Washington — Connecticut’s mayors made their annual pilgrimage to Washington this week, looking for money, connections and ideas.
For Mayor Joe Ganim of Bridgeport, attending the 84th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors is a return to the a national club he quit in 2003, when a corruption scandal forced him from office and sent him to prison for seven years.
“I’m here to renew relationships,” Ganim said.
The three-day conference, cut short for many by the prospect of a historic blizzard expected to hit Washington tomorrow, is a unique opportunity for municipal leaders to meet other mayors in their states – and other states. It is also a rare chance to meet President Obama and much of his cabinet.
First Lady Michelle Obama was the mayors’ luncheon speaker Thursday.
The hunt for money is also a priority for the 14 Connecticut mayors who attended the conference,
For Ganim, it was securing federal policing and airport improvement funds.
But there was also fun to be had.
Ganim posed for a photo with actor Christopher McDonald and won a set of spice bottles, emblazoned with the insignia of the New England Patriots, from GCI Communications for playing a bit of indoor golf. He was first offered a set of bottles with the Seattle Seahawks insignia, but declined. “This doesn’t look right,” he said.,
Lobbyists and other representatives from big companies establish booths at the conference held every year at the Capitol Hilton. They roam the halls of the hotel, cornering mayors. Wells Fargo, J.T. Morgan and the American Beverage Association and Walmart were among the sponsors.
Former Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, whom Ganim defeated, was also at the conference, a result of his long involvement with the mayors’ group.
Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, a Republican, said he always returned from the mayor’s conference with an idea that involved collaboration with other mayors.
“Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, every mayor faces the same challenges,” he said. While Herbst said he’s on the lookout for new ideas and strategies, he conceded “money, too, is important.”
Like most of the mayors at the conference, Herbst planned to visit the White House Thursday afternoon, for almost four hours, and meet with Obama and members of his cabinet.
If he had a chance to speak with Obama, Herbst said, he would say “Mr. President, I am deeply concerned about the partisan gridlock and am deeply concerned how politics have gotten to such a level that the candidates on the extreme are high in the polls.”
Herbst said he’s rejected GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and is backing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for his “no nonsense approach,” to government.
Ken Cockayne, the mayor of Bristol, said his priority was meeting with Connecticut Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.
‘I’m looking to see if they can help us with any grants” Cockayne said.
This was Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling’s first mayor’s conference. He brought his wife Lucia. “It makes you aware of where to look for grants,” he said.
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin registered for the conference, but did not attend. He was in Washington this week, anyway.
He was in a group of 10 newly elected mayors invited to the White House Tuesday to meet with senior officials on the issues of criminal justice, homelessness and how to improve municipal services through technology.
“The president’s commitment to reforming our criminal justice system, promoting second chances, combatting homelessness, and engaging disengaged young people will make a real difference in Hartford,” Bronin said in a statement.