HARTFORD, CT — “A whole bunch of people got together and they didn’t want me to run,” Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim explains to a group of men hanging out on Park Street.
Ganim, an ex-convict, told the group that the other candidates in the race for governor “are not coming to the neighborhoods here.”
It was a pitch to get them to sign his petition.
Ganim needs 15,458 signatures from registered Democratic voters in order to qualify for the Democratic primary on August 14. Last weekend, he failed to get the 15 percent of the delegates he needed to automatically get on the ballot.
“They can’t hit what they can’t see,” Ganim said quoting Muhammad Ali.
Henry Jemison, who Ganim registered to vote before getting him to sign the petition, said “nobody is coming to the city.”
Ganim said he’s motivated to run for office to represent people in the cities who often are ignored when it comes to public policy.
“I would invite any candidate running to come walk with me,” Ganim said.
The unemployment rate in the city of Hartford is slightly higher than the state average and much higher in the neighborhood Ganim was walking Thursday.
Ganim walked the street with a handful of volunteers and campaign staffers, some of whom spoke Spanish, and were better able to communicate his quest for signatures in a neighborhood with a large Puerto Rican and Hispanic population.
Just blocks from the state Capitol and Hartford Hospital many didn’t know what to make of Ganim, who served seven years in federal prison for racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, extortion, theft of honest services, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, and filing false tax returns, while others were eager to shake his hand and sign his petition.
Fredo Castillo, a Bridgeport council member, accompanied Ganim Thursday.
He reminisced about all the things they’ve done over the last few weeks to get signatures.
Castillo said she helped a pregnant woman move a refrigerator, and another woman and her children break into their house because they had forgotten their keys.
He laughed about how they ignored a “Beware of Dog” sign and Ganim was forced to jump back and forth over a fence to shake a pitbull, who quickly figured out he could get around the fence.
“You gotta come to the people,” Castillo said.
He said it’s also a great way to get their voices heard.
Ganim, who has been focused on the petition drive, said there’s been a lot of things in his personal life that he let go, such as getting a shower curtain for his bathroom and a haircut.
Ganim said he finally made it to Home Depot for a shower curtain and picked up 10 signatures while he was there. As for the haircut? Ganim got that taken care of Thursday on Park Street.
“Not too short,” he kept telling Felix Mojica.
Mojica, who was wearing an ankle bracelet, later signed Ganim’s petition.
If Mojica is on probation he can vote, but if he’s on parole he can’t and his signature wouldn’t count toward Ganim’s 15,458 signatures.
Legislation that would allow parolees to vote got a debate in the House this year, but never got a vote.
Ganim said they look up the information on their phones sometimes if the person doesn’t know how they are registered, but it’s a time consuming process. Sometimes it’s just easier to get the signature and move on. All of the signatures will need to be checked by the local registrar of voters in the city or town where the voter is registered.
Ganim encountered voters from East Hartford and Bristol Thursday and had to make sure their signatures were on different sheets of paper that are headed directly to the towns where the voters are registered.
He has until June 12 to submit the signatures and have them verified.
The law gives the Registrar of Voters seven days to verify the signatures once they receive them. They’re supposed to give a receipt to the campaign to say how many were verified. They then have to mail the information to the Secretary of the State’s office, so it’s possible the ballot won’t take shape until later than June 12.
As of Thursday the Ganim campaign said they had collected over 14,000 signatures. But Ganim said of the ones they’ve submitted about 75 percent are coming back as signatures that will count toward the total.
Some people don’t know if they are registered with a party and Connecticut has a closed primary system, so the voter signing Ganim’s form would need to be registered with the Democratic Party.
Ted Lorson, a spokesman for Ganim’s campaign, said the campaign is paying some people to collect signatures, but he was unable to say how many and at what rate.
Some of the people are volunteers and true believers that Ganim is exactly the type of leader the state needs.
Beverne Cordner, a case manager at the Department of Developmental Services, and Cynthia Jennings, an environmental and civil rights attorney who also serves on the Hartford City Council, are just two of the members of Ganim’s signature collection effort in Hartford.
Guy Smith, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, is also collecting signatures.
A spokesman for Smith’s campaign said they are paying about 50 workers $15 an hour to collect signatures. He said there are another 100 volunteers also contributing to the effort.
At Bear’s Restaurant on Front Street in Hartford, Ned Lamont, who received the endorsement of the Democratic Party last weekend, said Ganim has the right to do what he’s doing.
“I’ll keep it on the issues,” Lamont said following his meal and a tour of the restaurant that prides itself on giving former inmates jobs.
Ed Marcus, the former Democratic Party chairman, penned an editorial in the Courant Thursday that concluded that Ganim will come out of the petition drive in much better shape.
“The strong likelihood is that those signers of his petitions — at least a significant majority of them — will actually vote for Ganim in a primary, as will their family members,” Marcus wrote. “Once you sign a petition for someone, you tend to feel you have a vested interest in that candidacy.”
That’s what Ganim is hoping.
Castillo said Ganim is restless. He said he grabbed a clipboard on Sunday and just walked out on his own to collect signatures.
Ganim will be in New Haven on Friday and Greenwich on Saturday. But he wasn’t certain whether he would be knocking on Lamont’s door and asking for his signature.
“I don’t know where he lives,” Ganim said.