Despite a recent fundraiser for his 2019 mayoral campaign, last week, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim announced that he was seeking a declaratory ruling from the State Election Enforcement Commission as to whether he should be allowed to participate in the Citizen’s Election Program, despite having been convicted on felony charges prior to the legislation being enacted. The SEEC has directed staff to have a proposed declaratory ruling for its next meeting on June 21. If approved, it will then be posted and open for comment.
In a gubernatorial race that already has the makings of a three-ring circus, news that Ganim is looking to run for an unspecified state office would give P.T. Barnum pause.
But it also raises an interesting question: how will Democratic gubernatorial candidates deal with the Ganim conundrum?
In the mayor’s filing for a declaratory ruling, his lawyer fired a warning shot across the bow, by saying that his client “fights for ‘second chances’ for “all individuals” — clearly aimed at the “Second Chance Society” ideals of his party. But the goal of that proposed legislation is to help young people growing up in areas where they don’t have as many options and choices — to prevent them from getting on the prison track for life. It wasn’t aimed at adult men who grew up in privileged circumstances but still thought it was a good idea to take bribes while in public office and lie to a jury, according to the judge who sentenced him, when he denied any knowledge of a fee-splitting deal or other evidence. Anyone who can’t see the difference in that is one of the reasons our state has the moniker, “Corrupticut.”
It’s long been a point of frustration that no matter how much one complains to elected representatives about corruption in Bridgeport, it falls on deaf (or perhaps selectively deaf) ears.
Bridgeport resident David Walker, who has formed an exploratory committee for a gubernatorial bid on the Republican ticket, summed it up pretty well. “Bridgeport’s political machine is a modern-day Tammany Hall — the difference is that Bridgeport’s economy is nowhere near that of New York City.”
Interestingly, Walker was part of a bipartisan group of financial experts who offered Mayor Ganim pro bono services to give an independent, professional view of the city’s current relative financial condition and future prospects, and to examine things that could be done to improve its competitive posture, reduce the tax burden, and avoid bankruptcy over time. However, the Mayor’s office declined to work with the group. Despite Ganim’s lawyer’s claim that the Mayor is “further committed to open and transparent government — starting directly in Bridgeport,” requests for answers as to why he opted not to work with the group were not answered.
But party politics and corruption aren’t limited to one party in our state, as one of the potential Democratic contenders for governor, Chris Mattei, can attest. Mattei served as Chief of the Financial Fraud and Public Corruption Unit in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and was prosecutor on the second John G. Rowland corruption trial.
Mattei, at least, is refreshingly clear about where he stands.
“If we as Democrats are going to stand with working people who play by the rules, struggle every day, and rightly expect politicians to serve their interests and only their interests, then we need to speak with moral clarity on corruption,” Mattei said. “If a politician accepts half a million dollars in bribes and lies under oath in a federal courtroom, then we need stand against that, because that’s what the people we aim to serve expect and because that’s what right.“
If we’re going to fix the problems in our state, we’re going to have to move beyond blind partisanship and party politics.
“I think a significant majority of people in Connecticut, no matter what their political affiliation might be, understand that the state is in serious trouble and that it needs a dramatic course correction … in order to create a better future,” Walker said.
A big obstacle to overcoming both blind partisanship and corruption is our closed primary system.
Unaffiliated voters in our state now represent a bigger voting block (40.3 percent) than either Democrats (37 percent) or Republicans (21.4 percent). Yet they are unable to participate in the selection of candidates for the state’s highest offices because we have closed primaries — which encourages the kind of political patronage and, let’s face it, corruption, that has made us into “Corrupticut.”
“I’m an advocate of open primaries for the Republicans,” Walker said. “I’ve advocated that both privately and publicly. I’m also an advocate of integrated and open primaries overall. The parties control the primary system. The Republicans, if they wanted to, could have a semi-open primary. I’m an independent-minded and inclusive Republican. I’ve advocated for that. The turnout in the primaries is very low, and is disproportionately affected by people at the poles of each party.“
This has certainly hurt Connecticut Republicans as the party has become less traditional New England and more nationalist.
My colleague, Susan Bigelow, produces excellent electoral maps, and the changes in the voting patterns of our state are evident when you look at the last Rowland election compared to the second Malloy-Foley matchup — and even more so when you look at the Trump-Clinton matchup. Sure, there are pockets in Connecticut that are buying what the national GOP is selling. But overall? The state’s biggest tax base, Fairfield County, went for Hillary Clinton.
It’s unlikely that the parties will want to open up the primary process. But if we want to be a functional, productive state, we can’t go on being a corrupt one.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU (and as such is an AAUP member), and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
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