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Thursday, February 20, 2014

WWII vet is Ansonia's 'Mayor for the Day'


Alfonso Smith (left), 90, shares a laugh with Mayor David Cassetti (right) as he tries out the mayor’s desk in Ansonia City Hall on 2/20/2014. (Arnold Gold - New Haven Register)





ANSONIA >> It’s not every day that one can take the reins of power and sit behind the mayor’s desk in City Hall.
But lifelong resident Alfonso Smith did just that on Thursday after Mayor David S. Cassetti invited him to serve as “Mayor for a Day.”
Smith, who turns 91 in May, was all smiles as the media took his photo and asked him half-jokingly whether he was ready to make any executive decisions.
Cassetti said he wanted to honor Smith, known to many as “Smitty,” to celebrate Black History Month.
Smith is an Army veteran of World War II, a retired Ansonia letter carrier and a longtime volunteer in the city.
“He’s been on the Recreation Commission for 50 years, and he’s a true Ansonian, and I’m happy to have him (as mayor for a day),” Cassetti said.
First on the agenda Thursday was a meeting about upgrading the city’s website, Cassetti said. “He had comments about it,” he said, referring to Smith.
Smith said even though he doesn’t go online, he knows that if a site “is dull and boring,” people won’t want to read it.
He said he took over as Recreation Commission chairman after the commission’s chairman, Jack Ahearn, became Seymour’s recreation director, a position he still holds.
Smith started on the commission when his children were young, and he never left.
“Ever since I was 9 years old, I loved sports,” he said. “When I came out of the service, we had a semi-pro baseball team (called) Collins Grill. It was a bar and restaurant on Tremont Street.”
Smith said he played second base, shortstop, third base and the infield.
His coaching career started when he took his son to play Little League.
“I was sitting in the stands there, and one of the coaches said he needed help. My son told him ‘my dad is in the stands,’” he recalled.
The coach asked Smith to help, and the rest is history.
“It was the farm league that fed the Little League.”
He started coaching Little League and attending Recreation Commission meetings and soon became a commission member.
He said members stay on the commission for years.
“It’s a good bunch of people. We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t had many problems,” Smith said. “Our problems are solved in-house.”
Smith said, “The city gives us a budget, which a lot of cities don’t do, so we’re able to finance each season.”
The challenge facing the city’s sports leagues today is “getting kids to come out and play.” Smith is convinced that with all of the technology children have at their disposal, ‘there’s less participation” in sports.
Recreation Director Jeff Coppola said Smith “gets out there and enjoys the kids. He’s a great man.”
In World War II, Smith served for three years in Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.
Smith saw combat in five battles, received five battle stars and the Bronze Star Medal. He worked in maintenance and repairs.
“We handled everything from a tent peg to a 105(mm) Howitzer,” Smith said. “Whatever the guys in the front line needed, we would do.”

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