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Should we use tax dollars to help this guy campaign?

Of the 20 or more candidates being mentioned in the open race for governor of Connecticut next year, it can be argued that one of the most experienced is the occasionally Hon. Joseph Ganim, the mayor of Bridgeport.

His experience has been, shall we say, mixed. He is running for governor for the second time, having unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination in 1994, during the second of what would be nearly six consecutive terms as mayor.

He was 32 when first elected mayor, 35 when he ran for governor and is now a seasoned 57. Seasoned, but not necessarily well done, as we shall see.

Ganim was an effective mayor. He led the city out of bankruptcy by overcoming a large deficit; balanced the budget; reduced crime; demolished a crime infested, crumbling housing project and built a ballpark with half of the money coming from the private sector. All that occurred in those first six terms, from 1991 to 2003. Then came the between-term interlude.

In March of 2003, in the final year of that sixth term, the mayor was indicted by the feds, and later convicted, on single counts of racketeering, extortion, conspiracy and bribery; two counts of bribe conspiracy; eight of mail fraud and two of filing false tax returns. The indictment detailed a six-year scheme to shake down city contractors for more than $500,000 in cash, meals, clothing, wine and home renovations. (He was a connoisseur of fine wine, not to mention hot cash.)

 

Facing up to 126 years, Ganim was sentenced to nine years in federal prison and was released after seven, in 2010. Barred from practicing law, Ganim founded a firm called Federal Prison Consultant, LLC, counseling white collar criminals on how to adjust to incarceration or, as the mayor says on the official city home page, “representing a number of business and non-profit organizations with various needs.”

Then, in what the neighboring New York Times called an act that was “remarkable for its sheer audacity,” he ran for — and won — his seventh term as mayor. He won with the endorsement of the city’s police union, and now he has announced he will again pursue the Democratic nomination for governor, with a little help from us taxpayers.

The help would come from the public financing Connecticut provides for those seeking the governorship and other state offices but denies to anyone previously convicted of public corruption. The law was passed in a bipartisan spirit of reform and regret when the Democratic mayor and Republican Gov. John Rowland were both sent to prison for similar crimes, and former Bridgeport Sen. Ernie Newton was imprisoned for misusing campaign contributions.

 

Having paid his debt to society, Ganim had his usual civil rights restored, including the right to vote and run for public office. And now he hopes to further rehabilitate his reputation by becoming governor of this beleaguered state in what does not look like a particularly viable Democratic year. And he hopes to get $1.3 million to run a primary campaign and $6.5 million to run for governor.

This isn’t easy to do even if you aren’t burdened by the law that prohibits funds to elected officials guilty of public corruption while serving in an elected office. You have to raise at least $250,000 in small donations from state residents on your own to be even considered. That removed some highly qualified, would-be governors in 2014, when both incumbent Governor Malloy and second-time challenger Tom Foley qualified for the big, $6.5 million general election grant, and Foley got the million-plus for the primary.

And so it might be difficult for convicted felon Ganim to raise the $250,000, but that isn’t stopping him from suing for the right to qualify. He says he isn’t doing it just for himself, but for the other little people who may want to run for governor after being convicted of public corruption.

His lawsuit’s draft notes that only civic crooks are the victims of this financial discrimination, that a mayor convicted of murder or other serious felonies unrelated to their offices could theoretically get public funds to run for governor after serving their time. 

We know of no armed robber or murderer currently seeking public funds, and the only felonious former mayor who would presumably qualify for campaign funds, Republican Philip Giordano, isn’t due out of jail until 2034. He’s serving 37 years for sexual offenses involving little girls committed while mayor of Waterbury and wouldn’t appear to be a likely candidate for governor after he’s sprung, but you never know. 

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.