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Welcome to Bridgeport

Joe Ganim, (Ned Gerard, Hearst Connecticut Media)

Henry Mencken reminds us that “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Welcome to Bridgeport, Connecticut’s most populous city.

The current mayor of Bridgeport is ex-felon Joe Ganim.

Ganim was Mayor of Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003, having been elected six times. He was convicted in 2003 on multiple corruption charges.

The mayor was sentenced to nine years in prison and fined about $300,000 in restitution, in addition to $175,000 he had previously stipulated he owed. U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton noted at the time that Ganim's crimes were "stuff that cynicism is made of" and she determined that Ganim had "lied to the jury when he denied any knowledge of fee-splitting deals and other incriminating evidence.”

A 2001 New York Times piece, “Bridgeport Mayor Convicted On 16 Charges of Corruption,” noted that “today's conviction appeared to be a career-ending blow for a politician whose appetite for luxury, thoroughly documented by prosecutors and their witnesses at trial over the past two months, exceeded his ability to acquire it legally.”

The Times noted that “Though he is Connecticut's fourth big-city mayor in 13 years to face criminal charges, and the second to be found guilty of at least some crimes, Mr. Ganim was convicted on such a broad array of charges that a political comeback is all but out of the question, political and legal experts said today. In Bridgeport, former Mayor Philip A. Giordano of Waterbury [a Republican] is on trial in federal court, accused of sexually abusing two young girls.”

The Times’ piece ends on a note of mortal uplift: “State legislators are scheduled to hold a hearing on Thursday evening to discuss the need for new laws to force officials convicted of crimes to resign.”

Alas, Bridgeport voters in 2015 put the experts to shame. That was the year Ganim, five years out of prison, was reelected mayor of Bridgeport.

Fast forward to 2023. Ganim is declared the winner of the Bridgeport Democrat primary for mayor of the city after having defeated his Democrat primary challenger, former Bridgeport chief administrative officer John Gomes, by 251 votes out of 8,173 cast.

Large cities in which the opposing Republican Party has all but disappeared rely upon primaries rather than general elections to appoint municipal office holders, who are rarely challenged. Intra-party challenges can be embarrassing and, well, challenging.   

Gomes challenged the race successfully in a three day trial in which surveillance video footage was presented that showed two women stuffing white envelopes into outdoor absentee ballot drop boxes. After Gomes' lawyer had tallied the submission of 1,253 absentee ballots, despite surveillance videos only showing 420 people using the boxes, Judge William Clark invalidated the Democratic mayoral primary results.

The two women, Clark found, were both Ganim “partisans.” The ballot stuffing was not random, the judge ruled, but “shocking… conscious acts with a partisan purpose.”

Eyebrows were raised. Gomez was, after all, a very attractive candidate for mayor and an astute campaigner. But he was only a solitary concerned individual. Ganim, on the other hand, has been for decades a significant cog in the Democrat Party’s well-oiled urban political machine. Ganim never had much to fear from an aroused Republican Party establishment in Bridgeport. The last Republican Party mayor of Bridgeport was Mary Moran. The first and only woman to serve as Bridgeport mayor left office in 1991.

Ganim’s 2024 candidacy, post-ballot-stuffing, was supported by most of the twinkling lights of Connecticut Democrat Party establishment.

The Connecticut Examiner (CTExaminer) noted in its coverage of Ganim’s victory party last month – “Ganim Closes Out Elections, Returns for Eighth Term as Bridgeport Mayor– that Ganim “received endorsements from Gov. Ned Lamont, Sen. Chris Murphy, Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Jim Himes days before the last general election.” Governor Ned Lamont’s congratulatory message was fulsome and heartfelt and quieting.

The governor’s message to Bridgeport and the world was delivered by his chief spokeswoman, Julia Bergman: “The governor respects the right of citizens to elect who represents them, and Tuesday's vote showed another decisive victory for Joe Ganim. The governor, like many residents, is ready to turn the page and looks forward to working with the mayor and the entire Bridgeport (legislative) delegation to continue to support the city's bright future."

“If God is with us,” the good book tells us, “who can be against us?” A revised apothegm suitable for modern times applies with particular force to Connecticut’s large cities. “If the Democrat Party machine is for us, who can be against us?”

Mencken, every honorable journalist’s picture-perfect commentator, answered that question long ago: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

The Bridgeport machine no doubt will find room in its broad bosom for vigorous challengers such as Gomes, if only to remove him as a threat to its continuing dominance.


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