New Britain Mayor meets Ann Uccello, political trailblazer
NEW BRITAIN – By the time Erin Stewart was born in 1987, Antonina “Ann” Uccello had been out of the public eye for more than a decade.
Uccello’s legacy though still loomed large in her hometown of Hartford, where in 1967 she was elected
the nation’s first female mayor of a capital city and later served as one of the highest-ranking women in the Nixon administration.
As Stewart set a course for public office and sharpened her political skills, she heard Uccello’s name invoked on more than one occasion. “Once I became mayor in 2013, a lot of people were drawing the correlation between us,” said Stewart, whose appreciation for Uccello’s career piqued last year with the publication of Paul Pirrotta’s biography of the former mayor. In social media posts, Stewart lauded the book and proclaimed her wish to meet Uccello.
The New Britain mayor was able to check the encounter off her bucket list on July 6. Thanks to a mutual friend, she spent three hours at the Brookdale Chatfield senior complex in West Hartford in lively conversation with the former Hartford chief executive, who turned 94 in May.
“I had heard stories about what an incredible, strong-willed woman she was and I really couldn’t wait to meet her,” said Stewart. “At 94, she is still as sharp as a tack. To be able to listen and learn from someone who has been in so many of the same situations I’ve been in, and to hear her take and how she dealt with them, makes me a better person.”
The two discussed contemporary and vintage politics, the challenges of leading and promoting cities with inherent troubles and the tribulations Uccello faced as a woman navigating the waters of City Hall in the “Mad Men” era.
“She has the wisdom of a seasoned politician,” Uccello said of Stewart. “I see why everybody has the highest praise for her. She is young and vivacious and has quite a future ahead of her.”
Uccello’s ascension in 1967 from the Hartford City Council to the mayor’s office – by 170 votes – landed her on the state political stage. Stewart pointed out that Uccello was a prominent figure even before her predecessor’s name was removed from the letterhead not only due to her gender, but because she was the first Republican since 1948 elected mayor. Forty-five years after leaving Hartford for a post in Washington, D.C., Uccello remains the most recent Republican to hold the office.
“She really was the first female political powerhouse in the state of Connecticut,” said Stewart. “The electorate started looking at women as strong options for political office from that point on.”
Like in Stewart’s case, pundits for much of Uccello’s tenure attempted to gauge her political aspirations and strategize offices she might covet. While Uccello wanted to ultimately run for governor or a seat in the U.S. Senate, state and local GOP leaders had other ideas. Stewart said Uccello regrets being convinced to run for Congress in 1970, a move that altered the trajectory of her career. “She had a successful career in government but it wasn’t the path she envisioned,” said Stewart. “She grabbed my hand at one point and told me to never settle for anything I don’t want.”
In 1971, Uccello was appointed the director of the newly-created federal Office of Consumer Affairs in the Department of Transportation. She returned to Connecticut in 1979 and never again sought public office. Among the numerous honors she has been bestowed, Uccello was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1999 and in 2008 had a street named for her in downtown Hartford.
“She has an amazing, inspirational story of taking challenges head on and making a change,” said Stewart. “Meeting her has definitely been a highlight of my career as mayor.”