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Carusone At Bat

October 3, 2007

Athletic Opining

By John Carusone

Let’s have some sports potpourri. First, on a sad note, two giants from the world of local sports passed away recently. I’m referring to Naugatuck coaching legend Ray Legenza and sports reporter Bill Gonillo.

Ray and I had a lifetime friendship after we had such a fierce rivalry in the ’50s whenever Hamden played Naugatuck. I’ve already written about our 1959 confrontation when yours truly was hit in the ribs by a 100-mph fast ball by John Crotty after hitting a homerun and nearly a second one. That confrontation escalated, nearly emptying both benches. Years later when Ray became an administrator I would come across him from time to time and the conversation invariably began with him saying, “Johnny, we didn’t throw at you that day.” Bill Gonillo was always there when we needed a spark for an upcoming event. He plugged our old-timers games, Columbus Bears reunions and so many other sporting events.

How about the NFL’s discipline of the Patriots Bill Belechick? Are you kidding? Stealing signs from opponents has been part of the athletic scene of all sports since competitive sports began. All that Belechick did was high-tech the process. To this day, the Bobby Thompson homerun off Ralph Branca in the 1951 playoff game was hit because Thompson knew what pitch Branca was going to throw thanks to a centerfield spy nest. As far as the Giants ex-running back Tiki Barber, I do hope that he will just plain shut up about how bad his former coach was and how Eli Manning was not a leader. And his granddaddy of all silly statements that if Tom Coughlin was not the coach he might still be playing with the Giants. I was glad to hear another Giant legend Phil Simms pooh-pooh that statement. As Simms opined, if Barber really wanted to play it would not have mattered who the coach was.

And yes, it’s crow-eating time for yours truly. Way back in May I was ready to write off the Yankees for a number of reasons. Their pitching was old; they should have kept Sheffield; etc. Well, thanks to Brian Cashman it does look like the Yankees have the three best young pitchers in the majors in Kennedy, Chamberlin and Hughs. I probably shouldn’t go out on a limb but I am starting to feel that the Yankees will win the American League playoffs and go on to win the World Series.

And last, onto the upcoming UCONN men’s basketball season. A recent piece noted that sophomore Stanley Robinson has had such a successful off season that he is being compared to legends Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton as UCONN’S next swing forward star. Last year, other than a 21-point effort against Indiana, he only excelled on the defensive end. Center Hasheem Thabeet has had an outstanding off season working with former UCONN star Emeka Okafor. I believe UCONN’S basketball program will definitely be on the upswing this coming year.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 26, 2007

My Teams

By John Carusone

Two recent events this week deserve some comment here. First was my senior softball team taking on the Hamden police in a benefit for young Frankie DeMatteis. We lost the game but more importantly, we continued to show how active seniors can be even in the most competitive of arenas.

Our players range in age from 63 to 77, and yet we can still compete with players in their 20s and 30s. The oldest player on the police team is retired Chief Jack Kennelly, who pitched an outstanding game. The leading hitter for the police was Sgt. John Sullivan Jr., while the leading hitter for my senior team was John Sullivan Sr.

Officer Mike Pantera did a great job organizing the police team. Our players come from all over the state and all of them have had wide experience as young men in competitive athletics. I played in three age divisions this year: the over-50 league in Milford, the over-60 league in Wallingford and for an over-70 Connecticut all-star team that competed successfully in regional New England tournaments. Next year will be my 60th consecutive year playing competitive baseball or softball. Injury-wise, I have been quite lucky to have had some, but have always recovered quickly so I have never missed a full season. Being inducted a few years ago into the Connecticut Slo-Pitch Hall of Fame was a great honor for me. I have been fortunate over the years to play with and against many major leaguers. In 2003 in the senior Olympics in Virginia, a very husky player for an opponent from the Midwest hit three homeruns over my head in left field and went a distance of over 350 feet. Who was he? Why Terry Fox who had played for the Twins, Tigers and Phillies.

The Senior Silver Bullets. Courtesy photo

The second event this week was the annual summer picnic of the has-been club. Members include former mayors and selectmen from area towns. This year’s picnic was held at the Branford home of former Branford Selectwoman Judy Gott. Attending the picnic and pre-picnic luncheon were former East Haven First Selectman Tony Proto and former Hamden Mayors Barbara DeNicola, Carl Amento, Lucien DiMeo and myself. North Branford Selectwoman Joanne Wentworth, former West Haven Mayor Dick Borer and luncheon attendees West Haven’s Sal Guerra, Guilford’s Frank Larkins and Milford’s Alberta Jagoe. Larkins was my 1956 baseball teammate with the Columbus Bears in the Greater New Haven Baseball League and later was a Red Sox farmhand.

This Christmas we will be meeting at a local restaurant for our annual party. Missing from the picnic were usual attendees North Haven’s Walter Garwych, an Iwo Jima hero, and Tony Resigno, now president of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce. Bob Norman, another East Haven mayor, will be at the Christmas party. In an interesting small-world story, Bob’s wife, Donna, was in my first teaching class in 1958. Wow! How time flies.

I have to say that some of the finest people I have ever met have been in the fields of athletics and politics.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 19, 2007

Politically Correct Eateries of the Past

By John Carusone

Raymond Johnson recently wrote about his parents’ former Country Club Grille on Whitney and Putnam avenues. His family eventually sold the restaurant to Jack Dolan. That restaurant, now the Playwright, was noted in the ’60s as the premier softball sponsor in the area. I was fortunate to play for that team. Key players were my brother Dick, Paul “Topsy” DelGobbo, Don Hansen, Bob Scelzo and Don DeLorenzo.

Three other Hamden restaurants became famous for the political goings-on. The Brown Stone across the street from Memorial Town Hall was a favorite location for Hamden Chronicle editor Bud O’Connor. He would sit many mornings and listen to Town Hall employees and politicians. He was never one to have two-way conversations. He was a listener. From those conversations, the Hamden Chronicle would come out every Thursday with more news than the Register and the now-defunct Journal Courier. All of my daughters at one time or another were waitresses there and would amuse me with stories of who were the best tippers. (Don’t worry, I won’t name names.) Since Town Hall closed, that restaurant ceased to be a meeting place.

Another was Reilly’s Restaurant, now Eli’s. The owner, Chester Reilly, was a character from many novels. Every St. Patrick’s Day, he painted on the corner of Whitney and Dixwell a huge shamrock covering the entire intersection. How he did it in the middle of the night is a story unto itself. That restaurant became the scene of more political discussions than Town Hall.

After every council meeting, most of the politicians would go to Reilly’s and discuss the evening’s agenda. Hamden school board building committee chairman John Krick wrote the school site condemnation law on the back of a napkin there.  Board of education budgets and political issues were settled there. The congenial atmosphere of the restaurant and the antics of Chester Reilly, who sometimes would show up in a disguise, made it a fun evening.

The Colonial House, now Colonial Tymes, was another favorite watering hole. Every Friday the legendary Mickey Del would bring his combo and make it a point to serenade patrons. Friday was politicians’ night and many a deal was struck there. The 1970 teacher contract was settled there.

What was most memorable about those restaurants was the friendly atmosphere that contributed to politicians being so civil to each other. Republicans and Democrats were for the most part only interested in the welfare of Hamden. Republican giants like Pete Broadbent, John Krick, John DeNicola Sr. and Bing Humphrey with their Democratic counterparts Bill Adams, Jerry Zaretsky, Tom Pagnam and Gloria Sandillo were not simply political rivals, but good friends. That’s so lacking today.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 12, 2007

Standing before the new West Woods mural (left to right, back row): Cindy Zacks, mural artist, and Beautification Committee Members Kristin DiAdamo, Marjorie Clark and Marjorie Bonadies. In front, featured student artist, Hannah Clark. Courtesy photo

My Courtyard

By John Carusone

What great memories were brought back last Friday at the West Woods Elementary School. The outstanding PTA of that school rededicated the courtyard with a 10-foot-by-20-foot mural containing over 400 pieces of student artwork. Local artist Cindy Zacks with the help of PTA members Marjorie Bonadies, Marjorie Clark and Kristen DiAdamo put the display together.

The mural, titled “What We Learn,” was presented as a tree of knowledge. Principal Barbara Nana was instrumental in leading the project to fruition. The mural will remain in the courtyard for the next four to five years. The mural and artwork were funded by the Hamden Education Foundation and the West Woods PTA, with assistance from the Board of Education.

How there happened to be a courtyard at all at the school is a story that must be told.

Carusone gives the school building keys to West Woods' first principal, Grace Donahue, in 1973. Courtesy photo

In 1969 when I joined the Hamden school system as assistant superintendent, my first task was to work with architects Carl Blanchard and Stu Tillinghast to redesign West Woods because bids had come in over the $5 million range -- far above what the town was willing to spend. The building had two levels and was over 102,000 square feet. At a meeting in the architect’s office there was a cardboard model of the building. Strictly by chance I picked up the second floor of the model which left a hole in the center of the first floor. That “hole” became the current-day courtyard in the redesigned building. The new bids came in at half the original cost. The square feet was cut by 20,000 square feet.

I made two other decisions, which were not by chance. One was to leave a few of the glacier boulders in the front of the building, as they added to the historical character of the building. The 44-acre site was directly in the path of a glacier from over a million years ago that left numerous boulders. Most of the boulders were buried on the Still Hill Road border. On Shepard Avenue, just south of the school, is the rock grouping “The Bretheren,” a reminder of the glacier that passed through.

The second decision was to change the site configuration of the building which left over 100,000 cubic yards of clean fill available for other building projects. In 1976, I was able to convince the state to pay half the cost of transporting the fill to the former middle school site to help develop that athletic complex.
One rumor I still have to dispel is that the courtyard was the final resting place for the ashes of the first principal, Grace Donahue.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

September 6, 2007

Unfair Play

By John Carusone

How much is enough? As a lifelong sports jock, I am appalled at the recent scandals in our major sports. For sure, history buffs will always bring up the Chicago White Sox scandal of 1919 and claim that there has always been scandal in major sports.

Let me make a key point now. The 1919 White Sox played for the cheapest owner of all time -- Charles Comiskey. Players’ salaries were lower than in most professions at the time. Even during the season, it was not uncommon for players to have a part-time job. Players today make millions with contracts sometimes spread over a lifetime. Look at the Michael Vick situation. A $130 million contract with incentives that bring his net worth even higher. Yet, for a few thousand dollars more he gets involved in a vicious dog-fighting business that will land him in jail. How much is enough, Michael?

The NBA betting scandal shows the same mentality. Tim Donaghy, the referee who makes $250,000 a year, makes another $2,000 to $3,000 by helping gamblers with inside info. How much is enough? It does appear now that a number of games were fixed.

The only scandal of the past that has the same odor was the college point shaving scandal of the ’50s, where students shaved points to change the game outcome. But the major difference is this is the first time a referee has been the main culprit. Even hockey has seen a betting scandal, and now certain tennis matches are being investigated for match fixing.

Then there’s steroid use in baseball. Barry Bonds is now the all-time HR leader, passing out Hank Aaron who passed the legendary Babe Ruth. It has to be clear to all that Bonds was a steroid user. Just look at his body type today from his early years. A skinny kid becomes a bulky man whose hands and feet are reportedly larger today than years ago. He is the only major athlete I know of who has gotten better as he got older.

What a change from the ’50s and ’60s when I was able to see the real great players. If Ted Williams hadn’t lost five years in the service, he would be the all-time HR leader today. Joe DiMaggio, perhaps the greatest right-handed hitter who lost three years in the service, would have had greater numbers. By the way, both of these players were thin and lost their skills as they got older.
Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Al Kaline and Ken Griffey all had the same physical characteristics: thin and muscular. If Griffey had not lost nearly three years from injuries, in my opinion, today he would be the all-time HR leader.

And, of course, the “Scooter” Phil Rizzuto recently passed away. Hamdenites should know that Hamdenite Joe Rossamondo was best man at Rizzuto’s wedding over 60 years ago. Joe passed away a couple of years ago but on many occasions would relate Rizzuto stories and what a wonderful man he was. Rizzuto didn’t bet on games. He and Yogi Berra invested in a bowling alley to make extra money.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 22, 2007

My brother Dick, my father, Dom, and I heading to St. Stephen Church for a special mass, days after the end of World War II. Courtesy photo

The Day the Big One Ended

By John Carusone

Aug. 14, 1945, is a day I will never forget. It was when World War II ended. As a 9-year-old boy, I remember the entire neighborhood pouring out into the street hugging each other, cheering and deciding to start a bonfire at the corner of Webb and Benton, right in front of our house.

Steve Kozak, later husband of town Purchasing Agent Judy Kozak, lived on that corner. All the neighbors had put radios in the windows so we could hear President Truman making the announcement of the war’s end. Liquor came from nearly every house and neighbors who were not on the best terms hugged and cried as they made up.

Tony Streeto, who had lost a relative in World War I and was not on good terms with anyone, tried to make up with everyone. Two of the most poignant people at the celebration were Helen Travaligno, who had lost her brother Angelo in the war, and Frank Hearn, who had lost his son Francis. Sarah Hearn did not attend the party.

We schoolboys sang over and over: “Whistle while you work, Hitler is a jerk. Mussolini is a sheeny, and the Japs are worse.”

It was a troubling day for some families at the celebration, such as the Haversats and the Kammerers, who were of German descent and to some degree not accepted by the neighborhood because of their origin. I was part of a group of kids at State Street School who taunted Otto Haversat. He shut us up quickly by reminding us that the “Italians” (he didn’t use that term) were fighting America also.

There was an eerie feeling to the goings-on as there were no young men partying. All were in the service. Grandma and mom still didn’t know where Uncle Al was. He had served four years in Europe and expected to be sent home when the war in Europe ended. He wasn’t. He was sent to the Philippines to help secure that island. He hadn’t written for a while, and grandma would repeat over and over in Italian: “Alex is dead.”

About a week after the celebration, we received a telegram from Alex that he was in San Francisco and had no money since he had lost all of his pay in a card game. Grandma refused to send him money so my parents did and he finally came home.

Controversy still exists today over Truman’s use of the atomic bomb. I believe it was one of the gutsiest decisions ever made by a president. While it claimed over 100,000 lives, it saved millions of Japanese and Americans from certain death in a struggle to conquer the island of Japan. The use of the bomb showed the world what devastation could result and, as a result, there has never been another use of the atomic bomb by countries that have it. The thought of retaliation has always been uppermost in any country’s mindset. Even terrorists today have to be aware of what would happen to any group or any connected country that uses it.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 15, 2007

Best Republican Presidential Ticket

By John Carusone

I watched the Republican presidential debate the other evening to see if I can’t put my political guesswork in play to try to come up with a possible Republican ticket to oppose what I feel will be the Democratic ticket of Clinton-Richardson. Here’s my guess and the reasons for it and why any Republican ticket is doomed.

I believe a ticket of Romney-Giuliani is the Republican’s best hope of at least being competitive in a sure Democratic 2008. Romney is articulate and mostly conservative even though he has flip-flopped on the abortion issue. McCain is history, I believe, mainly due to his staged Iraq visit a while ago. McCain looks old and worn out. I do not believe he has “a fire in the belly” as he did in 2000. Sen. Fred Thompson is a non candidate who already is fading.

Congressman Tom Tancredo is just plain frightening in his support of bombing the two holiest Muslim shrines in Mecca and Modina as a way of forcing radical Muslims to stop fighting. His anti-immigration stance is just plain baffling. What is particularly galling to me is that Tancredo’s roots are in Italy where he certainly must be aware of the difficulties Italian immigrants faced in America at the turn of the 20th century.

Congressman Ron Paul is the only Republican facing the truth about Iraq and calling for a U.S. withdrawal. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback is a non-factor in this campaign.

Every major Republican candidate favors the United States “staying the course” in Iraq. That position is the one that will sink the entire Republican ticket no matter who the candidate is. This war is a debacle, the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. I would hope that every American has read historian Michael Beshloss’ views on how this war will be historically looked at.

Interestingly enough there is one Republican who could win a general election and be wholeheartedly supported by Republican conservatives. In my opinion, that would be Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. His only “sin” is that he has continually called for the Untied States to withdraw from Iraq, generating much heat from Republican neocons.

A bit about Giuliani and why he now seems to be a good choice for VP. His 9/11 record of “toughness” will resonate with some voters. As second on the ticket he will not have to face certain scrutiny of his marriages and shaky business dealings. Giuliani still has to overcome the ethnic issue of being Italian-American. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo had told me his 1988 campaign never happened, in part, because of his Italian heritage. ABC reporter Sam Donaldson had made that an issue on his weekly program “This Week.”

Putting on my predictor’s cap I am also convinced that both the House and Senate will become overwhelmingly Democratic, thereby rejecting many of the Republican programs of the past years and changing direction. The No. 1 environmental issue -- global warming -- will finally be recognized and steps will be taken to save our planet. Stem cell research will become a reality and eventually lead to curing fatal and debilitating diseases. And more moderate Supreme Court justices will be chosen to reverse the backward trends of the current court.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 8, 2007

More York Proof

By John Carusone

I have recently discovered one of the most compelling documents ever produced regarding the “exploits” of American Cpl. Alvin York. The 24-page document, produced by the German government in 1929, thoroughly rebuts the exaggerated claims York made about the 1918 World War I battle.

The document’s conclusions were never rebutted by the American government. The report takes dead aim at all of York’s preposterous claims and discredits all of them. York claimed as many as 10 German soldiers jumped from a trench and headed toward him in a bayonet charge. York claimed he “threw away his rifle and shot them.” The problems here are obvious.

His pistol could only hold eight shots and there was not a trench in the entire battlefield. His claim of knocking out 35 to 53 machineguns was rebutted as the German force had only two machineguns and possibly a third.

The report concluded that it was impossible for York to have single-handedly captured 132 prisoners. The report proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the bulk of the prisoners had already surrendered and York was only at the last collection point to march the prisoners back, since the two real heroes of the battle -- Sgt. Bernard Early and Cpl. Cutting -- had been wounded .The report has some devastating conclusions. Let me quote some:

”The claim he captured 35 machineguns is an outright lie.” “It may be that the boastful sergeant on his way to the rear counted some other prisoners as his own.”

Another recent article by professor Michael Birdwell, curator of the York papers and a York supporter, makes this astounding claim, ”Unfortunately his exploit has been blown out of proportion with some accounts claiming that he had silenced 35 machine guns and captured 132 prisoners single-handedly. York never claimed that he acted alone ...”

What absolute trash. York did in fact make such claims and in his Medal of Honor citation those claims are repeated. Two American military historians, Taylor Beattie and Ronald Bowman, in the summer of 2000 in the publication “Army History” concluded about York’s “exploits”: “Indeed some years after the fact Sergeant Early and Corporal Cutting … were decorated. Overall we must conclude that the assertions that Alvin York single-handedly captured 35 machineguns and killed 25 Germans in the process of defeating a machinegun battalion are all components of the myth.”

I recently spoke with the mother of Karen Scott whose brother-in-law was Bernard Early and she informed me of another historical fact surrounding the York fiasco. In 1929 at the medal ceremony when President Herbert Hoover awarded Early the DSC, Hoover offered all the survivors including Early college scholarships because he was powerless to do anything about the inaccurate accolades York had been given.

The president of the United States in 1929 knew full well that the York story was a trumped up story by York.

All too often our military brass needs to create heroes. What better evidence than the recent attempt to paint Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman as heroes. With today’s media scrutiny, York’s tale would have had a shelf life of 10 minutes.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

August 2, 2007

Grandfather DominicoVaiuso (left) and my father, Dom, tasting the family wine. (undated) Courtesy photo

Grandpa Was a Bootlegger

By John Carusone

Watching the recent last episode of “The Sopranos” and then the following EMMY nomination choices, I was struck by the comments on every talk and news show about whether Tony would get “whacked” in the last episode. It’s amazing that the country is now using mafia slang as if it were a part of everyone’s daily and normal life. When you also figure that in nearly everyone’s favorite movie poll the “Godfather” shows up, I wouldn’t be surprised that in the next edition of the primary “Dick and Jane” reading series, the following line shows up: “See Dick run. See him get whacked by neighborhood bullies.”

So let me add my two cents to all of this from a personal point of view. Let me use “Godfather II” as a basis for my comments.

From an historical point of view, that movie accurately portrays what the early Italian immigrants faced when they came to this country at the turn of the 20th century. Actor Robert DeNiro portrays the young Vito Corleone through a series of incidents with the early mafia known as “The Black Hand.” That organization did exist, even in Hamden.

Let me explain.

My maternal grandfather, Dominico Vaiuso, sometimes Voiiso (Ellis Island never got it right), arrived in Hamden in 1897. His bride, Luigia Marra, sometimes Mara, sometimes Marro (Ellis Island didn’t get her right either), had a child who died during a malaria epidemic in Italy. He came here to get a job in the brickyards off State Street.

When Dominico had saved enough money, he sent for Luigia in 1901.There was no protection for Italian immigrants. The Black Hand sprung up as a group that would protect you against others. I saw firsthand how this group worked by watching a weekly bocci game on the Welton Street lot after the early mass at St. Stephen’s Church. An individual whom I will only identify as “Vito” would be the “referee” for the game. He would sit in a cane chair smoking an Italian cigar with a jug of red wine under the chair, which he would regularly sip. When a game question would arise, he would take off his straw hat and tip it toward the winner. No one ever questioned his calls. Years later I found out who he was -- part of The Black Hand.

My mother and my Uncle Alex often told me of a more serious part of my grandfather’s job. During the ’20s and ’30s when prohibition was in place, families could make a single jug of wine but only for family consumption. Grandpa along with Uncles Al and Tony got hold of a truck with a tank body. They made far more than a jug of wine. They filled up the entire tank and drove to the Boston Post Road to sell the wine.

They were stopped by “strangers.” They had to exit the vehicle and watch as the “strangers” shot holes in the tank so the wine would run out. That was their last attempt to make extra money. Seems “Vito” was loyal to the mob.

Years later when I began to play in restaurant softball leagues in the New Haven area, it was commonplace to learn that many restaurant owners got their start during Prohibition as bootleggers, just like in the movies. One of my early team sponsors in the restaurant slo-pitch league had two fingers shot off his right hand by the “revooners” (federal agents) at Lighthouse Park, where the illegal alcohol came in. His nickname was “three-finger Brown.” It was not unusual to see large sums of money change hands as betting on these games was taken quite seriously.

Several Hamden businessmen went on to become very successful in the alcohol and beverage industry after dubious beginnings during Prohibition.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 25, 2007

Remembering My Role in the 1989 Tornado

By John Carusone

I can’t let the month of July go by without vividly recalling July 10, 1989, when Hamden was clobbered by the vicious F-4 278-mph tornado. I had just gotten home from the office and was looking forward to an unusual uneventful evening.

Getting on a pair of Bermuda shorts and a sports shirt and awaiting a great relaxing dinner, my daughter Val said, “Dad, come to the front door. It’s beginning to rain hard and it’s starting to hail.” The sky was completely green, hailstones the size of tennis balls were peppering everywhere and the tree in front bent like a twig and slowly went back to its normal shape. I swore I heard a helicopter going over our home. I started to sweat profusely and my ears popped.

A second later the phone rang. It was Deputy Fire Chief Walt MacDowall giving me the astounding news that we had just been hit by a tornado. He said he would pick me up shortly. He did and I began to figure out how severely we had been hit when in order to get to the Dixwell-Highwood area where the storm had hit so severely, we had to get on State Street and travel north to get to Skiff Street and then to Dixwell Avenue.

I still can’t believe what I initially saw.

Courtesy photo

Every telephone pole in Highwood was split exactly 4 feet from the base and was scattered on the street as if they were all cut at the same location by a giant saw. A medical station had already been set up on Rochford Field. The first decision I made that evening was that the morgue would be at the M.L. Keefe Center. We expected many casualties and fatalities.

A husky man was sitting on second base of the softball diamond at Rochford Field in his shorts with a Sports Illustrated firmly clutched in his hand. He looked dazed and repeatedly said to me, “You won’t believe what happened to me.” He said this over and over. An EMT told me that he had been in the apartment next to the middle school on the second floor sitting in a chair reading the magazine and waiting for his tub to fill. A second later the entire second floor was blown away including his tub and the chair he was sitting in. He flew over 200 feet and landed on second base with the magazine still clutched in his hand. He had suffered no injuries other than shock.

The luckiest moment occurred only by chance. An elderly woman on the third floor of the complex on the corner of Arch and Dixwell refused to come out of her apartment even though I had ordered all residents to evacuate the area. An EMT asked me to try to talk her down before she was forcibly removed. As I climbed the shaky stairwell and headed for the third floor, the strong smell of gas began to fill the air. There she was, an 84-year-old woman sitting in a rocking chair smoking a cigarette. Thank God the roof had been blown off the building. Had that not happened, the entire Highwood section would have been engulfed in a gas explosion. She came with me after I informed her who I was.

When it was all over, with the tremendous assistance of Gov. Bill O’Neill, we survived. I found out later the tornado had passed over our neighborhood and was headed for Sackett Point Road in North Haven. There were no fatalities and FEMA later complimented us for “the best recovery in the nation.”

There is a humorous side note to all of this. I did my first TV interview at 8 o’clock with nattily dressed New Haven Mayor Ben DiLieto. I was still in my Bermuda shorts. A call came into the operation center from my former Hamden school system boss Dr. Frank Yulo. When I worked with Yulo he had a rule that a leader never dressed like one of the boys. He admonished me to go home and get dressed and “look like a mayor.” And I did.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 18, 2007

Sunset of the 'Boys of Summer'

By John Carusone

Watching the major league all-star game the other evening and seeing the great Willie Mays be honored brought back memories of another game I saw in 1949 between the Birmingham Black Barons and the West Haven Sailors, an independent professional team.

Playing centerfield for the Black Barons was a skinny kid, easily the fastest player on the field. I only found out who he was years later when Register sports columnist Bob Barton wrote a piece identifying that player as Willie Mays.

The Sailors were a very special team of that era playing at West Haven’s Donovan Field every Sunday and one night a week. They played a major league team every year. I saw them play and win against the Reds and Phillies. Some of the great Sailor players were shortstop Jackie Tyler -- later a softball teammate of mine in the early ‘60s -- Red Sheehan, who teamed with the legendary Joe DiMaggio on his barnstorming team, and former Hamden High coach Ray Hartman, a great pitcher for that team.

The Sailors reformed in 1954 and played in the Greater New Haven League. I always enjoyed playing against them as a member of the Columbus Auto Body team. Many players from that era came back for an old-timers game a couple of years ago at Hamden’s Rochford Field. What has transpired also over the past 10 years is that those of us who were fortunate to have played for the Hamden town baseball teams of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s now get together once a year at Brooksvale Park for a family picnic. Leading organizer for the affair is my Post 88 and Medic teammate Frank “Lard” McGowan. This 6-foot-5-inch, 240-pound athlete was a baseball and basketball star at Hamden High and Fairfield University.

Vin Zavorskas and Mike Santillo at the 2006 baseball picnic. Courtesy photo

There is also a sadness to all of this. Every year we say farewell to some of our former teammates, the latest being former Mayor John DeNicola Jr. who recently passed away. I’ll never forget his game-winning homerun against North Haven great Carl Tufts. John’s younger brother Rich will be at this year’s picnic. He is still the all-time winning pitcher at the University of Vermont.

Also missing this year will be shortstop Joe Lion. Joe spent 37 years in the Wallingford school system and never took a day off. I still have a vivid memory of meeting Joe at a local restaurant when he informed my wife, Sylvia, and me that he needed a heart transplant. He swore both of us to silence as he did not want to have to take a sick day until the surgery. He never made the transplant.

Joe Bucci, another teammate of mine with the Columbus Bears and Hamden Collegians, also recently passed away. He was inducted into the New Haven Gridiron Football Hall of Fame. Paul Zavorskas -- perhaps the greatest amateur pitcher to ever come out of the state -- died the day after last year’s picnic.

This year we’re going to plan a final old-timers game. Newcomer Rich Andreozzi is going to get players from later decades to participate. I guess all of us could qualify as “Hamden’s Boys of Summer.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 11, 2007

The BA is BS

By John Carusone

It’s hard to believe that the Bush gang defends its probable decision to pardon Libby because Clinton pardoned financier Marc Rich. That’s like comparing apples and peas.

Libby was convicted by a jury of 12 peers of five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice. Prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald and Judge Walton were all Bush appointees, removing any hint of political chicanery. As of this writing, there are over 3,000 individuals in American prisons serving an average of five years on an obstruction of justice charge. So much for Bush’s justification of “excessive sentence.”

If the neocons want to continue to examine the past to find examples of egregious presidential pardons, I suggest they look at the record of Bush Sr. with his pardon of Caspar Weinberger whose testimony would have involved Bush Sr. in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Although historians like to give time to evaluate presidential administrations, this administration is well on its way to getting the title of the worst ever in American history. Certainly the Libby pardon and the illegal wiretap program are on that list of issues that historians will use.

The Bush Supreme Court continues to turn the clock back decades with its support of corporate interests over the public good, and its disgraceful handling of the recent school desegregation cases. This administration opposing honest stem cell research makes it clear that literally thousands of individuals with terminal illnesses will never see the hope of a further productive life because of the intransigence of the administration. The indefensible argument that global warming is an unproven theory forced Bush to make a meaningless proposal at a recent summit of world leaders.

Further environmental disasters include overturning Clinton Administration policies of preserving large tracts of forest lands in favor of logging industries on the justification that with fewer trees there will be fewer forest fires.
And the war in Iraq.

It never should have happened. This war was based on phony hyped intelligence. Over 3,700 American soldiers have died unnecessarily. What’s disgraceful about this is that Bush is attempting to keep this war going until he leaves office so he can claim for his legacy that if the “war” was continued the “enemy” would have been defeated. More innocent kids are going to be sacrificed unless this war is ended as soon as possible.

The recent funeral of local soldier Andre Craig Jr. showed how deep antagonism is to this war. A relative commented, “Where is Bush? How many of our youth have to die before Bush and Cheney are satisfied?” The relatives were also outraged that junior Republican U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman did not attend the funeral.

So whom do we compare Bush with? Is it Hoover or U.S. Grant? How about Nixon? What about Harding?

There is no comparison. We now have a clear last-place president. And this country will suffer for decades because of this eight-year nightmare. Will this country ever recover from the Bush Administration? That’s the frightening thought.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

July 5, 2007

Coulter Scary
Cheney Scarier
NY Yankees Scariest

By John Carusone

Let’s do some political and sports potpourri. Did you see Ann Coulter on Chris Matthews’ show? She made one of the most astounding comments I have ever heard from any public person -- and I’m not referring to the flap with Elizabeth Edwards.

To paraphrase Coulter, we are fighting “too clean a war in Iraq.” We should be “bombing civilians just like we did to Nazi Germany in World War II. That hastened the end of the war.”

As I said in a previous column she needs therapy for her anger management, but now also needs a course in military history. Every single World War II military historian agrees that the allied bombing raids during the war, night and day, hardened the German resolve to continue the war. The same result was found during the London blitz by the Germans that hardened British civilians with greater resolve.

How about VP Cheney now claiming that he is not part of the executive branch of government so he doesn’t have to comply with Congress? This is the same VP who last year argued that because he was a member of the executive branch he didn’t have to tell who in the energy business he spoke with to formulate energy policy. How’s that for hypocrisy?

Now the White House has pulled the rug out from under Cheney and reiterated that he is a member of the executive branch. What’s that saying about “the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?”

The political raspberry of the week goes to our own junior Republican U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, who voted with the Republicans to protect the most corrupt attorney general in our history -- Alberto Gonzalez. (Editor's note: Way to go, Joe! You never let us down.)

Kudos go to Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar for breaking with G.W. Bush over Iraq policy. And to Connecticut Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz for demanding that Republican state Sen. Louis DeLuca resign after being caught making a deal with mobsters.

Well, on to baseball. How smart were the Red Sox not to give Johnny Damon the four-year extension he wanted? The Yankees bit and are now saddled with two more years of a player who can’t throw, can’t play every day and clearly will spend much of the next two years on the DL (disabled list).

Who would you rather have on your roster? Gary Sheffield with 17 HRs and 65 RBIs? Or Bobby Abreu mired in a horrific slump and is now batting eighth in the lineup? How about Mike Mussina? The Yankees gave him a two-year deal worth 16 million per. Yet he can’t throw a fast ball harder than the mid 80s. It looks to me that instead of blaming Torre for the Yankee demise, the ire of Yankee fans should be directed to general manager Brian Cashman.

Look at this pitching rotation. For the Yankees, 45-year-old Roger Clemens followed by setup man Kyle Farnsworth with an ERA over 5.0, and 38-year-old closer Mariano Rivera with an ERA just under 5.0.

And for the Red Sox. Twenty-something-year-olds Dice K. Okijama and Paplebon with an average ERA of just over 2.0. It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? Kudos go to Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. Maybe that’s the guy the Yankees should hire next year after they fire Cashman.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

June 27, 2007

How Hamden Became Democratic

By John Carusone

Since 1953, I have been involved in either first selectman or mayoral campaigns in Hamden. What is so interesting is how the political landscape has changed over these years. The early dominance of the Republican Party, with branches of the Protestant church, owned Hamden’s political scene.

The early 20th century Republican Party was dominated by classic Hamden Yankees. One of the most well-known was John Q. Tilson, whose father was for many years a leader in the Republican National Congress. Tilson wrote the first charter for the East Side Civic Association in 1948. His wife, Kate, was an important member of that organization.

Rachel Hartley, town historian, was a solid Republican Hamden Yankee who later served as second selectwoman.

The Democratic Party was pretty much dominated by Irish-Americans like Jim Doherty, later a Superior Court judge, Russ Vining, John Golden, Jerry Shea and Dennis Garvey. Italians in both parties were in minor roles.

Republican John DeNicola Sr. had to win a bruising political battle to defeat the party’s choice for first selectman, Clarence Grisham. At one point DeNicola tried to form an Independent party made up solely of Italian-Americans. One of the Dems he visited was my father, Dom, who rejected the idea and advised DeNicola to stay in the Republican Party, which he did.

The Democrats were content to be a minority party and for many years appeared to have a cozy relationship with the Republicans, settling only for guaranteed minority seats on boards and commissions. The Republicans held town hall for over 50 consecutive years losing only in 1955 to Democrat Herb Hume, who won only because the DeNicola Republicans were fed up with Yankee control of the party and supported Hume in the general election.

DeNicola’s strategy worked because in 1957 he wrested the party’s nomination and went on to serve 10 years becoming Hamden’s first mayor in 1965. The town had changed to the strong mayor-council form of government replacing the weak RTM government.

In 1967, the winds of change came to Hamden’s political landscape. Democrat Bill Adams headed a ticket that included the first Democratic women -- Rita Gambori and Philomena “Fanny” Russo -- along with candidates from various ethnic backgrounds. Adams won that election even though the Republicans now had many prominent Italian-Americans in the fold, such as the Paoella and Pellegrino families.

Since DeNicola Sr., there have been three Republican mayors: DeNicola’s two children John Jr. and Barbara, and Lucien DiMeo. While six Dems have occupied the mayor’s chair since Adams: Dick Harris, Peter Villano, yours truly, Lillian Clayman, Carl Amento and current Mayor Craig Henrici.

What is clear is that the once unbeatable Republican Party is a shadow of its former self. Hamden is now a one-party town similar to New Haven. Italian-Americans are dominant in both parties. For the upcoming election, it would appear that the Republicans will be focusing on winning Council seats to go along with their guaranteed minority seats -- a far cry from the old days.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

June 20, 2007

Memories from the Wall

By John Carusone

The Moving Wall, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., has completed its Hamden stay. To say that this replica is inspiring would be an understatement. I have been to the original in D.C. on a number of occasions. The only thing missing from the replica are the artifacts left at the D.C. memorial by relatives of fallen military personnel.

I will never forget seeing a pair of baby shoes left by a grieving mother. The names of 58,283 Americans who died in Vietnam are inscribed on the wall. What makes the Vietnam conflict so memorable is that the chief architect of that war, former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, wrote that the war was a “tragic mistake.” He admitted that the justification for the war -- the “domino theory” -- was a terrible “misjudgment.”

The current debacle in Iraq is so reminiscent of the misjudgments of the ’60s. Young kids were sent to Vietnam and many never returned. To date, over 3,700 kids have been KIA in Iraq with over 20,000 wounded in a “war” that was based on dishonest claims that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. Remember the Gulf of Tonkin incident that preceded huge American involvement in Vietnam? That also was false. There was never an attack by North Vietnam’s patrol boats on the destroyer Turner Joy.

Three Hamden men I personally knew died in Vietnam. My grammar school and high school classmate Pierce Robertson was killed on his second tour of duty as a helicopter pilot. His dad, Einar, was the coach of Hamden’s first semi-pro baseball team, the Hamden Boys Club. Ed Duel, brother of Hamden Tax Collector Barbara Tito, was an early casualty of the war. I remember him from his Little League days as an outstanding baseball player. Ed later went on to star at Hamden High. He would definitely have been a pro prospect.

Bob Bush, another grammar and high school classmate, had his remains brought back to Hamden in 1990. He was a combat pilot. I remember commenting at the time that after we inscribed his name on the Memorial Town Hall wall there was no more room on those walls for any future KIAs.
Another neighbor of mine became involved in the Vietnam conflict in a far different way. He was an officer ordered to Vietnam. He refused and went to Canada. Some years later when President Ford decided to grant amnesty, the young man refused to accept the pardon because he felt he had done nothing wrong. To this day, he is a Canadian citizen who has never returned to the U.S., not even to visit.

Mayor Craig Henrici’s brother Ken was the recipient of the Bronze Star in Vietnam. Former high school guidance director Bob Fortino also saw service in Vietnam.

The present conflict in Iraq is splitting the nation just like Vietnam. But no matter what side you are on nothing should take away the focus from the brave young kids who are in Iraq. I resented very much the outrageous comments by big mouth Rosie O’Donnell that implied it is the American troops who are the “terrorists” because Iraqi civilians have been killed. I trust she is not referring to my nephew who went with 31 Navy Seals and came back with 15.

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)

June 6, 2007

No AG Confidence

By John Carusone

Wasn’t it interesting last week to watch Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’s chief aide Monica Goodling completely repudiate her boss about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys? Gonzalez is now documented LYING UNDER OATH multiple times to Congress.

What’s mind boggling about this is that the Republican neocons thought LYING UNDER OATH was worse than murder. And so Clinton was impeached not for sex but for LYING UNDER OATH. Now how is it plausible that this same gang of dishonest politicians are defending the attorney general of the United States even though he LIED UNDER OATH?

We should all remember that the underlying story here is that our AG could clearly be charged with obstruction of justice because testimony to date is zeroing in on the fact that these attorneys were fired to either prevent ongoing investigations of Republicans or to pressure attorneys to pursue bogus investigations of Democrats. Recent testimony by Assistant AG James Comey told a devastating story of how Gonzales tried to pressure a sick then-AG John Ashcroft into approving the illegal Bush wiretap program.

And how has the Bush Justice Department responded? Why just to begin an investigation of filmmaker Michael Moore to see if his widely acclaimed film “Sicko” saw Moore violate our laws regarding Cuban sanctions. You have to be kidding me. Moore traveled to Cuba to Guantanamo to illustrate that the medical treatment given to detainees there is far better than what we give to our 46 million uninsured. Even Fox News has praised the documentary as has every film reviewer.

Now Moore has a perfect batting average when it comes to his documentaries. “Fahrenheit 911” accurately predicted that the war in Iraq was entered into on the basis of phony intelligence. His Columbine documentary accurately predicted more school shootings as a result of weak gun statutes. Moore’s latest documentary takes the drug industry to task for its deliberate program of inflating drug prices at everyone’s expense. Our own junior “Republican” Sen. Lieberman recently voted to keep cheaper Canadian drugs out of the American market even though safety is not a problem with Canadian drugs. One of Lieberman’s biggest campaign contributors is the drug industry. I’m very curious to see how Lieberman is going to vote on the upcoming no-confidence vote on AG Gonzales.

There is very little you can say about the Bush administration that is positive. The only good news American citizens had this week about this administration is thank God for the bird. That action clearly demonstrates the inner desires of 78 percent of the American public who are convinced that this country is going in the wrong direction. The only other comment I can make is: I wish the bird had a better aim!

John Carusone was mayor of Hamden from 1987-1991, assistant school super from '69-'82 and a legislative councilor from '65-'69. The Hamden native is now retired but stays active in town affairs -- and has a lot to say about them. (Note: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the Hamden Daily News.)


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