A disgraced former mayor of Connecticut’s biggest city is making a bid for a political comeback, and it’s beginning to look like he may have a chance.
Joseph Ganim, who was released from prison in 2010 after serving seven years for corruption, has the endorsement of Bridgeport’s police union and has reported raising more than $223,000 in contributions as he aims to oust incumbent Mayor Bill Finch.
His campaign has picked up momentum with promises to fight crime with more police, to improve schools and to pursue the kind of development that helped bring Bridgeport back from the brink of bankruptcy when he was mayor between 1991 and 2003.
As for his criminal past, he issued a public apology earlier this year. He said in an interview Tuesday that the support he has received shows people respect a person who owns up to his errors.
“It shows me that people do understand that people can make mistakes, deal with them openly and honestly, and recommit themselves to helping others,” Ganim said.
The first real test of Ganim’s strength will be a July 21 meeting of the Democratic Town Committee, which will endorse one of the five mayoral candidates. The all-important primary in the heavily Democratic city of 150,000 people is Sept. 16.
Mario Testa, the local Democratic committee chairman and a friend of Ganim’s, said it is a close race for the party endorsement and for now, he is not supporting any particular candidate.
“Everybody has got a piece of the pie,” Testa said.
Ganim was sentenced to prison in 2003 for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive wine, custom clothes, cash and home improvements. He was convicted on 16 charges, including extortion, bribery and racketeering.
Since his release, the 55-year-old Ganim has worked as a legal assistant at his family’s Bridgeport law firm and has run a consulting business for others facing federal prison. He has unsuccessfully sought the return of the law license that was stripped from him.
Finch, the two-term incumbent, has touted his own record on reducing crime and improving schools while his campaign has frequently reminded voters of Ganim’s convictions. Finch, whose campaign has raised $515,000, said Wednesday he is taking all four of his in-party rivals seriously.
Susan Katz, a professor of mass communication at the University of Bridgeport, said the “incredible strength” of the Ganim campaign owes partly to nostalgia for a stretch of time marked by stable taxes and major developments such as the Webster Bank Arena.
“The Ganim years were good ones,” she said. “People remember that.”
The president of the police union, Sgt. Chuck Paris, said recent shootings at the Trumbull Gardens housing complex should highlight what he describes as a shortage of officers. He said the union voted to endorse Ganim last week after the former mayor reached out and discussed how he could support the police department.
Does he think Ganim can return to the mayor’s office?
“Absolutely,” Parish said. “He’s got a great chance.”
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