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Revisiting Ganim’s Historic Comeback

November 3rd, 2016 · 29 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Politics, News and Events

Ganim, Foster, FInch

Mary-Jane Foster threw up her hands against “the boys.”

One year ago on Nov. 3, Joe Ganim made history reclaiming the mayoral office he was forced out of following his conviction on federal corruption charges in 2003. Thursday night city Democrats and supporters will honor the one-year anniversary of that election at a fundraiser at Testo’s Restaurant owned by Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa. How did Ganim make history? What follows is an OIB rewind from one year ago on the eve of the election.

If you had scripted the city’s mayoral race to Hollywood filmmakers, they’d probably call the cops to lock you up in disbelief. Heck, a couple of mayoral candidates on Tuesday’s ballot have been locked up. Even a scribe who’s covering the race had an involuntary vacation. It’s not every day a mayoral candidate can actually transform a difficult past into a credential. It takes timing, location, passion, power of persuasion and loads of hard work and a few breaks along the way. Joe Ganim is driving the interest in this mayor’s race and a whole bunch of folks inside Bridgeport and out have taken notice. For others, it’s a surreal front-row seat.

Marion Barry and Buddy Cianci are former mayors folks cite as examples of felonious comebacks. They were different cases than what Ganim is trying to do and his opponents are trying to block. Barry made a comeback in Washington DC following a public meltdown marinating in cocaine. Cianci made a comeback following an assault conviction. He was actually one for two in felonious returns. More than a decade ago he was convicted on corruption charge while in office. Last year, running as an independent mayoral candidate in Providence he was defeated in a competitive race for an open seat.

This schizoid whiplash election is coming to a close and it’s been a wild ride that began January 1 in the East End church of State Rep. Charlie Stallworth who also serves as pastor.

How did we get here?

Charlie Stallworth

Ganim’s first public quest for redemption began in the East End church of Charlie Stallworth at podium for Ganim fundraiser.

Ganim was released from federal incarceration in 2010. He toyed with running for mayor in 2011, but the timing was not right. He had three years of supervised release, a form of probation, he was reconnecting with his children, he was trying to regain his law license and his wife was not crazy about his return to the public arena.

In the years that followed, circumstances dictated Ganim revisit running for mayor. A three-judge panel, citing lack of contrition, rejected his application to reinstate his law license. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed. The court impact diminished his economic vitality. His marriage dissolved along the way. He had child support and alimony obligations. Consulting work dried up. Who would pay Joe an economic package worth $160K afforded the mayor of the state’s largest city? Ganim is a political warrior with redemption on his mind, but his economic standing was also a factor. He saw Finch as vulnerable. Anti-Finch politicians urged him back in the game.

As a politician Ganim is a risk-taker, but he’s also a pragmatist. If he didn’t think he could take out Finch he’d not have gotten back in the game. Ganim also recalled as mayor he had a hand in lining up at least four jobs for Finch when Finch served on the City Council. Sometimes, Finch has trouble maintaining relationships. Ganim cultivated the anti-Finch vote, blending new political friends with old relationships.

So on January 1, 2015, based on the urging of his political contacts, Ganim said something he had never before declared: in the sanctuary of church he publicly apologized about his past after 14 years of declaring he had done nothing wrong. In Bridgeport, people have screwed up, families have suffered, some have strong redemption stories; people like comebacks. Very few politicians have Ganim’s skill set for connecting one on one. He went to work. And immediately Finch did him a huge favor. The mayor and his campaign advisers pounded Ganim’s every move, in news releases, in statements, interviews and even in legislation. Instead of poo-poohing Ganim’s return and running extensively on his own record with a major redevelopment of the East Side, Finch’s public demonizing of Ganim had many voters who had suffered asking the same question: why is the mayor afraid of Joe Ganim?

Ganim, Adams, Meyer

Ganim with retired FBI agent, now Ganim appointee, Ed Adams and R. Christopher Meyer who Ganim appointed city attorney.

Most voters knew about Ganim’s baggage, but Finch’s strategy was to go after him full force from day one. His strategy failed. Finch even publicly declared people like Joe Ganim should not have the right to run for public office. It played right into Ganim’s hands, especially with African American voters stinging from Finch’s attempt to seize control of the Board of Education with the power to appoint its membership.

For Ganim, the messaging became easy, he’s not one of us, he does not understand us, he wants to pick and choose who should run for office, who should be involved in deciding our government.

As the spring progressed, Ganim tested his comeback for campaign dollars at a fundraiser at Vazzano’s Four Seasons in Stratford. Ganim stitched together old friends, new friends, family members and Finch political enemies to help raise money. The thing took on a life of its own, even surprising Ganim. The event raised more than $50,000. It signaled to Ganim he could raise enough money to compete. In the gut of the Democratic primary it wasn’t important what the well-financed Finch spent, it mattered what Ganim spent.

Ganim addresses crowd

Ganim speaks at campaign fundraiser.

As a campaigner, Ganim can be a one-man riot squad: he was the candidate, the strategist, the media schmoozer. He doesn’t yell, he doesn’t scream. He also has underlying passion that connected with volunteers. Ganim, in 2015, revisited two key issues that helped elect him in 1991: taxes and public safety. After historic shootings in the Trumbull Gardens housing complex, Ganim announced he’d open a campaign/police substation filled with police officers who supported his comeback effort to provide a sense of security to the area.

Who is your kid safer with, Ganim or Finch? That’s exactly the question Ganim forced. It didn’t matter Finch called it a political stunt while declaring crime has never been lower. It didn’t matter Police Chief Joe Gaudett told his police officers to stay out of Ganim’s so-called substation. The deed was done. Voters saw Ganim as trying to do something. There was a hole in the fence of the housing project. Ganim went to Home Depot, bought supplies, fixed the fence. Who cared the patch job was torn down days later?

Ganim, shooting victim

Ganim with shooting victim at Trumbull Gardens.

Along the way Ganim received some much-needed cover to assuage voters about his corruption past. He received the endorsement of the police union. One of the FBI agents who locked him up, Ed Adams, decided to embrace his comeback declaring everyone deserves a second chance. With Adams, now a private investigator, by his side, Ganim called a press conference to announce if elected mayor he will form an office of Public Integrity.

As summer progressed Ganim began picking off members of the Democratic Town Committee. Finch leveraged the power of incumbency to keep some town committee members in line. On the eve of the vote, Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa, never warm and friendly with Finch, announced he was all-in for Ganim. Finch held the endorsement. Just the appearance an eight-year incumbent had to fight to win the endorsement added another dimension to Finch’s political weakening. Ganim’s campaign operation took to the streets and within a week had qualified for the ballot through the petitioning process, touching thousands of Democratic voters.

Finch, Lyons, Malloy, Brantley at Black Horse

Finch with Governor Dan Malloy.

Meanwhile, a third candidate qualified for the Democratic primary, Mary-Jane Foster, Finch’s 2011 primary opponent who had little regard for Finch and Ganim. While waging a credible race against Finch in 2011, the University of Bridgeport executive didn’t take advantage of her first run, largely staying below the radar in the ensuing years. She got into the race late, bled political support from 2011 to Finch and Ganim, had trouble raising money and put her own loot in. But Foster and Ganim also smartly petitioned their way onto the general election ballot. They had a Plan B if the September primary did not work out. Finch took another route. Rather than petitioning his name directly onto the ballot for mayor in November if he lost the primary, Finch’s political operatives prevailed on Republican used-car salesman Rich DeParle to serve as a straw man under the Job Creation party line. DeParle creates party, he secures signatures for the ballot, he’s approved for the ballot, then resigns as the placeholder. Finch took this route for fear of looking weak for hedging his bets.

On September 16, Joe Ganim’s underdog campaign operation shocked outside observers with a tight win over Finch who became the first incumbent mayor in Bridgeport history to lose in a primary. Ganim ran up large pluralities in heavy African American precincts amassing a mighty retail operation that galvanized the anti-Finch vote unhappy about the direction of the city. Finch’s field operation was strong too, but Ganim inspired many new voters to the polls and others who had not participated in municipal elections. Foster finished a distant third. Finch announced primary night he would follow his Plan B on the Job Creation line. Days later, Foster, based on her primary performance and assumption that Finch would be on the November ballot announced her withdrawal from the general election.

Finch reelection on thin ice.

Campaign slip ups cost Finch.

A funny thing happened along the way to the general election. That very day OIB contacted Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office to determine Finch’s November ballot status. A spokesperson revealed that Finch’s name would not appear on the ballot. Someone in the Finch camp botched the paperwork ensuring his general election spot. Without a ballot line, Finch met with Republican mayoral candidate Rick Torres urging him to withdraw from the race so that Finch could be the Republican candidate. Torres rejected Finch’s deal.

Foster, Finch unite

Finch supported Mary-Jane Foster after primary loss.

Foster, although having announced she would leave the race, had not yet filed her written withdrawal notification. She reversed course, regrouped waiting to see if Finch would run as a long-shot write in candidate. Anathema of his legacy losing to Ganim, Finch decided Foster was the only chance to stop Ganim in November. Putting differences aside and to his credit, he threw his full public and financial support behind her, including some members of his campaign infrastructure following his lead. Finch combined with Foster’s fundraising operation has raised about $200,000, even outraising Ganim in the latest campaign finance reporting period. Foster’s campaign has new life and traction against Ganim, a formidable campaigner. Have they persuaded enough voters their way or have they run out of time?

Rick Torres makes pitch for mayor. He's a factor in race.

2015 Republican candidate for mayor Rick Torres.

Ganim as the Democratic nominee has financial strength, a passionate retail operation including a large chunk of the party apparatus led by Town Chair Mario Testa as Ganim seeks history.

Foster rally Klein

Foster campaign rally.

Foster is also trying to make history as a petitioning candidate in her quest for the mayoralty.

Torres, the Republican, is also a factor. Torres and Foster both enjoy a base of support in the high-turnout Black Rock School precinct where Ganim runs the weakest. They will split the Ganim anti vote there.

In less than 24 hours more than 61,000 eligible voters will decide this incredibly surreal election.


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29 Comments so far ↓

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Come to pass, the second election of Joe Ganim will be viewed as one of the dumbest things voters have done.

  • Lisa Parziale

    I received a call from a staff employee in J2′s office inviting me to a fundraiser tomorrow evening at Testo’s (yuck) restaurant. The minimum $250, maximum $2,000. The call came from a decent gentleman I met while we were volunteering for Joe’s primary against Finch, the only part of the call I enjoyed was hearing from this new friend; I almost wanted to take the call just to say hi. I don’t regret the challenge of having been a part of a history-making election, but the disappointment of not having the Mayor have my back when Testa (yuck) and McCarthy came into my district to work against me this past March, spoke volumes of what was to come. I never wanted anything in return for my efforts, just the expectation of a little gratitude and change to the City I love. So tomorrow night is the first fundraiser of what I’m sure will be many more to begin building a treasure chest in the event of a rerun. Well, unless there is noticeable progress in terms of Economic Development, no more tax increases, and hopefully the end of high-level patronage, it will take more than a treasure chest to make it happen again.

    • Maria Pereira

      Let’s make history again in 2019! I have already begun to lay the groundwork in the 138th!

      As neighborhood parents and grandparents rang my doorbell on Halloween night, they repeatedly engaged me about their taxes, crime in our neighborhood that has skyrocketed, and all the BOE madness.

      Ganim will not win the 138th in 2019. I have also spoken with several potential city council candidates in the 138th District.

  • Tom White

    Lennie, did Joe Ganim actually apologize for the crimes he committed? He was upfront about admitting he made mistakes. That was likely on his to-do list for becoming a candidate for mayor. The Connecticut Bar labeled him “an unrepentant felon” when they denied reinstatement of his license to practice law. Part of what makes his return to power an amazing story is the fact he has not admitted guilt for the felony crimes he was convicted of.

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Tom, when Ganim began his political rehab tour with the media, it started with radio station WPLR with Chaz & AJ. Chaz asked Joe, did the jury get it right? Ganim responded (uncomfortably) yes. See interview:
      www .youtube.com/watch?v=Ki6EkXMmic0
      You can decide if it’s a sincere apology.

      • Lisa Parziale

        Lennie, that was a very interesting watch. I don’t usually take the time to view video attachments, but my curiosity got the best of me. Since I never dwelled on the “apology issue,” not that I’m devaluing the necessity to do so, after watching that clip I would conclude Ganim apologized and admitted his indiscretions fully and clearly. Maybe this admission didn’t reach enough people, or maybe there are those who wanted the apology in blood on bended knees, I don’t know; what I do know is I unconditionally supported his return, believed in what I knew he was capable of doing for the City, and he let me down in both a personal and political manner. There’s time for a real comeback, but it will only happen when Joe realizes he needs to be surrounded by professional, experienced political advisors who will take him where he can go. It’s comforting to have friends surrounding you, but that won’t do it with the public. I would say “you’re back, now act like the Mayor you were the first time around. Don’t give your power to a Mario Testa, and don’t over-reward your friends.” After all is said and done, Ganim carries the freight, good, bad or indifferent.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Fourteen months ago the signs said “VOTE JOE GANIM” coupled with a red stop sign image that declared “Stop Raising Taxes.” Joe was trusted by enough voters to win 10 weeks later. But can you verify Joe’s call for a stop to raising taxes?

    Joe’s journey made its way through Reverend Stallworth’s congregation and people trusted Joe was repentant and sorry and whatever seemed to work for them. But has it worked for the community? This week Reverend Stallworth who is a pastor in the City as well as a State Representative and also a full-time City administrator talked about his expertise at “multi-tasking” and the community must ask him how is the Minority Business Resource Office operating. FY 2017 budgeted salaries doubled from last year’s actual but in three months only $14,666 has been spent instead of about $60,000. How does one verify the success of multi-tasking?
    Priorities are absent from Ganim2′s first-year presentations for the most part. And the education of youth is not Joe’s job anyway, but fair funding might be said to be an important part. Can we verify intent and activity?

    And those nasty folks last in office did all sorts of bad things with money and other resources, but are there any consequences for $20 Million deficits? Or patching them over with substantial sale of City property that is not a permanent solution? Or deferring at greater future expense pension obligations to the State for plans that were pushed by the unions and not resisted locally? What line item records the police consultant fee paid by Police Department budget if not under Police Administration? Or has the former Chief, now consultant, left Bridgeport’s employ?

    With 1.5 communication professionals not paid for by taxpayers, will one of them be able to answer the questions above or the one, asked previously, but no response: Where does Joe Ganim reside in Bridgeport, receive mail, IRS forms and correspondence from the State Motor Vehicle Department? Time will tell.

    • Ron Mackey

      JML, as CW4BB is holding meetings and trying to find the right direction, Ganim and Testa are getting ready to fund his reelection. The “mother’s milk” of politics is money and with money you can get your word and message out, they are way ahead of the game.

  • Marshall Marcus

    CT has a history of returning Convicted Felon Mayors to office after their prison terms.
    William Rado Sr. was Mayor of Naugatuck. He had a public political career in excess of 40 years.
    In 1943 he was elected Town Treasurer, in 1953 he pleaded guilty to improperly notarizing absentee ballots in the local election: ELECTION FRAUD. He was eventually pardoned and returned to Politics as the town Democratic Party leader. In 1973 he was elected mayor.
    In 1986 he was convicted of accepting bribes from a construction company seeking work from the town. In 1988 he served time in prison and then was on probation.
    In 1994 he won a seat on the DTC, then ran for mayor on an independent line defeating the incumbent mayor and Republican challenger.
    Naugatuck voters knew he was a crook. He pleaded guilty to election fraud and was convicted of accepting bribes. They didn’t care. They liked him as a person and returned him to office anyway.

    So like it or not, JG is just following CT history, not making it.
    www .nytimes.com/1995/05/09/nyregion/our-towns-a-shady-past-mayor-but-at-least-he-cares.html

    • Lisa Parziale

      Thanks for that history, Marshall. Amazing!!!

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Marshall, Bridgeport voters who brought Ganim back to office never heard of William Rado who served a couple of months in a state prison. So it’s not as though they were following history by bringing back a mayor who received a nine-year federal sentence.

      • Marshall Marcus

        I actually know some elderly Bridgeport voters who knew the story of William Rado. In fact one of them commented to me about it when Ganim was running, she was surprised I knew about Rado and his history.

        My point is what Ganim did is not new. Yes, he got a longer prison term, but a convicted former Mayor felon returning to office is a ‘been there done that’ in CT. If CT voters wanted to change the system not to allow it, it could have been done more than 20 years ago.

        • LennieGrimaldi

          Find me another elected official in the state of Connecticut charged federally, not by the state, who made a comeback. ‘Been there done that’–you make it sound like it’s commonplace. Political observers all across the state were flummoxed by Ganim’s comeback given the situation.

          • Tom White

            Marshall, Joe Ganim denied all the charges and lied under oath. He was convicted of serious felony charges. I never heard of William Rado.

    • Ron Mackey

      Marshall, William Rado Sr.’s son was on the Naugatuck basketball 1959-60 team, led by All-State star Billy Rado, went 19-3 and reached the Class L semifinals. Billy Rado Jr. was a legend in Connecticut high school basketball. The older guys at the Boys Club would talk about how good he was. Billy Rado Jr. played college basketball at the University where he made All American honorable mention in the 1960s.

      • Marshall Marcus

        I grew up in New Haven, but our family owned businesses in Waterbury from 1958-1980 so we always had the Waterbury newspapers in the house (which covered Naugatuck). I then worked as a personnel director for a mfg in Waterbury that had about 50% of our labor force form Naugatuck. I was tuned into local politics.

        Wm Rado Sr was beloved by the locals, but he was dishonest, caught and convicted. and elected again.
        What’s a little vote fraud, who cares if you took bribes and went to prison? Lennie seems to think it matters if you are prosecuted by the Feds and not the state. I don’t. Rado and Ganim were both ex-cons convicted for malfeasance in office, served prison time, then were elected to their former office.
        The RT8 corridor from Bridgeport to Waterbury had many a convicted mayor: Ganim, Rado, Bergin, Hayes, Santopietro, Giordano. Maybe it’s something in the water.

      • John Marshall Lee

        When Naugatuck made it to the semi-finals of the State 59-60 tournament they ran into either Wilbur Cross (New Haven) or Notre Dame (West Haven) who survived the State tournament as #1 and 2 and moved on to the New England tourney in Boston. Cross had an amazing player in Dave Hicks. And I remembered the shooting of Billy Rado, but not the political story around the family.
        Speaking of sports, who are you waiting for “next year?” Can you be as patient as necessary? Time will tell.

  • Gage Frank

    What an honor it is to live in a time where I get to see: Leonardo DiCaprio getting his first Oscar; the first African American POTUS, [hopefully] followed by the first female POTUS; Brexit; Obergefell v. Hodges; Mayweather v. Pacquiao; and the J.G. II comeback!

    He is our very own Buddy Cianci … *sigh*.

  • Bob Walsh

    Was this person making phone calls when he is supposed to be working for the city?
    I do believe that would be illegal.

  • Frank Gyure

    The only answer is to get rid of them. One year from now are City Council Elections and people need to start working on that now. Let me repeat. NOW!!! And then get rid of Ganim once and for all. Basically, we are ALL screwed (except for Mario’s ass-kissers) for at least ONE YEAR and up to another THREE YEARS.

  • Jeff Kohut

    The first year of G2 has to be graded as an “F.” The narrative for year #1 is largely plagiarized and was written without respect to an identifiable unifying theme or objective. The work is inferior and unacceptable and must be rewritten and resubmitted. The student should be considered to be on probation.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Thank you Lennie for that video clip. I had never seen it before. Joe reflects we “were on the right track (for the City), making progress with a clear vision and a team in place,” when “something happened,” “serious errors in judgment,” “at that time I did break the law, breached the trust and stopped the progress” of the City.

    That is the clearest I have heard Ganim discuss this part of his professional life and its effect on Bridgeport, the community. Think of the considerable waste, not only of his talents and energy, but in having to track and chase him and his cohorts to stop the bleeding. Think of the $55 Million City fund balance almost at its maximum percentage relative to the Operating budget. Think of the talented individuals who were working at that time for “the vision” departed and apparently not replaced in the Ganim2 performance thus far. Think of the current “vision” kept tightly secret in Joe’s mind, not shared as a plan or program with priorities to verify trust in this “second chance” opportunity. Anyone look back at the report of the committee that studied the Finch to Ganim2 transition? Did G2 feel that work was a failure, not to be considered? How do you grade that? Time will tell.

  • Tom White

    Joe Ganim cannot completely rewrite ‘The Joe Ganim Story,’ but he can certainly make the current and future chapters his redemption.
    Thank you for sharing the video clip again. “Something happened?” Power tends to corrupt and etc., etc. We saw it happening.
    I still feel though, Joe Ganim should stop making statements as if he may file another appeal. He should clearly state he committed the felony crimes he was convicted of and stop avoiding it.

  • Lisa Parziale

    Tom, I really don’t want to watch the clip again, but I thought when asked if the Judge got it right, Ganim hesitated then said yeah.

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