Joseph De Avila
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim won over voters in his city despite his criminal record. Now he is asking the rest of Connecticut to give him a chance to lead the entire state.
Mr. Ganim, a Democrat who spent seven years in federal prison for political-corruption crimes, officially launched a campaign for governor Wednesday. Current Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, declined to run for a third term. Connecticut, where economic growth has been weak, is struggling financially.
The 58-year-old Bridgeport mayor joins several other Democrats who have declared or expressed interest in running for governor in 2018, including Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew and former state Sen. Jonathan Harris. No other potential candidate has the baggage of a conviction for serious corruption crimes.
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Mr. Ganim acknowledged that his criminal record will be a challenge for his gubernatorial run and called himself “an unperfect candidate.” He added that he is willing to talk with voters about his past and to discuss what having a second chance has meant to him.
“I think people at the end of the day are going to want the person with the best experience and someone that can make positive change in their lives,” Mr. Ganim said.
Mr. Ganim served as Bridgeport’s mayor for five terms before he was convicted in 2003 on 16 felonies, including racketeering and extortion. His conviction involved a scheme in which associates funneled him hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, entertainment, food and home furnishings in exchange for city contracts.
He returned to politics in 2015 and defeated incumbent Democratic mayor Bill Finch in the primary and went on to easily win the general election. During his 2015 campaign, Mr. Ganim showed that he is an adept retail politician who remains popular in the Democratic stronghold of Bridgeport, the state’s most populous city with about 146,000 residents.
But whether voters in other parts of the state can be as forgiving as Bridgeport voters remains to be seen.
“His base is confined largely to the city,” said Gary Rose, chairman of the department of government, politics and global studies at Sacred Heart University. “I don’t believe that his viability extends beyond that.”
Mr. Rose said other Democratic candidates will take aim at Mr. Ganim’s criminal record if he begins to gain any traction in the race.
“Connecticut Democrats are so lost that they’re considering a convicted felon who served time in jail for political corruption to lead their party,” said John Burke, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. “If Joe Ganim is the best that Democrats have to offer the people of Connecticut after nearly eight years of disastrous failed leadership under Dan Malloy, they’re clearly not fit to govern the state.”
Mr. Ganim will also have to compete without the aid of Connecticut’s public finance system where qualifying candidates can access $1.35 million for primary campaigns and an additional $6.5 million for the general election.
State law bars people convicted of political crimes from participating in Connecticut’s taxpayer-funded public finance system, called the Citizens Election Program. A federal judge ruled against Mr. Ganim in November after the candidate challenged the state law.
Mr. Ganim said he expects to raise enough money to run a competitive campaign. The candidate said he has raised nearly $200,000. A state campaign finance filing from October shows that Mr. Ganim had raised about $145,000.
Mr. Ganim said his six terms as mayor of Bridgeport give him the most well-rounded experience out of any candidate to lead the state. He said he wants to focus on fixing the state’s fiscal and economic problems.
“We’ve seen high-profile losses in Connecticut. Without casting blame, it shows we’ve done something wrong,” Mr. Ganim said. “Not only do we want to reverse that, we should be in position to drive job creation and investment.”
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