Connecticut Republicans just completed their weekend convention at Foxwoods. Up next, the Democratic convention in Hartford where Mayor Joe Ganim hopes to secure 15 percent delegate support to make the August primary ballot for governor. Failing that, he’s working Plan B: petitioning onto the ballot needing more than 15,000 certified signatures from Democratic electors, a long, hard slog. Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa will be at Ganim’s side this weekend horse-trading his 90 delegates to leverage support for Ganim around the state. Weird things happen at conventions.
In 1991, 32-year-old Ganim was elected mayor. Three years later he was a candidate for governor. In 2015 Ganim made a comeback to office. Three years later he’s a candidate for governor. Heading into the Dem convention the endorsement momentum is with Greenwich entrepreneur Ned Lamont. Former Connecticut Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, positioning for a primary, has delegate support as well.
This is a good time to reminisce about the afternoon in 1994, the day Mario drilled the state Democratic Party bosses, in this OIB rewind. Full disclosure: I was Ganim’s campaign manager during the convention madness.
In 1994 Joe Ganim, in his second term as mayor, was a candidate for governor. Joe got into the race after Governor Lowell Weicker, who had helped bail out the city from fiscal hell, decided not to seek reelection. The campaign was cash rich and delegate poor so when making the ballot wasn’t in the cards for Joe (you could not petition your way on back then), Joe backed out of the race one week before the Democratic convention throwing his support behind likely endorsed candidate State Senate leader John Larson (today Congressman Larson) with the hope he’d select Joe as his running mate.
During the Democratic convention in Hartford, as Larson’s boys including Senate Majority Leader William DiBella pondered selection of the second slot, a contingent of Connecticut mayors who wanted one of their own on the ticket adjourned to a watering hole in the Hartford Civic Center, among them Hartford Mayor Mike Peters and Waterbury Mayor Ed Bergin as well as Mario and Ganim.
Mayor Mike and Mayor Ed were lubing up the joint. They were feeling pretty good. Finally the call came. Larson had made his decision. They all squeezed into a conference room while delegates in the civic center convention hall waited for an answer.
Larson, facing dozens of Democratic big shots, announced, “I think it’s time to embrace Rich Balducci,” he told the crowd. Balducci, a long-time legislator, had also been a candidate for governor. Emerging from a back room thumping his chest, Balducci announced, “I want everyone to know that I’ll be running as an independent lieutenant governor,” suggesting he’d take the second slot but he’d not be breaking his ass for the ticket. Balducci had also given his word to State Comptroller Bill Curry, the other Dem guber candidate in the race, that he would not work against him.
The place was in stunned silence. This is the person Larson chose? Bridgeport Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa would have none of it. The little man with big ones edged closer to Balducci. “Wait a minute, Mr. Balducci,” drawing out his name, “are you telling us you’re not going to support Larson?”
Balducci stammered on his words. In a flash chaos erupted.
“What the fuck is going on around here!” Mayor Peters screamed.
“Yeah, what the fuck is this!” Mayor Bergin yelled.
Peters walked up to Larson and declared: “We’re going to settle this right now.”
Peters, Bergin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano circled with Ganim. “Joe,” Peters asked, “do you want to be lieutenant governor?”
Joe nodded yes.
“That settles it,” Bergin chimed in.
The mayors walked up to Larson and said “Enough of this horseshit, Joe’s gonna be the candidate.” So it was done. That’s how 34-year-old Joe Ganim became the candidate for lieutenant governor in 1994. It didn’t work out. Larson lost the primary to Bill Curry and Curry lost the general election (with Joe as his running mate) to Republican John Rowland.
For Mario, however, that afternoon in the cramped room was political bliss. So the next time you’re in Mario’s restaurant, ask him about the 1994 gubernatorial convention and he will crack a Kermit smile.