Official Washington was jolted Friday by the news that former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had decided to cooperate with the Department of Justice—including Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The sartorial splendor of Manafort, his vast collection of horses and luxury homes in New York, and his schemes to avoid paying taxes on his foreign income—all will probably be rehashed in the media when the famous political consultant’s name comes up in the weeks ahead.
But, for those of us who are older and grew up in or near the Hardware City of New Britain, Connecticut, the name “Paul Manafort” evokes other memories.
Paul Manafort, namesake-father of the current Manafort, was the three-term Republican mayor of New Britain. Growing up next door in a close suburb, New Britain was an urban mecca to me — blue collar, industrial, and ethnic.
“Industria implet alveare et mulle” is the New Britain city motto, which, translated from Latin means “industry fills the hive and enjoys the honey.” The manufacturing conglomerate Stanley Black and Decker is located there, as is Guida’s Dairy and Polamer Precision.
Irish and Italian immigrants settled the city but the Polish have long been the dominant ethnic group. New Britain is home to a bilingual TV station for Polish speakers and in 1969, Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla — the future Pope John Paul II — said Mass at Sacred Heart Church in New Britain.
As much as anyone, Manafort, the hard-charging son of Italian immigrants, embodied the nickname of the sixth-largest city in the Nutmeg State: “Hard-hittin’ New Britain.”
Manafort, Sr., who never went to college, served with the U.S. Army combat engineers in Europe during World War II. Following his discharge, he returned to New Britain and worked with his brothers in the family construction business founded by their father.
Over the next two decades, Manafort was a “joiner”—joining and somehow making the time to be active in nearly twenty civic clubs. These ranged from the Sons of Italy Lodge to the Boys and Girls Clubs of New Britain to the New Britain Jaycees and the VFW. He was a Moose, an Elk, a Knight of Columbus, commander of the Italian American War Veterans, and even a member of NAACP.
Manafort also became active in Republican politics. He founded the Young Republicans of New Britain and helped longtime friend Tom Meskill become mayor in 1961. Two years later, Manafort himself won a seat on the Board of Aldermen.
In 1965, Manafort made news throughout Connecticut by unseating Democratic Mayor James Dawson — an impressive feat, in that Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by 2-to-1.
A large shift of Italian-American voters from Democrat to Republican was considered pivotal to Manafort’s success, thus making him New Britain’s first mayor of Italian heritage. In addition, his enthusiastic campaign organization helped elect fellow Republicans to 10 of the 15 seats on the Board of Aldermen.
From there, Mayor Manafort was off to the races. He oversaw widespread building and adjusted taxes and fees to attract fresh business to his city. He named former Mayor Meskill as corporation counsel (city attorney), thus putting him in a high-profile position to help him win election to Congress in 1966.
“He did a lot for the city and helped the expansion of Central Connecticut State University,” present GOP Mayor Erin Stewart recalled to Newsmax. “In fact, Paul Manafort, Sr. Drive borders CCSU.”
(Following the younger Manafort’s conviction on fraud earlier this year and a resulting petition drive to change the name of “Paul Manafort Drive,” Stewart steadfastly refused and said “we know who it’s named for and why.” She finally acquiesced to “tweaking” the name of the street to “Paul Manafort, Sr. Drive”).
In 1970, in his third term as mayor, Manafort decided to try something else. With friend Meskill leaving Congress to run for governor, Manafort chose to seek the GOP nomination for his seat.
Much like Rudy Giuliani of New York, Manafort was a “street kid” whose style and politics played well in his city. But, very much like Giuliani, he was uncomfortable in more suburban surroundings.
In a four-person contest for the congressional seat decided at a districtwide convention, Manafort lost to Dick Kilbourn, a charismatic radio station owner from Morris, Connecticut. (Kilbourn would lose a “squeaker” to Democrat Ella Grasso, who went on to become Connecticut’s first woman governor).
Gov. Meskill named Manafort deputy public works commissioner and later head of the Department of Public Works. In 1974, he returned to private business and such activities as organizing New Britain’s annual Columbus Day Parade.
In 1981, Manafort’s name appeared in headlines when he was charged with two counts of perjury. He had insisted he did not know that an envelope he was given by New Britain’s personnel director contained answers to exams for promotion to sergeant on the city’s police department (which two Manafort family friends were vying for). A jury subsequently acquitted the former mayor.
When Paul Manafort died in 2013 at age 89, that final black mark on his life of public service was barely mentioned in obituaries. His funeral was one of the biggest New Britain had ever seen.
Today the name Paul Manafort evokes a lot of negative feelings. But to this reporter, who grew up on the New Britain border, it generates quite different memories.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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