More than half a century after she made history by becoming the first female big-city (Hartford, Connecticut) mayor in the U.S., Ann Uccello was honored Thursday by her family and friends as she turned 100.
With a street in her hometown named after her and as the subject of a recent biography, Uccello is, at her centennial, a living figure of history. When she turned 99 a year ago, WTNH-TV (Hartford) anchor Dennis House interviewed the former mayor soon after she had finished a bout with COVID — something that had taken the lives of so many of her contemporaries.
On Monday, the lady still addressed across Greater Hartford as ''Mayor Ann'' demonstrated that she is still following politics when she spoke to Newsmax.
''Will Donald Trump run for president again?'' she said, repeating our question. ''I have no idea. But he's a character and full of surprises. Am I'm sure when his supporters want something, he'll come through.''
Fifty-two years ago, the then-mayor was considered one of her party's most valuable prospects for higher office. What made the conservative Uccello particularly interesting was how different she was from the stereotypical Republican in the Nutmeg State: unmarried, strongly against abortion and tax increases.
She had also met with the Black activist John Barber during Hartford's ''long hot summer'' as well as Democratic big-city mayors on ''Meet the Press,'' and had branded anti-Vietnam War demonstrators ''the Benedict Arnolds of our time.''
But it was not to be. Passing on the race for offices she truly desired — Connecticut governor or U.S. senator — Uccello opted for a bid for the House of Representatives from the strongly Democratic 1st District. She lost by a hair, and she never held office again.
One of five daughters of Sicilian immigrants and an honors graduate of St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut, Uccello worked at the G. Fox department store in Hartford and quickly rose to be an executive.
Strongly influenced by G. Fox President Beatrix Fox Auerbach, the young Uccello entered the race for Hartford City Council and — as a Republican in a heavily Democratic city — was elected in 1963.
''I'm not sure Mrs. A. knew my name — she always called me 'Dear,''' Uccello recalled. ''And while she taught me a lot about business, she also supported me in politics. After I was reelected to the council [in 1965], she said, 'Dear, you're going to be mayor of the city.'''
''Mrs. A'' was proved a prophet. In 1967, Uccello was the top vote-getter in the council race and, under the election laws at the time, became mayor — the first woman to be a big-city mayor in Connecticut and the first Republican chief executive of the Insurance City since World War II.
Uccello won high marks for her performance as mayor, notably when Hartford's predominantly Black North End grew incendiary in the summer of 1968. The mayor met with Black demonstrators, assuring police that she had the most powerful weapon in her purse: 'my [Roman Catholic] rosary beads.''
She also had a notable summit with the militant leader Barber at police headquarters. ''Here he was — a Yale graduate and dressed in a dashiki!''she said of Barber, noting that he later dropped by her house to deliver a present at Christmas. ''He was stunned when my mother said I was in doing the dishes.''
In 1970, polls in both the Hartford Courant and the Hartford Times showed the woman known as ''Mayor Ann'' not only the most popular elected official among Republicans, but just about the most popular politician in the state. In one such survey, only Democratic Sen. (1962-80) Abraham Ribicoff was better liked among voters statewide than Uccello.
She considered and then passed on a bid for the seat of embattled Democratic Sen. Thomas Dodd, who had been spurned by fellow Democrats because of his 1967 censure for misuse of campaign funds. Uccello decided not to run after meeting with then-Rep. Lowell P. Weicker, R-Conn., at the Shoreham Hotel in Hartford. (Dodd ended up running as an independent and lost.)
As Uccello described the conversation, ''Lowell told me he was committed to the Senate race and would force a primary against any candidate except me if he did not get the endorsement of the state convention.''
''I could do a better job as governor because I understood the city and state issues most,'' Uccello told us. But she grew further discouraged about a bid for governor following a lunch with then-state Republican Chairman Howard Hausman.
In her words, ''he was all for [Rep. and fellow New Britain resident] Tom Meskill for governor, and we had a convention system then — you could take a campaign to a primary only if you got 20% of the delegates.''
The law has since been changed to allow a direct primary if one gets a certain number of signatures on petitions.
''I wasn't sure I had the resources to go all the way,'' Uccello said. ''Howard asked me if I would like to be community affairs commissioner under a Republican governor. I said, 'Howard, if I were a man, you wouldn't dare insult me that way.'''
She finally bowed to telephoned pleas from then-President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew and instead entered the hardest race of all: the contest for the U.S. House from the 13-town 1st District, the most heavily Democratic of Connecticut's six congressional districts.
Uccello swept 10 of the 13 towns in the district, but was edged out by the heavy Democratic vote for Democrat Bill Cotter in Hartford.
Of her loss by about 1% of the vote, she said that Nixon White House aides Chuck Colson and Murray Chotiner ''didn't come through with big money that was promised. And I suspect that ITT [whose merger with the Hartford Insurance Group Cotter had first stopped and then approved while insurance commissioner] spread a lot of money around for the Democrats.''
Uccello went on to serve in Washington as a top official in the Department of Transportation under Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford. In 1979, she returned to her home state and the private sector.
In 2018, she endorsed New Britain's 30-something mayor, Erin Stewart, for the Republican nomination for governor. But while Stewart considers Uccello ''awesome'' and was proud to have her backing, the New Britain mayor is a centrist who supports abortion rights and has long backed same-sex marriage.
''It would be almost impossible for a conservative — let alone someone who is pro-life — to win statewide office here today,'' Uccello said. ''Political trends in Connecticut are like fashions today — horrible. There has been something lost in the popular culture.''
As to any regrets about not following her heart and seeking the governorship or Senate at the peak of her career, Uccello said: ''I really don't dwell on 'I could have' or 'I should have,' but what I did. And I'm proud of it.''
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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