Another election and another cycle for Probate Judge Paul Ganim … without an opponent.
His older brother Joe has history on his side as the youngest serving Bridgeport mayor as well as climaxing an unlikely return to the mayoralty in 2015 after a fall from grace in 2003, but Paul’s fait accompli is now on the horizon with 24 consecutive years of service and another four more in the bank when he’s elected again in November, eclipsing Socialist Mayor Jasper McLevy’s 24-year consecutive run from 1933-57.
It almost didn’t happen.
In 1998, when Joe was at the apex of mayoral popularity, Paul decided to run for the job against mighty odds. Kevin Boyle, a stalwart Democratic regular, had maximized party support when Jonas Meyer reached age 70, the mandatory retirement milestone for the probate job. For Boyle, well-regarded with the party faithful, this was the elected position he had always wanted.
It seemed like a lock for Boyle.
At the July, 1998 Democratic Town Committee endorsement session, Boyle had it all wrapped up. Paul tossed his name into nomination with scant support. Everyone thought he’d go away. Except Paul Ganim who decided to wage a primary hustling the petition signatures to qualify for the ballot.
His loyal friend Chris Meyer, who’d go on more than a decade later to serve as Bridgeport’s chief legal counsel, was the son of Jonas. It was Paul Ganim and Chris Meyer against the world. Paul had no business winning.
Brother Joe ignored Paul’s entreaties for help. The party had made a decision to back Boyle.
Paul pressed on, irrespective of little experience with the nuts and bolts necessary to build a winning race, especially against the entrenched party apparatus. Paul was headed for a shellacking.
The twists and turns of politics amaze when you least expect it.
A knucklehead in Boyle’s camp (he knows who he is) freelanced a bumper sticker “Loyalty over royalty” that only party insiders grasped. Joe Ganim knew too it was a clear swipe at him.
They had poked the bear and the bear pawed back.
Instead of leaving it alone Boyle and company energized the mayor.
“They made this about me when I told them I’m staying out it,” Mayor Joe directed at me when I served as his campaign guru, back in the day.
In 1998 Joe Ganim was popular with voters, not so with party regulars with whom he did not suck up, according to their needy and greedy patronage job standards.
“They (party insiders) don’t care this becomes Paul’s loss, they want it to be your loss,” I countered.
For Joe that was it. He had to rescue his brother to send a message back. Without Joe weighing in, Paul was toast no matter how hard Paul worked.
For me, it became the summer and autumn of Ganims. I had already signed up to run the state senate race of youngest brother Tom, in addition to rallying voters to revise the City Charter to approve a four-year term for mayor. Now Paul was in the mix.
Instead of a summer and autumn on the golf course (woe is me) I was shanked into multiple campaign headquarters to juggle a Ganim trifecta of Joe, Tom and Paul.
Delivering Paul would not be easy.
Yes, I had a popular mayor to front load, as well as tireless Paul who took direction about engaging voters. Paul put in the work. Still, to pull this off, money and boots on the ground were necessary. The money piece was easy: campaign workers, another story.
All the party regulars I had relied on to spread the retail word had signed up for Boyle, many of them cool to Joe.
Hey, can you help?
Sorry, I committed to Boyle.
Okay, time to recruit new people: some fresh fish on the public payroll, others who had volunteered for my races and still others, twenty-somethings, looking to build bona fides.
The way I saw it, no matter what, if Paul wins a victory for Paul and Joe. If Paul loses, a stinging blemish for Joe with eager party regulars rubbing a grapefruit in his face.
Key, also, was a higher turnout especially Democrats disconnected from the opinions of party insiders. The party faithful most always win a low-turnout race.
I attached Paul to everything Joe, including his ballot name: “Paul Joseph Ganim.”
Sometimes serendipity prevails.
Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa put up a candidate against his political frenemy, State Rep. Chris Caruso in the 126th State House District, including African American-rich precinct, Wilbur Cross, placing Caruso and Paul Ganim on the same ballot line. Caruso was popular in his district.
On the day of the vote Boyle and party regulars had three or four poll standers at each precinct to our one or two to jawbone voters’ candidate selection.
The early precinct results, especially neighborhoods with stronger political discipline, broke favorable for Boyle such as Black Rock, Central and Winthrop. The minority precincts advantaged Paul Ganim.
The results were tight. Boyle had an edge with one precinct, Wilbur Cross, waiting to report. The Cross result was a blow-out win for Paul Ganim who took both the machine and absentee ballot results by small margins. Caruso’s presence on the ballot juiced the turnout.
More than 8,000 Democrats voted in that judge of probate primary, a number representative of a two-candidate mayoral primary.
Paul Ganim beat back primary challenges by Boyle in 2002 and 2006. Since that time Paul Ganim’s citywide seat has never been threatened. He flies under the radar, exactly how he wants it.
And now, history is just two weeks away.