In the Suburbs: Is Bridgeport political arena ready for act of redemption?
I was immediately struck by these lines in last Sunday's Connecticut Post editorial, “Another Ganim Mayoralty a Blow to Bridgeport” — “There's a vein of forgiveness that runs through this city. Joe Ganim is as deserving of forgiveness as anyone. But putting him back as the elected leader of the city would be a monumental mistake.”
We were living in Fairfield in the early 1990s when the news of Joe Ganim's problems with accepting gifts and other corrupt activities sent him away for a federally imposed prison term. I was disappointed but not surprised.
After all, my wife and I lived through Mayor Richard Daley’s political machine years in Chicago, where any corruption was neatly swept under a carpet and the late Mayor ran the city with an iron hand. I remember in particular how one of Daley's thugs showed up at our third-floor apartment asking for us to get out and vote for Mayor Daley. When my wife said she'd vote for whomever she pleased, the man said that her vote didn't matter anyway, because they planned to win.
And Daley was elected over and over again until the disastrous 1968 convention when the citizens of Chicago got to see first hand how the mayor and his gang handled protesters with beatings and restraints. In subsequent elections, however, the mayors were certainly qualified, but none that I remember did as much for the city as Mayor Daley.
Once Ganim was sent off to prison, John Fabrizi, then City Council president, took over. At first things seemed to be rolling along, but down the road Fabrizi was forced to admit to cocaine and alcohol problems that impeded his work as mayor. He stepped down.
I have met Mayor Bill Finch, and despite the challenges that have faced him in his job as mayor, there haven't been allegations of corruption or addiction in his tenure. Near the school where I am a teaching assistant, a vibrant new shopping area is taking shape with a huge Bass Pro store, Chipotle, Starbucks and more. That development is the hoped for catalyst to revitalize Bridgeport and broaden its appeal.
There’s talk the downtown ferry terminal will move over to the Harborpointe area, and that a hotel will likely be built there in the next couple of years.
I have to give credit to Finch and his advisors for making a bold move to get Bridgeport back on track. A lot of our students are hoping to secure jobs in these new retail establishments and I have already seen a lot of quiet improvements taking place along East Main Street close to the redevelopment area.
A colleague at the school asked me my position about Ganim last week on the day of the primary election. Apologetically, I told him I wasn't planning to vote in the primary. But I explained that if I were voting, I'd stand behind Bill Finch.
I certainly have no bias against Joe Ganim and I'm glad that he has paid his debt to the city and society. I certainly applauded his courage in wanting to run again for mayor, but I am satisfied enough with the job our current mayor is doing.
Was I surprised at the outcome of the election? A little, perhaps, but knowing the track records of so many politicians, from presidents to members of Congress to governors and mayors of this state, who fell from grace for one reason or another, I wasn't surprised.
And I was impressed that Finch found an independent support system quickly and tried to run on the November ballot. He certainly has a record of achievements to put before the voters. However, as the ink was drying on my column I read that Finch’s Jobs Creation Party missed a filing deadline and Finch has, at least for now, lost his spot on the ballot. He may end up as a write-in candidate, giving Ganim even more of an edge.
In making a final decision on casting a vote in November, I will re-focus on the ethics of Joe Ganim and his earlier acts of corruption. More importantly, I will be interested in hearing what Ganim has to say about the direction he plans to take Bridgeport in and how realistic he can be about what's fixable and not fixable in this always volatile city. Only when I walk into the voting booth Nov. 3 will I know whether what I've heard is enough to give this former mayor another shot at redeeming himself.
Steven Gaynes’ "In the Suburbs" column appears each Friday. Gaynes, who now lives in Bridgeport, can be reached at email@example.com.