I’m wondering what OIB readers think about our elected officials. Certainly, there’s opinion aplenty about Mayor Bill Finch and some others on a regular basis.
What about Congressman Jim Himes? Yeah I know, much too soon to make a representative judgment based on four months in office.
What about about those herculean leaders on the Bridgeport City Council? So far, we’ve heard about one solid primary as OIB friend Andy Fardy and running mate Ann Barney make their case to voters in the 138th District. If you could wave your magic wand, which council members would stay and go? All the dramatic electoral action is slated for next year: governor, U.S. senate, legislative races and judge of probate. By the way, Chris Dodd has a Dem challenger, Merrick Alpert www.merrickforachange.com. More on that Tuesday.
Council members run every two years, the mayor every four. In fact, when voters approved a four-year term for mayor in 1998, a four-year term for council intentionally was not included.
I managed the campaign for the four-year term, turning it into a referendum on then-popular Mayor Joe Ganim, without the baggage the legislative body could bring to the turnout effort. The four-year term for mayor had been defeated several times with voters saying the council was not worthy of four years.
Joe had wanted a four-year term for a couple of reasons: yes, to eliminate running every two years, a pain in the butt, but also with the new four-year term that would begin with results of the 1999 election, Joe was set up perfectly for a run for governor in 2002. The way Joe had built political relationships around the state, and the perceived turn-around of the city, he had a decent shot to be the Democratic candidate for governor.
Didn’t happen. Joe encountered a minor problem on the way to the 2002 guber election and, well, you know that story.
But that 1998 cycle was a crazy time for me, juggling the four-year term effort for Joe, Paul Ganim’s campaign for judge of probate and Tom Ganim running for state senate. Three Ganim brothers, three different races, my arms and legs tugged sharply in opposite directions by Ganim campaign initiatives. I was two for three that year. Joe got his four-year term, Paul won a primary squeaker over Democratic-endorsed candidate Kevin Boyle and Tom lost the suburban race to John McKinney.
The only job Kevin Boyle, a long-time Dem operative, ever wanted was to be judge of probate, a city-wide position. Kevin had the endorsement all locked up when Paul decided to jump into the race.
Joe wasn’t crazy about Paul running. Party pols loyal to Boyle were beating him up. Paul was schmoozing me to help him. “Lennie, what’s Joe going to to do, let his brother get his ass kicked by the party?” Joe was popular with voters. Not so much with local pols because Joe did not suck up to them.
Joe was reluctant to get into it, however, preferring to maintain political peace. Then one day, Joe eyed Boyle’s bumper sticker: Loyalty, Not Royalty. Joe was pissed. That was it. Showdown against the party pols. Understand that primaries are different animals than general elections. This is where party workers must step up for the endorsed candidate. And every time I looked around for campaign operatives that had helped me in races past they were working for Boyle. Drivers, pullers, precinct workers, you name it. Sorry, Lennie, I’m working for Kevin.
So, basically, the race came down to the brother of a popular mayor against the party-endorsed candidate backed by that big bad political machine you hear so much about. Popularity, however, is rarely transferable. We were recruiting folks, yes city employees, that had never worked an election before. Shit, I had trouble finding workers to hand out palm cards at precincts. Boyle had an army at each school. Party animals were pissed that Joe’s brother dared to take on Boyle.
State Rep. Ernie Newton, supporting Boyle, told Joe to go fuck himself. Me too. But Ernie was playing his own stick-up games that would eventually land him in the same joint as Joe.
Everything leaned toward a Boyle victory. For Joe, the summer primary became a sporting event (Joe’s not a guy driven by a lot of emotion) and he had to beat the party without it becoming too personal.
To his credit Paul worked his ass off. And Joe did his part. I did my part, mail pieces, radio, the usual shit, with a little added flavor. OIB friend Tom Kelly loves to jab me for the the way Paul’s name appeared on the ballot: Paul Joseph Ganim. Hey, whatever edge you have you use.
More than 9,000 Democrats voted in that primary, more than would vote in the Bill Finch/Chris Caruso mayoral primary nine years later. Paul Ganim ended up on the same line as State Rep. Chris Caruso who had a primary challenge from city police officer Verna Cook, courtesy of Town Chair Mario Testa. Actually that primary, although not intended, gave Mario a lot of cover from both Boyle workers and Joe. Mario could say I’m too busy trying to beat Caruso.
Caruso won handily. The probate race was a close call. Paul managed to beat Boyle by 80 or so votes on the machines, another 100 or so via absentee ballot.
Four years later (I was then out of the picture after a falling out with Joe in 1999) Boyle beat Paul on the machines by a few dozen votes in a rematch but was swamped by the party’s ab operation. What happened? Embittered by his 1998 loss, Boyle blamed many party regulars for his loss, despite his shortcomings as a candidate. In return, the party gravitated to Paul, now the incumbent, with his brother under indictment.
Paul and Boyle met again one more time in 2006 and Paul won again, this time comfortably. Paul is up for reelection again next year and some compelling names have surfaced as potential challengers include Mary-Jane Foster, co-founder of the Bridgeport Bluefish, a vice president at the University of Bridgeport and City Council President Tom McCarthy.
Paul will not be easy to beat, despite his misdemeanor pinch for a domestic altercation (assuming there’s not more to that case). The Ganim name still plays well in some neighborhoods, Paul’s a hard campaigner and probate is a place to make lots of friends.
And by the time that race takes place, if Paul has a challenge, Joe could be out of the joint.