With Bysiewicz out, Ganim’s campaign continues on
TRUMBULL — “How many signatures out of New Haven?” Mayor Joe Ganim yelled across Prime One Eleven restaurant on Tuesday evening to a campaign supporter.
Some 3,500 Democrats in that city have signed petitions to put Bridgeport’s mayor on the gubernatorial primary ballot, his aide yelled back.
“That’s pretty good,” Ganim said.
Hours earlier, Ganim’s route to become Connecticut’s chief executive got much harder with Susan Bysiewicz’s decision to end her campaign. She is joining Ned Lamont’s ticket as lieutenant governor as the Greenwich businessman seeks to consolidate support ahead of this weekend’s Democratic nominating convention.
Gone were Ganim’s hopes for a divided convention and a crowded summer primary where he could eke out a win appealing to urban voters.
Now some allies — all of whom wished to remain anonymous — were instead saying it was time to drop out and strike a pre-convention deal with Lamont for party unity, for Bridgeport, and to save face.
Lamont, after all, is a millionaire who can self-fund his campaign. Ganim cannot even receive a campaign grant from the state’s clean elections program after being disqualified last year because of his criminal past.
But as he hosted a $250 to $3,500-per-head fundraiser at the restaurant Tuesday, Ganim was not acting like he was preparing to end his gubernatorial bid anytime soon, stating in an interview: “That’s nowhere near anything we’re talking about.”
Instead, he bragged about how close he was to collecting the 15,548 signatures needed to force a primary should he fail to receive 15 percent of the Democratic delegate votes this weekend.
His campaign announced Monday it was “almost” halfway there. Then after Lamont and Bysiewicz teamed up Tuesday, that 7,000 figure overnight increased to “almost 8,500” in a Ganim campaign statement dismissing his opponents’ alliance.
“I think we’re close to 9,000 signatures,” Ganim said Tuesday evening as around a dozen supporters — many mayoral appointees in Bridgeport City Hall who have already been generous to the boss’ campaign — ate and drank.
Earlier Tuesday, one Ganim ally said they would like to see the mayor strike a deal with Lamont — maybe get the latter to commit to supporting a Bridgeport casino if elected — in time for the convention, rather than engage in a bitter primary fight that could cost him goodwill.
This same person noted that with outgoing Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy so unpopular, it will be a challenge for the party to hold that office. Ganim has “the best acumen” for the job, the source said, but a criminal record Republicans will weaponize.
Ganim was convicted of running a pay-to-play operation out of City Hall in 2003 after serving as Bridgeport’s mayor for 12 years. He waged a successful comeback in 2015 appealing to inner-city voters — the same constituency he would rely on to win a gubernatorial primary and general election.
“I think the only way we have a shot (at beating a Republican) is if everybody gets on the same page,” the Ganim ally said.
“It’s a disadvantage for the Democrats not to have a primary, especially if Republicans have one,” Ganim said, adding, “We won’t have $10 million, but we’ll still raise money. We have signatures — grass-roots support.”
And, Ganim noted, he has already heard “some talk about lack of diversity on top of the ticket” now that Bysiewicz has joined Lamont.
Ganim, who is of Lebanese descent, looks as white as Lamont and Bysiewicz and, though not a millionnaire, comes from a wealthy Easton family that has sunk cash into his gubernatorial ambitions. Yet Bridgeport’s comeback mayor has a widely acknowledged ability to walk through underprivileged neighborhoods and position himself as the voice of the cities and of those looking for a second chance.
“I’d much rather be knocking on doors talking to people than probably doing anything else,” Ganim said.
Another Ganim supporter on Tuesday admitted Bysiewicz’s decision to drop her own bid for governor is a problem, but added, “Joe is a much better campaigner and would probably bury Ned Lamont in any debate. He’s (Lamont) not good on his feet.”
Lamont, following his appearance with Bysiewicz on Tuesday, said, “Susan and I are going to be champions of the cities. We know that Connecticut will never be great unless our cities are great.
“And Bridgeport will obviously be a big part of that,” Lamont said. “And I will lean on Joe’s advice any time I can get it.”
But, at least for now, Ganim is keeping that advice to himself.
“Lamont may drop out before the convention,” he joked.
Staff writer Ken Dixon contributed to this story.