March 19: A Fallen Star Gets A Second Chance

 

When 32-year-old Joseph Ganim became mayor of Bridgeport in 1991, he had the distinction of being the youngest mayor in the city’s history. At the time, there were few politicians who even wanted the job.  Connecticut’s largest city had just filed for bankruptcy and was the only municipality in the state to have its finances under control of a state-supervised board. Ganim quickly established a reputation as a bold, outspoken politician and one of Bridgeport’s biggest cheerleaders. He won re-election four times by following through on promises to stabilize the city’s finances, reduce crime rates by hiring more police officers, and crack down on urban blight.

Behind the scenes of the city’s slow-but-hard-won recovery, however, was also a long trail of corruption that led right to the mayor’s office. Beginning in 1999, FBI agents began actively investigating Ganim for steering lucrative city contracts toward individuals and companies who provided him with lavish kickbacks totaling well over half a million dollars. These included luxury goods like jewelry and wine, home improvement services, and cash stored in secret bank accounts.

Joe Ganim on the 2015 campaign trail. (Joe Ganim official Facebook page

On March 19, 2003, Ganim was convicted on 16 of 21 charges of corruption, including bribery, racketeering, extortion, and mail fraud, for which he was eventually sentenced to nine years in prison and fines totaling just over $300,000. After serving seven years of his prison sentence, Ganim was released in 2010 and returned to southwestern Connecticut, where he worked at a family law firm until deciding to re-enter politics in 2015. Following a lengthy public apology tour, Ganim formally announced his candidacy for the mayor of Bridgeport, and in September, won the Democratic mayoral primary over incumbent mayor Bill Finch.

During the race, Ganim did not shy away from his checkered past, even hiring one of the men who had been on the prosecution team that convicted him of corruption in 2003 to serve as a senior campaign adviser.

In November, Ganim cruised to a landslide victory, winning the mayor’s seat with nearly double the number of votes obtained by the second-place candidate. The New York Times described his victory as “remarkable for its sheer audacity, coming after a widely publicized fall from grace.” Ganim continued to make audacious political moves, throwing his hat in the ring for the 2018 Connecticut Governor’s race. Though defeated in that effort by fellow Democrat Ned Lamont, an undaunted Ganim continued to focus his efforts on the job of governing Bridgeport, where his once tarnished star appeared to shine as brightly as ever. A second chance sought and received, by a fallen political star who boldly rose again, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Edmund H. Mahony, “Grim Day For Ganim: Convictions Portray Dark Side Of Bridgeport’s Revival In 1990s,Hartford Courant

Lisa W. Foderaro, “From City Hall to Prison and Back, Ganim Now Eyes Governor’s Mansion,New York Times