It may be surprising to some that Bridgeport operated under Socialist rule for almost a quarter century.
Jasper McLevy had stood on street corners for 20 years railing against the greed of political parties, and voicing what he’d do to make life better during the dog days of the Depression.
In 1933 he got his chance. As both the Democratic and Republican parties were caught up in a series of scandals and financial improprieties, McLevy was elected mayor on the Socialist ticket.
McLevy, however, proved to be more reformer than orthodox Socialist. A roofer by trade and admired by the city’s working class for his honesty and frugality, he introduced a civil service system that cut through the heart of the established parties’ overwhelming patronage practices.
Despite his reputation as a cheapskate, most of the people adored his penny pinching. But McLevy’s critics maintained he could be frugal to a fault. He’d often reject state and federal urban renewal dollars, claiming when the money ran out the city would be stuck with the future maintenance.
He hated spending money unless it was absolutely necessary. The winter of 1938 gave rise to a classic McLevy story.
Snowfall was particularly heavy that year, and the people were not happy with the snowy streets. The Herald, one a popular city newspapers at the time, criticized McLevy and Pete Brewster, his public works director, whom the paper dubbed “Sunshine” because his way of removing snow was waiting for the sun to take care of things.
“Sole responsibility for the terrible condition of Bridgeport streets following last weekend’s double snowstorm rests with Director of Public Works Peter P. ‘Napoleon’ Brewster.” screamed an article’s opening paragraph.
One day, Brewster was sitting in Billy Prince’s, a favorite downtown gin mill, taking a beating from Herald reporters, who needled him with questions like, “How could you allow so much time to pass before ordering plows to hit the streets?” The headlines, name-calling and teasing inched Brewster to the boiling point. Finally, he snapped: “Let the guy who put the snow there take it away!”
That gave birth to the erroneous McLevy quote, “God put the snow there; let him take it away.” It’s as much a part of Bridgeport lore as P.T. Barnum’s supposed saying “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Both men are most famous for lines they never uttered.
Election year after election year, Mclevy triumphed, until Sam Tedesco, a relatively young lawyer and Democrat, challenged him in 1955. McLevy was in his 70s at the time and he had outlived much of his voter base. Newer voters saw the Socialist as out of touch. McLevy was defeated by Tedesco in 1957.
Today, McLevy’s legacy is as Bridgeport’s longest-serving mayor, and as the mayor too cheap to plow the streets.