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    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    Hartford’s Ann Uccello, 1st woman mayor of Conn. city, dies at 100

    Top state officials Tuesday mourned the death of Ann Uccello, a record-breaker and trailblazer who ranked among the most famous mayors in Hartford history and lived to the age of 100.

    Uccello became the first woman mayor in the city’s history in 1967, as well as the first woman mayor of any municipality in Connecticut. She was also the first woman elected mayor of any capital city in the United States.

    In an overwhelmingly Democratic city, Uccello stunned the local political world by winning in Hartford as a Republican. The feat was even more unusual, insiders said, because it came during the tenure of John M. Bailey, the Democratic kingmaker at the state and national levels who was known for winning elections. In more than 50 years since Uccello left office in 1971, no other Republican has won in the race for city hall.

    After winning her second term in 1969, Uccello decided to run for Congress during the busy political year of 1970 — when Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. won his first term for the U.S. Senate. Uccello lost her race in a close contest in a Democratic-dominated district and later served in the Republican administration of President Richard M. Nixon for the U.S. Department of Transportation as the first consumer affairs director.

    Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Tuesday that Uccello will be remembered for her grace and passion as she shattered glass ceilings at a time when women often did not hold major political posts.

    “Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., when the threat of riots overcame Hartford, Ann took to the neighborhoods to speak and mourn with residents, encouraging peace,” Bysiewicz said. “She served with a level of empathy, understanding, and care that is so needed in politics.”

    Bysiewicz co-hosted a 100th birthday party for Uccello last May with West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor and had been hoping to hold another party for her 101st birthday.

    “Ann Uccello was a pioneer,” Bysiewicz said. “I admired her ground breaking work as mayor of Hartford, and one of the highest-ranking women in the Nixon administration. She leaves a legacy that has and will continue to inspire generations of women to pursue careers in politics and public service.”

    Gov. Ned Lamont said Uccello loved the city of her birth and rose to its highest position.

    “She fought to expand housing, ensure that children have access to essential services, and encouraged job growth and opportunities in Hartford,” Lamont said. “She had a remarkable spirit and energy, and she leaves a lasting legacy on Connecticut’s capital city.”

    Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said that Uccello “led Hartford through an enormously challenging and consequential time with courage and clarity, and she continued to serve our country at the national level. She was a lifelong champion for Hartford, and we should all be grateful for her life of service, leadership, compassion, and commitment.”

    Uccello’s biographer, Paul Pirrotta, wrote in The Hartford Courant in 2017 that Uccello was fiercely independent and did things her own way.

    “A tough woman in a man’s world, she was a hardworking and competent mayor who exercised strong leadership despite a charter that greatly limited her powers and a Democratic city council intent on sabotaging her every move,” Pirrotta wrote. “Ann was not an activist feminist in the sense that it was perceived then: yet she did a lot for feminism, but she did it her way, competing with men on an equal footing based on her intelligence, values, ability to find solutions.”

    Born as Antonina “Ann” Uccello, she was the daughter of Italian immigrants who were both born in Sicily. She graduated from Weaver High School in Hartford in 1940 and then St. Joseph College in West Hartford.

    After graduating from college, she worked as a teacher for one year but decided that would not be her career. She switched to work for G. Fox, the giant retailer where she rose to become an assistant to Beatrice Fox Auerbach, the wealthy and famed store owner who was a major figure in Hartford at the time.

    Uccello’s next move was to serve two terms on the Hartford city council before winning a primary and then the general election for mayor.

    Pirrotta described her as “a sincere, hardworking, competent person trying to do the best job she could under extremely difficult situations.”

    Some of those tough times included battling poverty in Hartford and venturing into the neighborhoods during riots to speak with the residents after the stunning death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

    In her later years, Uccello’s friends, family, and state leaders gathered to unveil a plaque above Uccello’s street sign that noted her accomplishment as “Hartford’s First Female Mayor.” Top officials hailed Uccello, including Bysiewicz, Bronin, and University of St. Joseph president Rhona Free, among others, at the street in downtown Hartford.

    Long known simply as Ann Street, it was renamed in 2008 as Ann Uccello Street.

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