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WSHU's coverage of 2105 election races.

Many Bridgeport Voters Willing To Give Joe Ganim A Second Chance

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim
Davis Dunavin
/
WSHU

Former Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim wants his old job back - the same job that landed him in federal prison for seven years. Ganim was mayor of Bridgeport for about 12 years before he was convicted on federal corruption charges, including racketeering and extortion. He got out of prison in 2010 and this is his first attempt at a political comeback. On Tuesday, voters in Bridgeport will choose a new mayor.

WSHU's Morning Edition host Tom Kuser spoke with Associated Press Capitol reporter Susan Haigh who said Ganim is getting a warm welcome from the city’s residents.

INTERVIEW EXCERPTS:

Susan, you recently followed Ganim while he was campaigning through Bridgeport, and you say you did run into people who were pretty happy to see him.

Yes. I followed him and some of his supporters when the were knocking on doors in the Black Rock neighborhood, and, interestingly enough, he had sort of warned me before hand that this wasn’t really his strongest part of the city. So he kind of hinted that we might not get a very positive reception but, honestly, it was pretty much all positive. He would knock on people’s doors, people seemed happy to see him. Some people were actually leaning out of second floor windows to shout hello to him. You’d hear people say, “Hey Joe” or “Hi, mister Mayor. It’s so good to have you back.” And there seemed to be a lot of good will for him. People seemed very excited. People actually stopped their cars in the middle of the street and I could see them reaching their hands out to shake his hand. They recognized who he was, they know him well, and they all promised to vote and they signed up a bunch of people who were unregistered, and they all  promised to vote for him as well.

Well, my next question was going to be do you think these folks are representative of most of the city?

A friend of mine, Chris Keating from the Hartford Courant, he also followed around Mr. Ganim in a neighborhood that is more pro-Ganim and he kinda got the same reactions, so it seems like it is pretty widespread in terms of his support. And just from driving around the city, I noticed that, you know, there aren’t tons of signs but he definitely has the majority of signs that are out there. And you see a lot of them that say “Stop Higher Taxes,” that’s the big push is on taxes and Ganim is seen as the guy that can do it.

Were you able to pick up at all as to why some of these Bridgeport residents are so open to forgiving and forgetting?

People told me that when he was in office for 12 years, they say the taxes were lower, they felt the schools were better, they felt their parks were cleaner, they felt safer. And, especially in some of the minority communities, they felt he paid attention to them and to their needs and cared about them. They felt like he worked for them. And I had one lady say to me, “It’s not like he robbed the people. It’s not like he stole from us.” She said, “The fact that some people did work on his house,” she said, “nobody cares about that. He did great things for Bridgeport. And we want him to do those great things again.” And, then, you also got a sense from some people that they believe in giving second chances.

Did you hear any of these Bridgeporters respond or have anything to say to people around Connecticut who wonder, “how could this happen?”

The people I talked to they know that people outside of Bridgeport are kind of scratching their heads saying, “why does this guy stand a good chance of winning his old seat back?” They get that, but they say, “This is Bridgeport." They don’t think people outside of Bridgeport, the city, understand what he did for the city, in their minds. I had people say to me they're just amazed by it, too, and they don’t want him to win and their argument is that people in Bridgeport are just so used to corruption over the years, it doesn’t faze them any more. They think everyone is on the take. I heard a couple of people say that.

You also ran into the Independent Mayoral candidate, Mary Jane Foster during your time with Ganim.

Ms. Foster was at a luncheon with a bunch of women and they were talking about Ganim. And they seemed pretty disgusted that he’s kind of getting, in their minds, a free pass from voters. They say that his record of accomplishment has been overstated and misrepresented and that, really, the city is still suffering for some of the things that he did. And Mary Jane Foster said to me that Bridgeport is still battling the perception that it’s a corrupted city and that you can’t do business there and she says that he’s directly responsible for that legacy.

Tom has been with WSHU since 1987, after spending 15 years at college and commercial radio and television stations. He became Program Director in 1999, and has been local host of NPR’s Morning Edition since 2000.
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