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Out of jail, Bridgeport’s ex-mayor hints at a new run

Ganim points to support in poll, Facebook

Despite his conviction on corruption charges, Joseph Ganim is praised by some who say he improved Bridgeport. Despite his conviction on corruption charges, Joseph Ganim is praised by some who say he improved Bridgeport.
By John Christoffersen
Associated Press / July 14, 2011

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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Former Bridgeport mayor Joseph Ganim, released a year ago after serving nearly seven years in prison for corruption, has expressed some interest in running again to lead Connecticut’s largest city.

The city’s powerful Democratic boss says Ganim, 51, would like to run, but he is backing Mayor Bill Finch and discouraged Ganim from running.

“He has some aspiration for running,’’ said Mario Testa, chairman of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee who has met with Ganim. “Right now I don’t think it’s the right time for him to jump into the ring.’’

Testa said he does not believe Ganim will run in the Democratic primary in September, but did not rule it out and acknowledged he could run as an independent in the general election in November.

Ganim would not say whether he is considering a run but said he has been approached by hundreds of people with encouraging comments. He also said a Facebook page has been created to encourage him to run and cited a poll showing he leads among Democratic candidates. The poll was taken by Merriman River Group on behalf of Only in Bridgeport, a blog run by a former Ganim associate who testified against him at his corruption trial.

Ganim said he has been busy with his foundation, which raises money for youth groups. He also has been working at his family’s law practice in Bridgeport.

“I’m real flattered by this but at the moment - but at the very moment - that’s where my focus is,’’ Ganim said.

Ganim was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2003 for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive wine, custom clothes, cash, and home improvements.

Ganim was convicted of 16 corruption charges, including extortion, bribery, and racketeering. His sentence was reduced after he participated in a drug treatment program.

Ganim was a popular mayor, often credited with reviving Bridgeport as it emerged from bankruptcy, and he had ambitions to become governor. Ganim, first elected in 1991, was serving his fifth term when he was indicted in 2001.

Other mayors, such as Marion Barry in Washington and Buddy Cianci in Providence, have won reelection after they were convicted of crimes.

As Ganim drops hints about a possible run, political specialists are divided over whether he will run in this year’s race and his prospects.

Ganim could pull off a comeback in a crowded field of Democrats where he might not need a large percentage of votes and voter turnout could be low, said Gary Rose, a politics professor at Sacred Heart University.

“There are people in Bridgeport who appreciate what he did for them, irrespective of the corruption,’’ Rose said. “I think there is a very real chance Joe Ganim could make a comeback.’’

But Ganim has shown no signs of running, such as raising money, and lives in a neighboring suburb, said Donald Greenberg, an associate professor of politics at Fairfield University. He said Ganim is too much of a liability for Democratic party officials and lacks an organization to get out the vote.

“I don’t think he’s going to run,’’ Greenberg said.

Voters interviewed yesterday in downtown Bridgeport offered mixed views.

Richard Tenenbaum, a 60-year-old lawyer who works in Bridgeport and lives in Weston, said he was in Washington when Barry got reelected and went on to do a terrible job. He said Ganim should not run.

“He committed crimes against the people and should not be coming back,’’ Tenenbaum said. “I think he has no credibility. Bridgeport has enough problems without having a mayor who is not going to be taken seriously.’’

Andrew Martinez, a 32-year-old college student who lives in Bridgeport, said Ganim improved the city’s appearance but fundamental problems remained. He said many people recall the good and overlook the bad, but he does not share that view.

“He betrayed the public trust,’’ Martinez said. “That should just completely exclude him.’’

The Rev. Errol Johnson, a 53-year-old Bridgeport resident, is among those who remember Ganim’s accomplishments as mayor, such as a reduction in crime, and said he would consider voting for him. He said there are plenty of crooked politicians, but he also noted people can change in prison.

“I think he did a good job,’’ Johnson said. “He changed the whole city.’’