Hey, you want to keep calling Joe Ganim a crook? Think that’ll stop him from becoming Connecticut’s next governor?
Ganim has three words for you: “Bring it on.”
Actually, he had those words for Republicans and any other opponents of his quest. He offered the response Thursday toward the end of a 52-minute appearance on WNHH FM’s “Dateline New Haven” program.
It was one day after Ganim, Bridgeport’s mayor, formally announced he is running for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
Relaxed and confident, Ganim did not look like someone who had just pushed his way through a blizzard to travel from Bridgeport to the WNHH studio in New Haven. He did not sound like someone who has been pushing his way through a blizzard of press condemnation for the speed at which he traveled to his campaign announcement or for “shamelessly” asking for the state’s votes after having spent seven years in federal prison for racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, extortion, theft of honest services, bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery and filing false tax returns during his first stint as Bridgeport’s mayor.
He was a man ready to rumble. He said he’s ready to keep hearing about his conviction. And he’s confident he’ll prevail. The way he did when he defeated incumbent Bill Finch to regain the Bridgeport mayor’s office two years ago.
“If [GOP State Chair] J.R. Romano and the Republicans want to continue attacking Joe Ganim as a guy who has a ‘colorful’ past — I’m not running away from the word felon. I’ll be happy to talk about it. Bring it on. OK? They can just look at what the Finch people did. They just pounded away and pounded away and pounded away at that. [People said:] ‘OK, I get it. I understand what Joe’s about. I understand the good things that he’s done. I think I understand this guy as a person.’
“It differentiates me both good and bad from the other Democrats. Your mainstream established Democrats who will go nameless wouldn’t go anywhere near Joe Ganim. So I ran as an outsider. I ran against what was. I went out and I talked to people in neighborhoods, people who wanted positive change in their lives. That’s what I plan to do in this campaign. It’s not going to be based on standing next to the establishment.
I want to make positive change for Connecticut.”
While leading state Democrats privately fret about having a candidate with a corruption conviction on the November ballot, Ganim has worked hard to cultivate support among urban Democrats. He has visited New Haven regularly in recent months and took a front-row seat at Mayor Toni Harp’s Monday inauguration. He’s pitching his successful return to elected office after a prison sentence as a redemption tale, the kind of “second chance” needed for many urban dwellers who made mistakes in the past. In a multi-candidate primary, that urban base could have a big impact if he succeeds in turning it out.
Along those lines, Ganim said in the WNHH interview that his campaign is focusing on urban economic development to create new jobs and turn around the state’s flagging economy.
“Realizing the brainpower and the human power in our cities will be the engine, the driver of a new Connecticut economy,” he said. He spoke of projects in the planning stages in his city — including renovation of the downtown Poli and Majestic theaters and MGM Grand’s bid to build a new casino — as examples of the kind of urban development he’d promote as governor.
Snow Mayors & Governors
Ganim also cited his experience as an urban mayor as a qualification for running a state with persistent budget deficits — and for being at the helm when, as is happening more often in the era of climate change, superstorms create emergencies.
Any Bridgeport mayor knows well how elected officials need to take seriously snow clean-up. According to a popular story, voters threw Jasper McLevy, the only Bridgeport mayor to serve longer than Ganim, out of office after he made this declaration during a snowstorm: “God put the snow there. Let Him take it away!” It became a cautionary tale for politicians.
In truth, it was McLevy’s public-works director, not McLevy, who made the statement. In not quite those words. (The true story is even more colorful, as told here by Bridgeport journalist Lennie Grimaldi.)
But Ganim said he learned in office the importance of dealing with storms, and how to do it. Among the lessons: “Have the right equipment. Invest in the equipment. Be prepared.” At the same time, manage storm response hour by hour with an eye toward avoiding “burning your crew out” before they’re needed to complete the clean-up job.
How Not To Raise Taxes
Ganim cited his city experience as well in responding to a listener’s question about whether he’d raise taxes as governor.
He responded that he would seek to avoid that. But he wouldn’t rule it out, because he hasn’t seen the state’s books in detail. He promised to bring smart advisors into the room to examine the fiscal situation and explore alternatives before considering tax increases.
“The last thing I want to do,” he said, “is raise taxes.”
He was asked if he was repeating Lowell Weicker’s famous wiggle in the 1990 gubernatorial campaign. Weicker, too, refused to rule out new taxes but insisted that was the last thing he wanted to do. It became the first thing he did in office. Weicker released a campaign commercial declaring his opposition to instituting an income tax, comparing increasing taxes to pouring oil on a fire. Once elected, he brought smart advisors in a room — notably his budget chief, income tax proponent Bill Cibes — and declared that they discovered no alternative to instituting an income tax.
Ganim responded that his record shows that in tough budget times, he did manage to avoid tax increases. In the early ‘90s, he succeeded a mayor who sought to have Bridgeport declare bankruptcy. Ganim said he shelved that idea and negotiated a new city health self-insurance compact with labor that saved money while preserving key benefits. More recently, he said, he obtained state permission for a bond sale with an interest rate that will eventually save $60 million on police and fire pension costs.
Asked about state revenue options beyond tax increases, Ganim came out in favor of interstate highway tolls, legalizing recreational marijuana use, and approving the MGM Grand casino deal in Bridgeport. Combined, that could eventually add $1 billion in new annual revenue, he argued. He acknowledged objections to the casino deal — such as the impact on gambling addicts and on the existing state deal with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe for its casino. Ganim said he believes the total benefits would outweigh the costs.
“I Wasn’t Driving”
A listener posted a question on Facebook Live asking Ganim about what became the biggest story of his gubernatorial announcement day: The decision by a state trooper not to issue a ticket to Ganim’s driver (who’s a cop) after he was clocked speeding at 87 miles per hour as he ferried the candidate to Hartford.“Why are civilian cars able to drive 90 mph with out a ticket? How is this holding police accountable (the person driving the car)?” wrote the listener, going by the handle Be Jammin.Ganim responded by criticizing the media for focusing on the story and questioning how far above the speed limit the car was actually going.“I wasn’t driving,” he pointed out. He added that “there was no deference given to me.” The state police stated that the trooper was acting within protocol by deciding not to issue a ticket to the driver.“I’ve gotten plenty of tickets in my life,” Ganim said. Then he added: “Not recently.”
Click on or download the above audio file or Facebook Live video below to listen to the full interview with Joe Ganim.
WNHH interviews with other gubernatorial candidates:
Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below for an interview with Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Dita Bhargava on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.”
Click on or download the above audio file or on the Facebook Live video to below to hear an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Mike Handler on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program. Click here for a story about that interview.
Click on or download the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Prasad Srinivasan on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.” Click here to read a story about that interview.
Click on the above audio file or the Facebook Live video below to hear a WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Steve Obsitnik. Click here to read a story about that interview.
Click on or download the above audio file to hear a previous WNHH FM “Dateline New Haven” interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Ganim. Click here for a story about that interview.
Click on or download the above audio file to a an interview with GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Boughton on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program; and click here to read a story about that interview.
Click on or download the above audio file to hear an interview with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Drew; and click here to read a story about the interview.