Ganim readies for 2019 re-election
BRIDGEPORT — He spent the past several months as the underdog candidate in a losing bid to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Back home, however, Mayor Joe Ganim, though weakened, remains the man to beat in 2019’s mayoral race.
He already has plenty of money banked — $173,851 — thanks to fundraising that began in early 2017. Coincidentally, that is about the same amount of contributions Ganim’s gubernatorial campaign had left in the final days before the Aug. 14 primary.
But whereas in that statewide contest Ganim’s $173,000 was a paltry war chest when challenging the Democrats’ self-funded endorsed candidate, millionaire Ned Lamont of Greenwich, $173,851 is a very healthy place to be financially a year ahead of a possible mayoral primary.
About two-and-a-half months before 2015’s mid-September mayoral primary, which Ganim won, he had raised $200,000.
Also aiding Ganim’s 2019 re-election chances is the lack of a viable opponent — so far.
“It’s too soon to really know who has the fire in their belly to really challenge him,” said Lennie Grimaldi, a veteran of Bridgeport politics who runs the Only in Bridgeport blog. Possible contenders in the coming months must make up their minds because of the time it takes to build coalitions and fund-raise, he said: “It’s rare you can show up in April and May and say, ‘Here I am, I’m running.’”
With Republicans seriously outnumbered in Bridgeport, Ganim’s concern would be a foe from within the Democratic Party.
While Ganim declined numerous requests from Hearst Connecticut Media to discuss his recent primary defeat and re-election, sources close to hizzoner said the mayor wants another four-year term.
“He’s well-positioned, certainly financially, to run again compared to any other possible candidate,” said one source who wished to remain anonymous. “And there’s no real serious challenge.”
But Ganim, after spending so much time on his failed bid for higher office, needs to focus on Bridgeport. While he won the city during the primary, the hometown vote spread between the mayor and Lamont was not as comfortable a margin as Ganim supporters would have liked — 57 percent (5,009 votes) for Ganim versus Lamont’s 42 percent (3,703 votes).
“He needs to pay attention to city business (and) really focus on ‘home cooking’,” Grimaldi said. “Otherwise he could have a serious challenge. ... He still has a strong base, but it is weak in the high-tax areas.”
Two names frequently mentioned as mayoral contenders, state Sen. Marilyn Moore and state Rep. Chris Rosario, are currently running for another two years in the state General Assembly. But neither ruled out a 2019 mayoral bid when asked by Hearst.
“I never close the door,” said Rosario, who worked for the city under the man Ganim ousted in 2015 — then-Mayor Bill Finch — and was subsequently laid-off. “I’m not saying that I am (running). But if there’s interest, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.”
One Rosario supporter confided that the up-and-coming politician “would be a really great mayor, but it’s really important for Bridgeport he continue rising in Hartford.”
Moore, like Rosario, has gained more influence in the legislature. In May, she was appointed a co-chair of the bonding subcommittee which makes key borrowing decisions for state-funded projects.
“Who else is interested (in running for mayor)? It doesn’t always have to be Marilyn Moore,” Moore said. “There’s got to be other quality people in the city who can run.”
Step right up
“You’re gonna hear a lot of names,” said Councilman Ernie Newton. That, Newton maintained, includes his: “A lot of people have mentioned it (he run for mayor). I haven’t paid it very much attention. I’m trying to get a lot of work done on the council.”
Former legislator and current Town Clerk Charles “Don” Clemons said “there’s a possibility” he may enter the 2019 race: “I’ve been thinking about it, more-so as of late. No decisions, of course, but I’m weighing some options.”
Of Ganim’s leadership, Clemons said, “I think there are positive aspects. Do I think he can do more? Of course.”
Former state Sen. Andres Ayala’s name has also been floated. Ayala did not return a request for comment. He has left the public eye since 2016 when he resigned from his then-job as commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Max Medina, an attorney who used to be on the school board and, with Moore, was a key primary campaign surrogate for Lamont in Bridgeport, said when contacted by Hearst: “I get asked on a weekly basis to run for mayor. I will not be running for mayor.”
Fans of retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, an influential community activist and vocal critic of Ganim’s, continually suggest she run for mayor. Lopez declined comment.
What about Finch, who last winter became executive director of the Discovery Museum? In an interview in January, Finch told Hearst he was a “recovering politician” and that “being ‘mayor’ of Discovery is more important than being mayor of any city.”
Finch could not be reached Friday. A friend said, “There’s no doubt in my mind Bill Finch will not be running for mayor in 2019.”
Only Tony Barr, whose 2015 mayoral campaign garnered 24 votes, said he is committed to taking on Ganim next year.
Barr has gained a little more political legitimacy, winning a seat earlier this year on the Democratic Town Committee and recently helping state Senate candidate Dennis Bradley. Barr said he “should be at the top” of a list of 2019 mayoral candidates.
“I’m gonna beat Joe Ganim next year,” Barr insisted. “The situation in Bridgeport hasn’t changed. Same people are suffering. Same people don’t have jobs. ... Bridgeport needs Tony Barr.”