Ganim’s state of the state warm-up

April 4, 2018 GMT

BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Joe Ganim took credit for a lot during Tuesday’s state of the city address, so why not claim responsibility for bringing spring to town, too.

Ganim told the business crowd gathered at the Holiday Inn downtown that his administration has planted 20,000 flower bulbs. He reminded them he similarly improved the city’s appearance for outsiders while first mayor in the 1990s.

“It lit up the esplanades, parks and neighborhoods,” the mayor, a Democrat, said.

Ganim’s beautification initiatives also were part of the federal corruption probe that sent him to prison in 2003 for seven years.

Now Ganim, re-elected mayor two and a half years ago, is prettying himself up to present to voters statewide as their next governor. So, for example, he tends to merge his time in office — “this is my 15th state of the city spanning a quarter century” — to contrast his experience with other gubernatorial candidates, glossing over those years in the slammer.

The mayor also, as was the case Tuesday, touts numerous economic development projects under way citywide without noting that many were begun during predecessor Bill Finch’s eight years running Bridgeport.

So the impression left is that Bridgeport is buzzing, Ganim is the guy currently in charge, and he will do the same for Connecticut’s stubborn economy.

And, for now, it seems to be a viable campaign strategy.

Denied state public financing because of his criminal record, Ganim on Monday claimed that since launching his candidacy in early January, he has raised $325,000. That is in addition to $200,537 in contributions received last year during his exploratory phase.

“Anything in that range becomes instant credibility around the state,” Ganim insisted in a pre-speech interview Tuesday.

He is also happy to talk about the feature article the New York Times published about him last Friday under the headline: “In Connecticut, the Mayor of Second Chances.”

Ganim is keenly aware of the power of a good redemption narrative starring an underdog. After all, when critics were dismissing his campaign in 2015, the ex-mayor allowed himself to be trailed by an independent filmmaker. Call it self-important, but it is hard not to look back and think Ganim knew something about Bridgeport voters — and his own electability — that many people missed.

And expect Ganim to re-embrace his underdog role ahead of May’s Democratic nominating convention. While he hopes to obtain the 15 percent of delegates to mount a primary against the nominee, the mayor said he would be okay if he instead had to gather petitions to qualify: ”There’s a real grassroots level of our campaign that would benefit from contact with thousands of voters.”

Setting aside what statewide voters will make of his criminal past, the returned mayor’s current stewardship of Connecticut’s largest city has been mixed, and opponents — Democrats and Republicans — will pounce if Ganim gains traction.

While Ganim patted himself on the back in Tuesday’s speech for proposing his second municipal budget with no new taxes, he hiked the tax or mill rate in 2016 from 42 mills to 54 mills — something he blames on Finch.

Ganim has also in his three budgets since returning to City Hall flat-funded Bridgeport’ struggling schools — something he blames on underfunding from the state: “In one of the largest school districts in the state, heroic work is being done every day to teach some 22,000 students without the equal opportunity guaranteed to them as a matter of law.”

The mayor kept a campaign promise to hire around 100 new cops. But homicides last year more than doubled to 23.

And there are the controversies: Ganim’s finding jobs for his allies; his use of a taxpayer funded cop while campaigning for governor; his being allowed to pick up his employment benefits where he left off when convicted of corruption; last year’s botched rollout of high-tech, camera-equipped downtown parking meters.

One longtime business leader and Democrat who watched Ganim’s speech Tuesday said in the current crowded field for governor, the returned mayor has proven he is aggressive, knows the issues and can raise cash: “I think he has a shot to get there.”

Anyone who dismisses Ganim should recall that, just three years ago, he attended what wound up being Finch’s final state-of-the-city address, exiled to a back corner table by the door, many in the room convinced Ganim would never again be mayor.

As he began his address Tuesday, Ganim, acknowledging his parents in the crowd, joked how his father recently lamented having attended several state-of-the-city events, but no gubernatorial state-of-the-state speeches.

”We’re working on that one, dad,” the mayor said.