AP NEWS

Rep. Stallworth to launch mayoral campaign

March 7, 2019

BRIDGEPORT — State Rep. Charlie Stallworth helped the once fallen Joe Ganim return to the mayor’s office four years ago and was part of Ganim’s transition team.

And now Stallworth is running to prevent Ganim from governing Connecticut’s largest city for another four years.

“I think it’s time to return Bridgeport to the people, the citizens,” Stallworth said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s planned launch of his mayoral bid. “It’s time to have a new direction of hope and prosperity.”

As previously reported, Stallworth, 54, at least since late fall has been weighing a run for mayor.

Invitations went out Thursday to a campaign kickoff Sunday, 4 p.m., at Creative Venue on Logan Street.

Stallworth’s decision to take on his former political ally sets up a very interesting mayoral race because he is the second prominent black candidate to come forward. State Sen. Marilyn Moore in January announced she would run against Ganim in November, but has not clarified if she would first wage a primary against him during the summer or petition her way onto the general election ballot.

Stallworth said he will primary Ganim, who is the favorite to receive the Democratic Town Committee’s endorsement at its convention. Ganim is very close with Town Chairman Mario Testa.

Tony Barr, a local activist, has also said he will challenge Ganim, though when he ran for mayor in 2015 Barr only received two dozen votes.

And if either of the three were elected, they would make history and become Bridgeport’s first black mayor.

Falling out

Stallworth’s entry in the race is also significant because, while Moore has been a vocal critic of Ganim’s, the state legislator and pastor was the opposite — a close ally.

Stallworth is pastor of the East End Baptist Tabernacle Church. Four years ago, on New Year’s Day 2015, then-ex-Mayor Ganim delivered his long-delayed public apology for his pay-to-play corruption schemes that ended his first administration in 2003.

Shortly after, Ganim launched a comeback campaign with the aid of Stallworth and other allies and ousted incumbent Bill Finch in that year’s Democratic mayoral primary. Ganim then handily won the general election.

Stallworth in December told Hearst Connecticut Media that the white Ganim’s comeback was supposed to begin a more inclusive era for the regular, non-politically-connected residents — particularly those living in lower-income areas like the East End — who embraced Ganim’s talk of personal mistakes, second chances and redemption.

“I believe the community was invited in to make the campaign happen, but not invited in to decide what would be best for Bridgeport — to help create the vision and plan for the city,” Stallworth said at the time, adding voters “have been used in a way that would better some, not everybody.”

Stallworth, who was born in Alabama, relocated to Bridgeport from that southern state 13 years ago to take over East End Baptist. He is entering his ninth year representing Bridgeport in the state General Assembly.

Ganim and Stallworth have had a rocky relationship for a few years. Hired in 2016 for a $99,000 job overseeing diversity for Ganim, Stallworth was demoted in December of that year to part-time with his pay reduced to $49,643.

Over that winter, Stallworth publicly clashed with the mayor over the administration’s decision to discipline a prominent black police officer, Lt. Lonnie Blackwell, by demoting him to sergeant.

Stallworth resigned from his city position in late March 2017.

Then last April, the city announced that Stallworth was hired as a $2,500 consultant helping to recruit minorities for a new class of police officers. But both sides confirmed that contract was never finalized.

Splitting the vote?

Before Moore announced her mayoral bid, she and Stallworth met to determine if one would endorse the other, rather than dividing up any anti-Ganim vote.

Stallworth said there was never any follow-up discussion, however.

Asked Thursday why he would be a better candidate than Moore, Stallworth said, “I don’t like to compare myself to others. ... I just think it’s time for Bridgeport to have a mayor that loves people and what’s to do what’s right.”

Stallworth said it is a secular approach to the same calling to do good that lead him to become a pastor 30 years ago.

Like Moore, Stallworth will have to juggle his part-time legislative duties at the Capitol in Hartford with campaigning and fundraising back home. And also like Moore, he is already far behind Ganim money-wise. The incumbent since 2017 has raised $194,000.

“Part of who I am is fundraising. I do fundraising every week,” Stallworth said, referring to his church. “We have a lot of people in Bridgeport - a lot of friends. We have to get the funds we can. Big donations, small donations.”

Both Moore and Stallworth have successfully beaten primary challengers in legislative elections. Waging a city-wide race will be a different experience for both of them. And Ganim is known as a tireless campaigner who, as the incumbent, will also be able to use City Hall to promote himself.

There has been some speculation among Moore’s backers that, despite his public comments criticizing Ganim, Stallworth is actually part of a Machiavellian scheme to help the mayor by running.

“Absolutely not,” he said Thursday. “The thought or idea of that turns my stomach. That’s not who I am or why I’m here. Anybody who thinks that does not know me and most definitely has not spoken with me.”