September 2015 Shocker: Revenant Ganim Stuns Finch, Wins Primary, Finch Botches November Ballot Spot

Ganim comeback
Ganim’s resurrection. Sue Katz photo.

Is there any doubt about the story of the year in Connecticut’s largest city? Joe Ganim rocketed from political hell to heaven defeating incumbent Bill Finch in the September primary on his way to a general election win. OIB story from primary night:

Former Mayor Joe Ganim on Wednesday bolstered his quest for redemption shocking Mayor Bill Finch in a tight Democratic primary by roughly 400 votes, according to unofficial returns. Ganim received 6,264 votes to Finch’s 5,859, according to unofficial returns including absentee ballots. Mary-Jane Foster finished a distant third with 1,177.

Hundreds cheered Ganim at a victory party at Testo’s Restaurant owned by Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa who popped a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the win. Testa supported Ganim’s efforts in the remaining weeks of the primary after years of a scratchy relationship with Finch.

Testa, numbers
Mario Testa, center, reviews results. He popped bubbly shortly after.

Ganim and Testa both said the party is a big tent and welcomed everyone in. “As we stand together today, I have to reach out and say to so many here: thank you, thank you!” Ganim said.

Following a somber mood, at 10 p.m. Finch emerged to chants of four more years and “save our city” on the stage of the Bijou Theatre as he prepares for a November battle against party nominee Ganim. Finch presumably has a ballot spot in November on the newly created Job Creation Party advanced by Black Rock used-car salesman Rich DeParle as a placeholder for Finch if he lost the primary.

Flanked by supporters and family members, Finch emphasized governing for the long run. He said his son told him “don’t stop daddy, don’t stop,” to cheers from the crowd. He recited a list of accomplishments asserting he will take his case to Democrats, independents and Republicans. “Bridgeport is moving forward and to the future … we will take our city home for generations to come.” Finch hammered Ganim on stage asserting progress could not have been made with a corrupt administration. But several Finch supporters in the room quietly suggested Finch’s negative campaign tone against Ganim had backfired, including an inflammatory mailer accusing Ganim of working for a white supremacist in 2010. Ganim at the time was a legal assistant for a law firm that provided representation of the defendant facing weapons charges.

Ganim gotv
Ganim with his passionate supporters at headquarters.

This was a night, however, for Ganim and supporters to savor the moment in his comeback following his conviction on corruption charges in 2003 and withstanding strident attacks from the Finch campaign. Ganim ran stronger in some neighborhoods than expected, such as Winthrop School in the heart of the North End. He carried the precinct hammering home a tax message there. Ganim ran up pluralities in the African American-rich East End while also performing well in the diverse Hooker School precinct in the Upper East Side.

To many outside observers, the thought of a former mayor who spent seven years in prison for public corruption running a competitive race against an eight-year incumbent is jaw-dropping. But Ganim connected with many inner city voters largely on a second-chance message, while highlighting public safety and taxes and quality of life issues.

He campaigned relentlessly across the city complemented by an army of volunteers.

Testo's crowd
Ganim supporters cheer at Testo’s Restaurant. Sue Katz photo.

Ganim returned from prison in 2010 working as a paralegal in his father’s family-run law practice while making an application to regain his law license stripped following his conviction in 2003. A three-judge panel rejected Ganim’s rationale for regaining his license, ruling he had shown no contrition in the face of overwhelming evidence he had violated the public trust. The lower court’s decision was upheld unanimously by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

The ruling had stunted Ganim’s economic earning potential. Without a law license, who’d pay him an annual salary package plus benefits of $150,000 that comes with being mayor of Connecticut’s largest city? Ganim examined his options. Yes, redemption was part of the comeback plan but so too were finances with alimony and child support payments to make.

Ganim weighed the political landscape. He felt Finch was vulnerable enough on bread and butter issues such as taxes and crime to attempt a comeback.

Ganim started his comeback informally on January 1, in the East End church of supporter State Rep. Charlie Stallworth who serves as pastor. He made his first public disclosure he had violated the public trust after 14 years of denying he had done anything wrong.

Political operatives had urged Ganim to show contrition if he had any chance for a comeback. Many people who have experienced trouble–or know someone who has–they argued will respond to a comeback story.

Ganim stitched together factions of the party that experienced a falling-out with Finch with a declaration of a city that works for everyone. Highlighting 10 straight years of no tax increase while he was mayor, Ganim formed an exploratory committee in the spring testing his fundraising strength at Vazzy’s in Stratford. More than 300 attended amassing an early warchest of $50,000 that surprised even Ganim.

Ganim then formed a full-blown candidate committee devoting most of his attention to raising money and schmoozing the 90-member Democratic Town Committee that decides the party endorsement for mayor. Ganim was like a Chihuahua nipping at Finch’s heels, picking off enough town committee members to reach his goal of 45 votes that would grant him the convention endorsement, a tie broken on the promise of Town Chairman Mario Testa who had testy relationship with Finch whom he says paid him no respect as the town chair.

The mayor, however, controls the candy store, and on the weekend before the convention vote, was able to reel in enough votes to secure a hotly contested endorsement.

The fact Ganim came even that close to the endorsement marveled some political observers. The next day Ganim and supporters set out to petition his name onto the ballot receiving more than enough of the 1900 or so signatures to qualify for the ballot.

The race was on and Ganim campaigned relentlessly, raising money, hitting events, knocking on doors, attending family barbecues. He touted support from the police union and even the federal agent Ed Adams, now a private investigator, who had probed his administration.

About a week after the primary OIB broke this story:

Mayor Bill Finch’s ballot access is not getting better every day. Av Harris, spokesman for the Connecticut Secretary of State’s Office, told OIB Monday afternoon the Job Creation Party that was created as a backup plan if Finch did not survive the Democratic primary will not have a ballot spot as a result of failing to meet a September 2 filing deadline notifying the office of its designated endorsement. That would have been Black Rock used-car salesman Rich DeParle who was apparently holding the spot for Finch. The decision now limits Finch’s ballot options that could leave only one path for reelection, as a long-shot write-in candidate.

Rather than petition Finch directly onto the ballot as an individual, the Finch political operation rolled the dice on creating a new minor party with DeParle as the straw man. DeParle filed all the correct paperwork, including securing enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. He had even submitted his letter of resignation as the minor party’s mayoral designee. The problem came when the party organizers failed to meet the deadline for naming its endorsement. As a result, it has been disqualified for the ballot.

Petitioning candidates cannot give up their ballot spot to another individual. The only way that can happen is if a political party entity such as the Republican Party in the case of Torres or the New Movement Party fronted by Coviello give up their spot. “I’m not giving up my spot to Finch,” Coviello says. “This now makes me more viable.”

Last Wednesday Finch became the first incumbent in city history to lose in a primary, jumpstarting the once unfathomable comeback of former Mayor Joe Ganim who was forced from office following his conviction on federal corruption charges in 2003. Campaigning relentlessly all over the city, Ganim shocked Finch on primary day forcing the mayor to seek out a ballot path in the November general election. The mayor last week announced to supporters he would be the candidate of the Job Creation Party. Now that he has lost that option, barring Coviello or Torres ceding their positions to him, his only option is as a write-in candidate in November. He must file that paperwork with elections officials by Oct. 20.

Connecticut Secretary of the State Denise Merrill on Tuesday announced the shadowy political party created as a backup plan for Mayor Bill Finch’s primary loss failed to meet a key filing deadline. As a result the Job Creation Party will not appear on the November ballot.

Merrill statement:

“As of the filing deadline of September 2, 2015, the Office of the Secretary of the State had not received a statement of endorsement pursuant to General Statutes 9-453o(b) from the Job Creation Party for the office of mayor and has received no such statement to date. Therefore, pursuant to Connecticut election law, no mayoral candidate for that party will appear on the November 3 municipal ballot in Bridgeport. I have no comment on the potential litigation mentioned in a statement by the campaign of Mayor Bill Finch. My office does not comment on potential or pending litigation.”


Leave a Reply