Mayor Jasper McLevy Photograph Collection

Jasper McLevy (March 27, 1878-November 20, 1962) served as the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut from 1933 to 1957. The city's first socialist mayor, he is best remembered for helping to resolve the city's bankruptcy, on the site inspections, and keeping a tight purse string, as well as weeding out the corruption of the earlier mayors of the city. To many in the city, he was simply known by his first name, Jasper.

McLevy was the son of Scottish immigrants, and the oldest of nine children. He began to work with his father in the roofing trade after a stint of factory jobs prior to his leaving the eighth grade. His interest in Socialism came from reading the book Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, and would soon see him make a large number of attempts at public office. He ran for the Connecticut General Assembly as a socialist in 1902, and that was followed by twenty more unsuccessful campaigns for various public offices. It took nine campaigns for him to be elected mayor of Bridgeport, and these campaigns frequently featured him on a soapbox.

Small successes prior to his election in 1933 did exist though. In 1903 he helped to get a petition passed that funded free textbooks for elementary school children in the city. He also did organization work for the Central Labor Union, and became the international president of the Slate and Tile Roofer's Union.

These activities helped elect him to the office of mayor in 1933, following the resignation of Mayor Buckingham and the ensuing contest between James L. Dunn, president of the Common Council, and McLevy. The tally was in McLevy's favor with 22,445 votes, a lead of about 6,000 over Dunn.

McLevy inherited a city wide debt upon coming into office, a combination of the 1929 stock market crash and poor management by the city afterwards. That the federal government assumed the city's debt about eight days after McLevy was elected helped significantly. McLevy's tenure as mayor was noted for penny pinching. Frequently McLevy's work day involved his going into his office for an hour in the morning and in the afternoon, and spending the rest of the day elsewhere in Bridgeport with those he represented.

Under his tenure, McLevy became known for being out in the field, for his fiscal restraint, and generally focusing on the details of managing the city. He helped to bring the civil service to Bridgeport, build miles of esplanades for the Park City, spent federal relief money carefully, maintained low taxes, and helped to overhaul Bridgeport's sewer system channeling waste to dedicated plants rather than out into the Long Island Sound. Bridgeport saw four federal housing projects built under McLevy's administration, including the later infamous Father Panik Village which was built as part of a "slum clearance" project.

His approach to running the city was not without criticism. The often told story of McLevy declaring "God put the show there, let Him take it away" reflects the fact that his hold on the city purse strings was sometimes too tight. Beyond snow removal, he objected to an extra $4,500 for a dedicated full-time school physician, and later in his career, was caught up in a fight with city firefighters who wanted better conditions and more pay - a surprise for a man who was international president of a trade union. Critiques increased as McLevy's tenure grew longer. One notable one came as the city expanded - new residents in newly developed areas were not receiving the same fire, police, and sewer service as older parts of the city. Downtown began to show its age, and there was no spending dedicated to improve it.

Come 1955 the Bridgeport Democrats ran Samuel Tedesco against McLevy. While McLevy remained mayor for two more years, Tedesco unseated him in 1957. McLevy campaigned for reelection afterwards, and he only stopped his engagement when he suffered a stroke in 1960.

Beyond his impact as mayor of Bridgeport, McLevy was also a part of the socialist party both in Connecticut and nationally. He helped get three socialists into the state senate, and two representatives in Hartford come 1934. Some critics viewed McLevy and others as being so-called Old Guard socialists who only appeared to adhere to party principles but failed to act on them. This tension came to a head at the Detroit Convention of the Socialist Party in 1934. The Declaration of Principles which had a more radical bent, was adopted at this time. Members that voted against the declaration formed the Social Democratic Federation, which McLevy then joined, creating friction with party loyalists. In 1938 briefly, and then permanently in 1950, McLevy and the Connecticut Socialists left the National Party. McLevy's socialism was decidedly low key, and his work primarily focused on reform.

Much of McLevy's life outside of politics remained private to the point of there being a giant curtain over it. There is little known about his first wife, Mary Flynn. He married his second wife, Vida Stearns, in 1929, but this information remained unknown for five years until The Herald found the records in the Office of Vital Statistics. Stearns herself was an artist, and the two had a farm in Washington, Connecticut, which served as their shared home. According to rumor, the real reason the two lived apart was because Stearn's father objected to a perceived abandonment of socialist principles by McLevy, but this information was never remarked upon by either. In their later years, they also had two collies, both named Lassie, who were photographed frequently with McLevy, along with a cat named Peter.

Jasper McLevy died on November 19, 1962. His honesty in office was constantly remarked upon, as was the frugality of his tenure. [Biography by Meg Rinn]

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Mayor Jasper McLevy Photograph Collection