Stallworth considering run against Ganim
BRIDGEPORT — Charlie Stallworth, pastor and state representative, sat Tuesday afternoon on a cushioned bench at the front of his East End Baptist Tabernacle Church.
At a wooden podium a few feet away and four years ago, on New Year’s Day 2015, then-ex-Mayor Joe Ganim delivered his first public apology for his pay-to-play corruption schemes that ended Ganim’s first administration in 2003.
“He stood right there,” Stallworth recalled of hosting Ganim’s long-in-coming Mea culpa.
Later in 2015 Ganim, with the help of Stallworth and others, defeated incumbent Bill Finch in the Democratic mayoral primary, then won back his old job of running Connecticut’s largest city in that year’s general election.
Now Stallworth is looking ahead to Ganim’s 2019 mayoral re-election bid — and considering challenging him in a primary. Stallworth plans to make a decision by the middle of January.
“The dream that existed then in conversation with him is not the dream that was fulfilled in the actual unfolding of the administration,” Stallworth, 54, told Hearst Connecticut Media Tuesday.
For Stallworth, who is black, the white Ganim’s comeback was supposed to launch a more inclusive era for the regular, non-politically-connected residents — particularly those living in lower-income areas like the East End — whom the fallen, ex-convict mayor appealed to with 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, adding voters “have been used in a way that would better some, not everybody.”
For example, Stallworth said, Ganim has recently focused his administration’s attention on the violence, poor maintenance and unsanitary living conditions at Charles F. Greene Homes public housing on Highland Avenue.
That, Stallworth insisted, is because the mayor wants another four years in office. Ganim could and should have done something at Greene Homes sooner, Stallworth said.
“We just have to get to the place where we’re not playing games with people and manipulating people to get the next election, the next vote, but to be serious,” Stallworth said, adding he expected more announcements and photo opportunities from City Hall in the coming months to try to re-energize Ganim’s 2015 base.
Ganim in a statement for this story said, “I am sure there are individuals with thoughts of running, and I appreciate that.
“While others may be doing that, I will continue to create jobs, clean up neighborhoods, build the city’s tax base with development projects and a stable budget, and make improvements in public safety,” said the mayor. “I will continue to fight every day to make Bridgeport the best that it can be for all of our residents.”
Rocky relations and primaries
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 and his pay was 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 job in late March 2017. On Tuesday he said he had wanted to do more from within City Hall to promote diversity among municipal personnel and the hiring of small minority contractors.
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. Ganim’s office, however, recently confirmed to Hearst that the contract with Stallworth “never came to fruition.”
Stallworth on Tuesday said he concluded the effort to use him in the cop recruitment drive “was a public relations stunt.”
This past summer, Stallworth also, very briefly, was a candidate for lieutenant governor — but not with Ganim, who had launched an ultimately failed bid for governor. Stallworth allied himself with another losing contender, Guy Smith of Greenwich.
Until Tuesday, Stallworth has, publicly, remained mostly silent about Ganim’s job performance.
“I’ve allowed him to be mayor,” he said.
Though critical of Ganim for allegedly forgetting the people who returned him to office, Stallworth has been accused by critics of doing the same in the 126th House District. But he has fended off primary challenges in 2016 and earlier this year.
Stallworth said he has not spoken to Ganim about a potential run for mayor, but did talk to close Ganim ally Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa. Stallworth has also had conversations with another potential primary contender, state Sen. Marilyn Moore.
Moore for months has been considered a potential Ganim challenger for the city’s top job, in part because of her reputation as an independent willing to criticize the mayor and Testa. And the recently re-elected state lawmaker has never denied the possibility of a mayoral run.
“There’s a lot of people who are unhappy with Joe,” Moore said Tuesday, confirming she and Stallworth talked about potential mayoral bids “quite a while ago.”
“I’m not in a place where I want to make a decision today or next week,” said Moore, who has been helping out with Democratic Governor-elect Ned Lamont’s transition to office and looking ahead to the upcoming legislative session. “I’m thinking about what’s good for the city, how we move forward, and what’s best for the state.”
If either Moore, who is black, or Stallworth were elected mayor, they would be Bridgeport’s first minority chief executive. Stallworth emphasized some voters may find that appealing, but said, “I’m not trying to run to be ‘the black mayor.’ ... I believe the hunger (voters feel) is for someone who can identify with my pain, not my complexion.”
Stallworth, Moore and any other potential Ganim challengers also face immediate fundraising disadvantages. The incumbent has already raised more than $170,000.
Stallworth said he would have to run a true grass-roots “people’s campaign” — just like the Ganim campaign he was part of in 2015.