By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN= ^Associated Press=
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ Former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim, released a year ago after serving nearly seven years in prison for corruption, has expressed some interest in running again to lead Connecticut’s largest city.
The city’s powerful Democratic boss says Ganim would like to run, but he’s backing Mayor Bill Finch and discouraged Ganim from running.
“He has some aspiration for running,” Mario Testa, chairman of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee who has met with Ganim, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Right now I don’t think it’s the right time for him to jump into the rink.”
Testa said he does not believe Ganim will run in the Democratic primary in September, but didn’t rule it out and acknowledged he could run in the general election in November as an independent.
Ganim would not say whether he is considering a run, but said he’s been approached by hundreds of people with encouraging comments. He also said a Facebook page has been created to encourage him to run and cited a poll showing he leads among Democratic candidates that was conducted by Merriman River Group on behalf of Only in Bridgeport, a blog run by a former Ganim associate who testified against him at his corruption trial.
Ganim said he’s been busy with a foundation he started that raises money for youth groups. He also has been working at his family’s law practice in Bridgeport.
“I’m real flattered by this but at the moment– but at the very moment– that’s where my focus is,” Ganim said.
Ganim was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2003 for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive wine, custom clothes, cash and home improvements. He was convicted of 16 corruption charges, including extortion, bribery and racketeering. His sentence was reduced after he participated in a drug treatment program.
The 51-year-old Ganim was a popular mayor, often credited with reviving Bridgeport as it emerged from bankruptcy, and had ambitions to become governor. Ganim, first elected in 1991, was serving his fifth term when he was indicted in 2001.
Last month, Ganim handed over a $1,000 check to a local charity that helps youths, but denied any political motives.
Michael Daly, editorial page editor at the Connecticut Post, wrote last week that Ganim appeared like he was interested in becoming mayor again.
Other mayors, such as Marion Barry in Washington D.C. and Buddy Cianci in Providence, R.I., have won re-election after they were convicted of crimes. Former Rep. Charles Diggs Jr., a Michigan Democrat who died in 1998, was re-elected after he was convicted in 1978 of operating a payroll kickback scheme in his congressional office.
As Ganim drops hints about a possible run, political experts are divided over whether he will run in this year’s race and his prospects.
Ganim could pull off a comeback in a crowded field of Democrats where he might not need a large percentage of votes and voter turnout could be low, said Gary Rose, a politics professor at Sacred Heart University.
“There are people in Bridgeport who appreciate what he did for them irrespective of the corruption,” Rose said. “I think there is a very real chance Joe Ganim could make a comeback.”
But Ganim has shown no signs of running, such as by raising money, and lives in a neighboring suburb, said Donald Greenberg, an associate professor of politics at Fairfield University. He said Ganim is too much of a liability for Democratic party officials and lacks an organization to get out the vote.
“I don’t think he’s going to run,” Greenberg said.
Yet he added, “Some people are worried –what happens if Joe gets into it?”
Voters interviewed Wednesday in downtown Bridgeport offered mixed views.
Richard Tenenbaum, a 60-year-old lawyer who works in Bridgeport and lives in Weston, said he was in Washington when Barry got re-elected and went on to do a terrible job. He said Ganim should not run.
“He committed crimes against the people and should not be coming back,” Tenenbaum said. “I think he has no credibility. Bridgeport has enough problems without having a mayor who is not going to be taken seriously.”
Andrew Martinez, a 32-year-old college student who lives in Bridgeport, said Ganim took visible steps to improve the city’s appearance but fundamental problems remained. He said many people recall the good and overlook the bad, but he doesn’t share that view.
“He betrayed the public trust,” Martinez said. “That should just completely exclude him.”
But Martinez said Ganim has a shot at winning should he decide to run.
“He remains etched in people’s brains as a person who did a lot for the city,” Martinez said.
The Rev. Errol Johnson, a 53-year-old Bridgeport resident, is among those who remember Ganim’s accomplishments as mayor, such as a reduction in crime, and said he would consider voting for him. He said there are plenty of crooked politicians, but he also noted people can change in prison.
“I think he did a good job,” Johnson said. “He changed the whole city.”
Like other Connecticut cities, Bridgeport continues to struggle. The state Department of Education this month decided to take over management of the troubled Bridgeport schools and replacing its education board after some city leaders, including the mayor, said the current board was too dysfunctional to run the system.
Messages were left for Finch on Monday and Tuesday. Finch, a one-time Ganim supporter, said last year he wasn’t worried about facing a challenge from Ganim.
“I don’t believe he was popular when he left,” Finch said at the time. “His actions disgraced the city.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)