of his election to take what they viewed as rightfully theirs after years of Democratic rule. In his defense, Mr. Santopietro insisted that his money-making deals were harmless transactions among friends and family.

The trial provided a rare window into what some observers believe is at the root of much of Waterbury's troubles: a ''spoils of victory'' mentality that seems to permeate the political culture, abetted by an inability to separate bare-knuckle campaigning from the more nuanced requirements of office.

''Politics in Waterbury is the No. 1 contact sport, and some of that did carry over into the administration of government,'' said Gary Reardon, the chairman of the city Democratic Party, who lost a bruising primary battle with Mr. Bergin in 1991.

''For a long time,'' said Mr. Reardon, ''it was in the fabric of Waterbury politics, this problem of a lack of separation between the campaign and the office.''

Mr. Bergin won handily against Mr. Santopietro, who was convicted and sentenced to a federal prison in 1992.

After serving a few terms, Mr. Bergin was defeated by Philip A. Giordano, a Republican lawyer and former marine who charmed voters with promises of a Waterbury renaissance. But in 2001, Mr. Giordano took City Hall's shaky reputation to new depths with his arrest on child sex charges.

Mr. Giordano, whose tenure as mayor also remains the subject of a political corruption investigation, was convicted last year in the sex case and sent to prison.

The unexpected convergence of sex and corruption is not without precedent in Waterbury's colorful, if checkered, history. A 1954 cover story in Stag, a popular men's magazine of the day, was devoted to tales of graft, underage sex and other debauchery in what it called ''the brassiest, blowsiest, bawdiest town this side of Butte, Montana.''

''Let's face it,'' the writer concluded after a lengthy romp on the city's dark side, ''Waterbury is a triple-plated, grade-A sin pit.''

The seemingly endless cycle of corruption investigations, each sparking a renewed round of what's-wrong-with-Waterbury introspection, has grown tiresome for many in this fiercely proud blue-collar city, which dominates the state's western valley communities.

''I don't even want to talk about, it's too depressing,'' said Joe Alvarez, walking past vacant Main Street storefronts on a recent weekday. ''Look around this place -- we've got enough problems without politicians giving us a bad name.''

Once known as the brass capital of the world, home to the Chase, Scovill and Anaconda companies, Waterbury began a long, painful descent into economic decline after World War II. The old factories, engines of growth and jobs for thousands of immigrants for more than a century, gradually closed up or left town.

The influence of the long-dead brass barons is still felt in the faded grandeur of Waterbury's municipal offices, which occupy two granite and marble buildings designed about 85 years ago by Cass Gilbert. The larger of the two buildings, which face each other across Grand Street, was originally the headquarters of Chase Brass, and it loomed above what was then City Hall -- a testament to where political power resided in that industrial era.

Since becoming governor in 1995, Mr. Rowland, a Republican, has steered more than $100 million in economic aid to his hometown, giving a lift to an otherwise struggling local economy. He moved some state offices there, and his administration has helped finance numerous projects, including renovation of the Palace Theater, a popular landmark.

Until his recent ethical troubles, Mr. Rowland was viewed in Connecticut political circles as something of an anomaly, loyal to Waterbury and his friends there, yet free of the taint that has clung to some other politicians who came up through the city's wards. He proudly invoked his family's reputation as defenders of clean government -- his father also was Waterbury's comptroller -- and he hung a photo of his grandfather in his Capitol office.

The reputation served him well. During Mr. Rowland's first, unsuccessful run for governor in 1990, the first President Bush did not hesitate to come campaign for him, telling cheering supporters that Mr. Rowland was following in his grandfather's footsteps ''of fighting and battling and rooting out corruption.''

Last week, Mr. Rowland was noticeably absent when the younger President Bush came to the state for a fund-raiser attended by virtually every other Connecticut Republican of prominence. Mr. Bush left without mentioning Mr. Rowland's name.

PRESIDENT REAGAN VISITS WATERBURY

RESURGENT WATERBURY PREPARES TO GREET CANDIDATE REAGAN

WATERBURY, Conn., Sept. 18— It was a magic moment for this city, and just about everyone here over the age of 24 claims to have been a part of it.

At 3 o'clock on a morning just days before the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy rallied a crowd of 30,000 who had waited in the rain for hours, jamming the Waterbury green and spilling into surrounding streets. Men and women who today have children of their own talk of sitting on their fathers' shoulders just to catch a glimpse of the candidate. A plaque marks the spot where he spoke.

''I remember running up South Main Street alongside his motorcade,'' said Elizabeth Simpson, 77 years old. ''He was so handsome. I thought my husband was going to kill me; he was a Republican.''

On Wednesday - a quarter of a century later - it will be President Reagan's turn. He, too, will address a rally on the green.

The Republicans are doing everything they can to recapture the spirit of the Kennedy visit. In radio advertisements with ''Hail to the Chief'' playing in the background, an announcer tells listeners to come, be a part of history, see the President of the United States.

The result is a powerful example of the charisma of the Presidency. The rally is purely political and officials of this city are overwhelmingly Democratic, yet they have closed schools for the day so students can go to see Mr. Reagan.

Image result for ronald reagan waterbury mike bergin

Newspapers carry front-page articles on where the President's helicopter will land (the parking lot at Crosby High School) and where he will eat lunch (the Red Bull Inn).

''The Kennedy visit in the middle of the night was a once in a lifetime,'' said Mayor Edward D. Bergin Jr., a Democrat whose father was Mayor then and who remembers standing on the green that night as a junior in high school. ''Certainly for the people attending Wednesday - a new generation - it will be their once in a lifetime.''

The Waterbury Mr. Reagan will see when he looks out beyond the green is a city come full circle from the one Mr. Kennedy saw in 1960.

The Waterbury of 1960 was on the way down. Unemployment in the area was 7.3 percent and would rise to almost 8 percent through the 1970's. The brass industry - the mainstay since the Civil War of this, ''the Brass City'' - was collapsing. Buildings downtown were abandoned. Even the green was in disrepair.

The Waterbury of 1984 is rebounding. Unemployment in the area is down to 5.2 percent. With the help of Federal and state development grants, new high-rise buildings have gone up in the downtown section by the green; others are under construction. Trendy restaurants are popping up. Even the green itself has undergone a full restoration, complete with well-tended red geraniums. That is not to say this blue-collar city of 100,000 people on the Naugatuck River is without problems. Here and there on downtown side streets is still an empty store. Some residential neighborhoods just outside the city's center are rundown. But the feeling here is that the major reversal in the downturn has been made. And signs around the city proclaim, ''We're Up on Waterbury.''

''The city Kennedy saw is entirely changed,'' said Frank Davino, the executive director of the city's Renewal and Economic Development Agency.

Some of the unemployed found jobs in small industrial shops that sprang up here to draw from the base of trained craftsmen left the brass industry.

Others found work with larger companies that relocated here, many of them drawn by tax incentives. General Datacom of Danbury, which makes computer components, brought 1,100 jobs to Waterbury. Con Diesel of Greenwich, which produces mobile equipment, such as cargo loaders, brought 700 jobs.

''We went through a very hard period in the 70's,'' Mayor Bergin said. ''But people didn't run away from it. They stayed here, and we went out and we pushed and we recruited. And now we look back and see we changed our whole economic base.''

The Rev. Aurele R. Perreault sat in the fifth pew of St. Anne's Roman Catholic Church on the South End, and for a moment it was the 1930's again and he was a boy in the third grade.

''I always used to sit here on Sundays,'' Father Perreault said and looked directly upward, at the sky- blue patch at the very top of the church's dome, 80 feet from the floor. ''I thought I could see heaven.''

Then the priest turned and looked out over the magnificent church, whose foundation was laid in 1906. ''To think this was built with nickels and dimes,'' he said.

''We used to try to outdo each other, you know?'' Father Perreault said of the ethnic groups in this mainly Roman Catholic city. ''The French- Canadians, the Irish, the Italians, the Germans - they all tried to build the most beautiful church.''

St. Anne's served - and still serves - the French-Canadian community, one of the smaller groups in a city where Irish-Americans have long held dominance. Back in the 1930's, the church, which seats 1,000 people, was often so filled at each of five Sunday masses that folding chairs had to be brought in. Now it ministers to fewer than a thousand families.

''They moved out to Wolcott and Cheshire,'' Father Perreault said. ''They bettered themselves, like the Irish, like the Italians.''

The area around St. Anne's, which used to be made up of French-Canadians and Irish-Americans, is now made up of Hispanic-Americans. (Minority groups represent 14 percent of the city's population today, compared with 6.7 percent in 1960.)

At the corner of East Liberty and South Main Streets, a brick building bears the name ''McCarthy'' in concrete, but the signs over its shops read ''Latin Corner'' and ''Puerto Rico New Fashions.'' Buildings in the neighborhood are rundown. Groups of teen-agers hang out on the corners.

Father Perreault told of two arsons at St. Anne's in the last 10 to 15 years and of the six times vandals have broken into his car in five years.

''We've had to keep things pretty much locked up,'' the priest said. ''But there's a sense the worst is over. There's a spirit of things looking up. People are getting jobs. They see buildings going up. It makes people feel good.''

Everyone here agrees that Waterbury is doing better. But where the credit lies is the source of no small dispute in the race for the Fifth Congressional seat.

Representative William R. Ratchford, the three-term incumbent and a Democrat, argues that the impetus is the very Federal aid that he says President Reagan wants to reduce. John Rowland, the Republican, says the President's policies and the countrywide economic recovery are what have helped Waterbury.

The Fifth Congressional District has been identified by the Republican Party as one it thinks it can capture, which is part of the reason for the Reagan visit Wednesday. Although Mr. Reagan carried the city in 1980 - 19,461 votes to Jimmy Carter's 17,922 - the Republicans are hoping for a much bigger Reagan victory this year that will also sweep Mr. Rowland into office.

''I don't know about that,'' said Mayor Bergin, who acknowledged the President's popularity here. ''Waterbury residents can play checkers with the voting machine - splitting the ticket is a way of life. We'll see in November.''