Connecticut Democrats will decide tonight who they want to represent their party in the state’s upcoming gubernatorial elections. Will it be Ned Lamont, a meek rich man from Greenwich, or Joe Ganim, who was convicted and jailed for extensive corruption while mayor of Connecticut’s largest city? The choice is clearly far from thrilling, but it rests on a fundamental question: Could the people of Connecticut possibly be crazy enough to pick Ganim? It’s way more likely than it should be; some of them have already voted Ganim back into the very same office he once abused.
Ganim is currently the mayor of Bridgeport. He previously held that office from 1991 to 2003. For most of his tenure, he was seen as a popular and positive force for a city with a long history of poverty. His official biography touts a string of worthy accomplishments.
That biography leaves a few details out, however. You see, another thing that Ganim did for most of his tenure was enrich himself and his friends at the expense of his city and constituents, both of whom who could little afford it. Ganim attracted a lot of business to Bridgeport, but the businesses had to pay him first. He received about $425,000 through various schemes over the years—and that’s before you get to the $500,000 of corrupt money pledged to his political campaigns.
In 2003, Ganim was convicted of 14 counts of corruption (and two counts of filing false tax returns to hide the money he made from the aforementioned 14 counts of corruption). Upon his release from federal prison in 2010, he immediately set about giving absolutely no fucks. He boasted about getting time off his sentence by enrolling in a drug treatment program, despite having no known drug issues. He also set up a consulting firm for white collar criminals sentenced to prison, bragging, “I have vast and very unique knowledge and expertise of all matters related to the U.S. Federal prison system.” (The website has been taken down but you can see an archived version here.) To this day, he’s still trying to get his law license back, despite being turned down multiple times by multiple courts.
In 2015, Ganim, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence all this time, publicly admitted that he was guilty of some crimes and apologized. But this too was self-serving: a few months later, he announced that he was running for mayor of Bridgeport. Drawing support from an unlikely combination of the city’s Democratic Town Committee (its chairman is a longtime friend of Ganim), black voters (he has always had strong support from communities of color), and the police union, of all things, he won his old job back by a landslide from some of the most forgiving people in the world.
When he was re-elected, Ganim told the people of Bridgeport that he “never stopped caring” about them. But he couldn’t be bothered to serve a full term for those constituents before putting his sights on something even better. He is now going after Connecticut’s highest office. In doing so, he’s hoping to put a new twist on an old tradition; in the past, Connecticut’s corrupt governors got caught after assuming the office, not before. Ganim launched his campaign in true Ganim form, getting pulled over while doing 100 mph on his way back from filing the paperwork and with a reporter in the car.
Of course, there were no consequences for this, as Ganim’s driver is a Bridgeport police detective (whose services are paid for by the city even when he’s helping Ganim do campaign stuff), so he didn’t get a ticket or even a written warning.
Ganim also had the nerve to request millions of dollars from the state’s public campaign fund. If it’s someone else’s money, he has to have it! Fortunately, Connecticut bars people convicted of abusing political office from getting campaign funds. (This law that only exists because a different corrupt Bridgeport politician already tried the same thing.) Undeterred, as usual, by these things called “rules,” Ganim sued the state for access to the funds. He lost.
He has had more success when the Connecticut Democratic Party tried to keep him off the primary ballot. He needed 15 percent of delegates to vote for him at the convention, but only got 13 percent (which is 13 percent more than he should have gotten). So he petitioned his way onto the ballot instead, collecting a whopping 32,000 signatures. Given that the winner of the last Democratic gubernatorial primary received 100,000 votes, those 32,000 signatures represent a worryingly large number for those of us who think extremely corrupt people should not govern a state (which, and I cannot say this enough, should be everyone). And that’s assuming this primary gets the same turnout; a recent Hartford Courant article described the voting populace as generally uninformed and uninspired about the election. Let’s hope there isn’t a flood of excited Bridgeport voters who head to the polls while the rest skip it this year.
But of course, support from one city is not enough to win a statewide election; Ganim shouldn’t have a chance to win this thing. Here is why he does: his opponent, Ned Lamont. The coolest thing Lamont ever did was successfully beat Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic senatorial primary by attacking him over and over for supporting the Iraq War. (Unfortunately, Lieberman then won the general election as a candidate for the Entitled Sore Loser party.) Now he’s up against a guy with many, many things to attack that no one would blame him for taking advantage of, and he refuses to be mean because he doesn’t want to lose Bridgeport votes when he wins the nomination, which he has taken for granted that he will. (Incredibly, there has been virtually no polling of the race, so it’s hard to know exactly where things stand.) Lamont even said Ganim should have gotten that public campaign financing money!
All of Lamont’s campaign ads should just be him standing in front of a green screen with the picturesque Connecticut River Valley on it, reading transcripts from Ganim’s 2003 trial. Instead, he’s done things like this:
Yep, he started his first campaign ad with, “So, I turned 64,” and ended it by saying things will probably still suck at the end of his first year in office. This is definitely what the voters want, Ned, oh my god.
Meanwhile, Ganim has been perfectly happy to take the low road, making fun of Lamont for having eight bathrooms in his mansion and for thinking milk costs three dollars (which...it does?). Last Friday, Ganim even held a press conference to accuse Lamont of violating campaign finance laws.
Beyond Lamont, Ganim probably wouldn’t have had a chance if the Connecticut Democratic Party wasn’t in such dire straits. The Democratic incumbent, Dannel “No, Not Daniel” Malloy, is extremely unpopular and also sucks, leaving the state drowning in debt that even record-high tax increases couldn’t make a dent in, while businesses and people flee for the greener pastures of (UGH) Massachusetts. Small towns and big cities alike have suffered under his watch, so voters will probably be reluctant to vote for someone from the same party that produced their hated governor. Other than Lamont and Ganim, it seems Democrats (and potentially stronger candidates) wanted to put some distance between Malloy and any future run for governor, so they stayed away from this race. They also likely didn’t want to inherit Malloy’s mess.
Meanwhile, past governors from all parties have promised Connecticut’s struggling cities much and delivered very little, typically leaving them to fend for themselves. Connecticut has one of the largest wealth gaps in the country, and has for years. Hartford is on the brink of bankruptcy. Ganim, on the other hand, is a Democrat that establishment Democrats despise who boasts of his track record turning around seemingly hopeless situations—even though he was aided by his less-than-legal methods of attracting developers to the city, often at its expense. City voters who have been a deciding factor in Connecticut’s last two gubernatorial elections may prefer a demonstrably corrupt man who says he won’t leave them behind to a multimillionaire—or, for that matter, whoever wins the Republican nomination—who probably will.
Sara Morrison is a freelance journalist and Connecticut native.