Few things in life are as interesting and delicious to watch as the rehabilitation of a corrupt politician. When the mighty fall, they do one of two things: they either crawl under a rock and you hear from them only sporadically if at all (Richard Nixon, Philip Giordano); or they emerge from jail proclaiming their reformation and try mightily to regain the approval of the public, only to get in trouble again (John Rowland, Ernie Newton).
But even by the storied standards of the hypermasculine “Corrupticut,” Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim has displayed an uncommon amount of testicular fortitude. In 2003, he was convicted of 16 corruption-related counts, including racketeering, extortion, bribery, and mail fraud. Essentially, Ganim and his aides shook down city contractors for more than half a million in cash, meals, clothing, wine and home renovations. Why? Because they could.
In an exhibition that removed all doubt about whether he had any remorse for his actions, Ganim asserted that all 52 prosecution witnesses who implicated him in the six-year corruption scheme were lying and that he himself was the lone truthful voice. Federal District Court Janet Arterton had had enough. She sentenced Ganim to nine years in prison, but he got out after only seven.
After his release, Ganim set about rehabilitating himself. And where better to start than the Bridgeport mayor’s office? A year-and-a-half ago, he campaigned to regain the office he had previously disgraced, and bested his nearest opponent by a margin of 2-1. He did not, however, apologize for his role in the corruption scheme until a few months before he ran for mayor again, which tells you something about his level of sincerity.
Never one to leave well enough alone, Ganim announced last month that he’s forming an exploratory committee to see whether the ground is fertile for a gubernatorial run. Mind you, this was only about 18 months after winning back the office he had had to abdicate in shame 14 years ago. And only about a month after holding a fundraiser for a potential mayoral re-election campaign.
The arrogance is breathtaking, even by the titanic standards of Connecticut politics. Heck, even fellow Bridgeportian Ernie Newton didn’t run for the highest office in the state. Newton’s on record as saying he’d even settle for running the city dump.
But in order to gain public financing for his potential gubernatorial campaign through the state’s Citizen’s Election Program, Ganim must petition the State Elections Enforcement Commission because, by law, convicted felons cannot receive public financing through the program.
In a self-serving and self-pitying op-ed in The Courant last week, Ganim said he wanted “a fair opportunity to make my case for helping the people of Connecticut” and that “this law conflicts with the purpose of the election program and harms the democratic process.”
Yes, the law does impede the ability of voters to cast ballots for a taxpayer-funded candidate convicted on 16 counts of corruption-related crimes. Spare me. You’d have a really hard time convincing me the democratic process is harmed without Ganim on the ballot. Why?
For starters, there are several Democratic heavy-hitters eyeing a run for governor, including Comptroller Kevin Lembo, former Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew and former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei, who just happens to be the same guy who put Ganim’s rival in the corruption department, ex-Gov. John Rowland, back in prison.
Despite his manifest flaws, Rowland at least had the good sense not to aim for the highest office in the state again. He went for the highest-wattage radio station — but it turns out that was only between jail stints.
No, I think the best comparison to make is between Ganim and ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner. Shortly after disgracing himself in a sexting scandal, Weiner was desperate to get back into the spotlight and mounted an ill-fated campaign for New York City mayor.
His counterpart on the state level, disgraced former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who was also looking to revive his political fortunes, was smart enough to run for city comptroller instead. Both lost, but Spitzer came much closer to returning to public office. Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere for Ganim.
What would his campaign slogan be? “He’ll do for the state what he did for Bridgeport.” Impossible. Look at our finances and corruption. The state’s already a laughing stock.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
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