I don’t know what to make of Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim or his persistent, energetic, probably quixotic campaign for governor. Do you? Does Ned Lamont? Does anyone?
Somehow, after all the other more acceptable candidates dropped away to back Ned Lamont, Joe Ganim was still standing. It’s hard for me to understand how a guy who was convicted of corruption during his original stint as mayor of Bridgeport and spent seven years in prison could be giving Ned Lamont, the party’s anointed candidate, a run for his money.
Or maybe it’s not that hard to understand. Nobody outside Bridgeport thought that jailbird Ganim should run for mayor again in 2015. That would be like letting the fox back into the henhouse after he’d promised, pinky swear, that he wouldn’t do anything bad this time.
But he did run, and he won.
The horrified gasps could be heard from all around the state when that happened. To be fair, it was 2015, and our politics hadn’t quite descended into the garbage circus they are now. It was still just barely possible to believe that there could be higher standards for elected officials, and that the people really did have some special collective wisdom.
Maybe Joe Ganim was an omen, a stalking horse for Trump. Maybe he got lucky that the people running against him were so inept. Or maybe he was just an exceptionally talented politician whose hustle and redemption narrative struck a chord with voters, who decided to give the guy another chance.
So far he hasn’t blown it, and he’s turned whatever success he’s had in Bridgeport into a very unlikely gubernatorial campaign.
Does any of this outweigh the fact that in 2003 he was convicted of forcing contractors doing business with the city to pay him bribes? The convictions were so clear and obvious that nobody thought he could ever return to politics. A New York Times article from 2003 reported that political and legal experts were of the opinion that “…Mr. Ganim was convicted on such a broad array of charges that a political comeback is all but out of the question.”
And yet, here we are. It’s a heck of a story, if nothing else.
I still don’t really understand why he’s running for governor, though. He hasn’t even finished a full term in his second run as mayor yet, and he had to have known that everyone and their uncle were going to use his past as a cudgel to beat him with. His chances of winning aren’t great, even if he pulls off a miracle and wins the primary. Republicans are salivating at the thought of running against an ex-con, and exorcising the ghost of John Rowland.
It could be that he wants the power and glory. He may honestly also think he’d do a good job, or he thinks this is a way to seek redemption. A far more bare-knuckle Bridgeport reason, however, would be that he wants to win to finish the story of the comeback kid in style, and shove it in the faces of all those so-called experts who pronounced his career dead in 2003.
There are worse reasons to run, I suppose. For instance: having a lot of money, a big ego, and time to kill. It doesn’t mean I want to vote for him, though.
One of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signature criminal justice programs is called the “Second Chance Society,” and its aim is to reintegrate offenders leaving the prison system back into society. The whole point is that people can change, learn from their mistakes, and go on to be the kind of person who hopefully wouldn’t wind up back in jail.
But does the Second Chance Society extend to those we entrust the business of the public to?
Sure it does. If, say, a former governor who was sent to prison for corruption managed to worm his way into a drive-time radio slot, good for him. But if he were to try and run for any public office again, that’s where I think we all need to draw the line.
Joe Ganim may be reformed. “Every saint has a past,” he said at a recent debate, quoting an Oscar Wilde play, “and every sinner has a future.” I get it. But right now the public doesn’t need someone with public corruption in their past. We’ve been burned too often, and our standards for who we elect to serve us have become dangerously low.
Anyone who abuses the public’s trust shouldn’t ever be given it again. If he’s elected, we’ll deserve what we get.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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