They did time together, they played hoops together in the joint, and the other day they greeted voters together in front of a polling place, and neither was on the ballot.
Former Mayor Joe Ganim and former State Senator Ernie Newton have developed a symbiotic relationship as they determine their political futures. They had lots of time to talk about the past and future serving time at the prison camp in Fort Dix, New Jersey. They returned home last year.
The question for Ernie is easy, it’s not about running for public office, but what office will he seek? Ernie, the self-anointed Moses of his peeps, has assimilated back into city neighborhoods, reconnecting with political supporters. Ernie is a lightning rod in city politics. Some love him, some can’t stand him and still others see him as a political curiosity repositioning for public office.
Joe’s in a slightly different place than Ernie, back on the Ganim family compound in Easton working out of the family law office in Bridgeport. If Joe’s not running for something he’s certainly doing a damn good impression of Dick Blumenthal, showing up at all sorts of places, meeting with folks he hadn’t seen in years, putting on the schmooze … just in case. Joe’s trying to figure out if there’s an opening for a mayoral comeback. Many of Joe’s supporters say he’s itching to get back in the game. Will he? He has family considerations. But Joe’s a natural-born competitor. He likes the action.
Before he crashed, Joe was a popular mayor; 10 straight balanced budgets without a tax increase will do that. Like Ernie some love him, some cannot stand him. But even Joe’s detractors, for the most part, say he managed the city better than the two mayors that followed him.
Joe and Ernie were feeling the love from voters in front of Wilbur Cross School on Tuesday, pushing their candidate Rev. Charlie Stallworth who won the special election to fill Chris Caruso’s legislative seat, greeting voters they hadn’t seen in years. Joe’s as calculating as they come. If he sees an opening, if enough support is there, he’ll take it. Joe has maintained relationships with members of the Greater Bridgeport Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a group of city clergy, that helped further Rev. Stallworth’s victory on Tuesday.
Mayor Bill Finch while not popular is also not in terrible shape. He’s done a good job raising money for reelection, a lesson he learned from Joe Ganim with whom he never had a close relationship. A well-financed candidate could give Finch a battle. Mary-Jane Foster, co-founder of the Bridgeport Bluefish and John Gomes, former Finch administration official, are trying to position as the alternative more than six months from a Democratic primary. Can they raise enough moolah to compete?
Joe had little patience for Bill’s wonkish behavior. He thought of Bill as excruciatingly unfocused. When Bill talks he has several points to make while Joe just wants to get to the point. Joe would nod off in conversations with Bill. When Bill was on the City Council on several occasions I went to Joe when Bill needed employment help. There were days Bill was a heartbeat away from homelessness. Bill came to me for help and I went to Joe to help a friend. “Oh Christ,” Joe would say, “here comes Lennie again bleeding for Bill Finch.” In the 1990s, I was Joe’s campaign guru. I could get stuff done. Director of Civil Defense, head of the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority, director of the Bridgeport Economic Development Corp. Each time I went to Joe for Bill and each time Bill got the job. (Full disclosure: I’ve not spoken to Joe in more than 10 years.)
Bill now has the juice that Joe once had and would like to get back. Now if Joe did get in the game, whom would Ernie support for mayor, if he doesn’t run himself? I’m betting it would be Joe.