Judy Crosswait doesn’t say goodbye.
See ya later. Take care. ‘Till next time. … Anything but goodbye, a word that just seems too final.
So it was no surprise that Crosswait, who has served as Naugatuck’s town clerk with the past six mayors as their right-hand woman, didn’t want a goodbye celebration on her final day in the Town Hall. She got one anyway, complete with all the pomp and circumstance that comes when a beloved employee leaves a post that he or she helped to define.
Since 1995, Crosswait has seen local government from the inside, and she has plenty of stories to tell. From tales of blunders to yarns that border on unfit for publication, Crosswait has seen the good, the bad and the embarrassing of every political leader from the controversial former Mayor William “Billy” Rado, Sr. to current Mayor Bob Mezzo.
She has enjoyed working under all of them, each of whom had his or her own distinct personality.
She calls Rado (Naugatuck Independent Party, second-term, 1995-97) a misunderstood man who was “a lion when it came to politics but the most generous person around in all other aspects of his life.”
Tim Barth (Republican, 1997-99) was an extremely nice man.
Joan B. Taf (Democrat, 1999-2003) was Crosswait’s personal friend and “a peach to work for.”
And underneath his rough-around-the-edges manner and his strong personality, Ronald S. San Angelo (Republican, 2003-2007) had a good sense of humor and made work fun for four years, Crosswait said.
She describes San Angelo’s successor, Mike Bronko (Republican, 2007-2009), as “the gentleman” of all the mayors.
Of Mezzo (Democrat, May 2009-present), Crosswait says, “he’s the most honest and down-to-earth politician” she has ever met. “He will be mayor as long as he wants, in my opinion,” she said.
But what about those stories that don’t typically make the papers and are experienced only by insiders? Crosswait has those in plentiful supply.
Rado, who served separate prison terms in the 1950s for ballot tampering and in the 1980s for taking political kickbacks, said he wanted an open-door policy after getting out of prison and winning the 1995 election. That literally meant the door was always open, no matter what, a lesson Crosswait learned early on.
One day, she recalls, Rado was in his office yelling and swearing at someone on the phone while eight residents waited to talk to him just outside his office. Crosswait jumped from her desk, ran to Rado’s door and quickly shut it so the residents wouldn’t hear the profanities. That was the only time Rado reprimanded Crosswait: He told her he wanted the door open so residents knew exactly how he operated the government.
Rado, who died in 2000, had many moments of compassion that only Crosswait saw. Like the times when people would complain they didn’t have money to pay their bills, and Rado would take cash out of his own pocket for them.
“Billy was always doing stuff like that without hesitation,” Crosswait said.
Rado had a scary side too, when he was behind the wheel of a car. One time Rado gave Crosswait a ride home and almost drove off the road because he was yelling to people out the window.
Crosswait said the only mayor who drove as badly as Rado was San Angelo. She always knew when San Angelo left the building because his tires would peel out of the driveway so loudly that she could hear it on the fourth floor, a claim many town employees back up.
San Angelo admittedly does everything fast, including talking and driving. He also thinks he can do everything himself, so he often doesn’t ask for help. That literally got him stuck in a bind during his first term in office. Rather than asking Crosswait to help him find a file, he went searching himself.
“I hear him yelling and moving around in the back room, so I go to check on him,” Crosswait said. “There he is with his tie stuck in the filing cabinet. I told him he could stay there for all I care; that’s what he gets for not asking me.”
San Angelo enjoyed their lighthearted banter.
“It’s a difficult job in the mayor’s seat, and it’s nice to have someone like Judy to make it fun,” he said. “She’d get mad at me, but she was very loyal to me and all mayors, no matter what party they were with.”
Crosswait calls Bronko the calm after the storm that was San Angelo. While she could hear San Angelo from the first floor yelling into his cell phone, she often would not even know when Bronko was in the same room because he was so quiet.
Someone you can always hear in Town Hall, the current taxpayer and former mayor’s aide under Taf, is Jim Goggin. He is usually loud when bragging about the Red Sox, and Crosswait is almost as loud about the Yankees. Despite their differences, the two remain close friends.
“Judy is going to be missed tremendously in this Town Hall,” Goggin said. “She is family-oriented, and many of us became part of her family, and vice versa.”
Crosswait is a former owner of Corey’s Market convenience store on the corner of Cherry and Elm streets. Her longtime colleagues and friends describe her as good-humored and young at heart. They call her the Town Hall “fashionista” for her good fashion sense.
She is also a renaissance woman of sorts, once a stellar athlete who competed in racquetball tournaments all over the country, and is a fine pianist.
Crosswait, whose final day was last Thursday, is taking an early retirement from the borough and will be replaced by the mayor’s secretary, Nancy DiMeo. From now on, it will be DiMeo organizing borough board meetings, taking minutes and running the day-to-day operations of the mayor’s office.
“I’ve loved my job, and I’m leaving with no regrets. I know that my office will be in good hands with Nancy,” Crosswait said.
As Town Hall employees from all departments stopped in to congratulate her last week, Crosswait nearly shed a tear. But then again, she didn’t want it to seem like goodbye.
“I’m only going down the street to my house to be with my grandkids and play my piano,” she said. “I’ll see you all soon.”