Friday, May 9, 2014


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During the many years I have lived in Stamford, I’ve met a lot of mayors: good, bad and indifferent. Some were brilliant, others stupid; some venal, others models of morality. Some I actually got to like and others I hated (and they hated me.) Eventually I became a professional historic preservation consultant and got to travel to other cities throughout the state. In every town hall I visited, I found a Rogues Gallery of photographs of former mayors, just like the one in Stamford. Whether it was Waterbury, Bridgeport or Hartford, there were common threads among them. First of all, most of them looked untrustworthy, shifty, you wouldn’t give them a nickel, let alone your tax dollars. Maybe the camera made them nervous; I don’t know. Some looked pompous, self important, others positively corrupt; several looked like actors playing the part of a mayor in an old black and white movie.

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The other pattern I noticed was their ethnicity. In the early 20th century, mayors were Anglo-Saxons, “Yankees”, often scions of prominent local families. They all seemed to have rimless glasses and authoritarian stares. After the Yankees came the Germans, the Irish, with their good looks and charm, the Italians, the Poles and other ethnics, depending on local immigration patterns. More recently, I notice a smattering of minorities: Blacks, Hispanics, Jews, maybe even an occasional woman.

Around ten years ago, drawing on my experiences in local politics, I decided to spoof the lineup of Town Hall mayor photos and create my own cast of characters. I began with small paintings on canvas that I photocopied: first the mayors, then their wives (or husband in one case).  They were all composites of the officials I had been working with (or against) for the past 30 years. Each mayor came with a tongue-in-cheek, made-up bio (and a spouse). I then put them into a home-made portfolio I called: Thirty Years of Good Government: a Portfolio of Civic Leaders Suitable for Framing.”

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Since I am an “equal-opportunity” satirist, my characters come from all ethnic backgrounds and walks of life. I begin with the (imaginary) Honorable T. Phelps Glemson III, who was mayor from 1974 t0 1976. He was so incompetent, he only lasted a single term. Rather than have him back in the family banking business, creating havoc, his relatives exiled him to Florida where his wife still refers to him as “The Mayor.” I end with the (semi-imaginary) Honorable Humphrey Siggle, mayor from 2002 to 2004. Unlike the others, he was based on an actual person I knew in local government (not a mayor.) He was a notorious drunk, You could reach him only between 11a.m. to noon. Prior to 11 he was too hung over from the night before to function and after his usual liquid lunch, he was either asleep on the office couch or busy molesting the women who worked for him.
If you’ve ever been involved in local politics, you will recognize them all. Of course, since these pieces were done so many years ago, they couldn’t possibly be anyone you know. Or could they?

I have a fantasy that one April Fool’s Day I will put my mayors’ portraits in narrow, black frames and hang them in the hallway next to the lobby of the Stamford Government Center. I wonder if anyone will even notice?

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