It was interesting to read in the Sunday paper about the days when Abraham G. Grossman was the mayor of Meriden — it was a walk down Memory Lane, whether you thought they were good days or bad days. The 1970s were certainly old days, though, and the number of people who actually remember how tumultuous they were dwindles every year.
They were days of “chaos, total chaos,” as another former mayor remembers them.
And now, with a new mayor, Manny Santos, testing the limits of his power vs. that of the majority party on the City Council, we can only hope that things will be worked out in a more civil and orderly way than was the case four decades ago.
In 1971, Grossman was elected on a promise of clean government. But then he would feud with city councilors and even with police officers, once going after a cop for refusing to arrest someone who Grossman said had insulted him during a Bicentennial event; he would hire people who then couldn’t be paid, because the council had never approved the hires; he would threaten to fire people; he would block programs he didn’t like, even though the council had approved them.
No wonder the council censured him — twice — and no wonder he also found himself in a feud with Carter H. White, the publisher of the newspapers that evolved into this one, a feud so bitter that in 1977 White published a front-page editorial calling the mayor “a fraud,” “a dangerous tyrant” and “a buffoon whose sobriety has often been called in question.” Grossman “has made Meriden a laughing stock around the state,” White wrote, and went on to charge him with a list of 27 “transgressions and illegalities.”
Although Grossman must have honestly believed he was looking out for the little guy — and perhaps in some ways he did call to mind Fiorello H. LaGuardia, New York City’s feisty and corpulent mayor during the 1940s — his manner struck many as arrogant. “When I first went Into politics,” Grossman once declared, “they said you can’t fight City Hall. Well, now I am City Hall.”
Little wonder, then, that after two nonconsecutive Grossman terms, the City Council formed a commission to change the City Charter and take much of the mayor’s power away. Years later, some of that power was returned, leaving the city with the hybrid, semi-weak, semi-strong, mayor-manager-council system it has today.
In 2013, Santos campaigned as a breath of fresh air, an alternative to “one-party rule” at City Hall. But the start of his administration has been marked by a certain level of rancor. He has stepped on some toes. He has let the majority party know that he won’t concede an inch of territory without a fight, and those who were his opponents on Election Day have not hesitated to fire right back. There have also been calls to revise the charter once again.
While it’s too early to tell how the next two years are going to go, we are hopeful that the discord that has followed an electoral upset will fade and that cooler heads will prevail.
In any event, we don’t want a repeat of the Grossman days.