Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim took a tentative step Friday toward a possible campaign for governor in 2018, asking the State Elections Enforcement Commission to clear him for the state’s public financing program, despite his corruption conviction.
“Today I am asking the State Elections Enforcement Commission for a declaratory ruling stating that I be allowed to participate in the Citizens’ Election Program should I seek statewide elected office,” Ganim said. “I want to be clear that I have not decided to seek statewide office, but it is something I am considering. If I do seek statewide office, I am absolutely committed to transparency and clean elections, and I would want to participate in the program.”
Ganim, who was forced from office by his conviction in 2003, is testing whether a revision to the public financing program in 2013 that bars felons applies to candidates with convictions prior to passage. If formally denied by the State Elections Enforcement Program, Ganim could sue in Superior Court.
“Simply put, I am looking for the same equal opportunity, should I decide to seek state elected office, to participate in the clean and fair public financing system that has transformed Connecticut’s elections for the better,” Ganim said. “If I should run for such an office, I am requesting the honor and privilege of being among those who can say they came to office free of special interest money.”
Ganim’s interest in a potential run for statewide office is no secret. He marked the first anniversary of his mayoral comeback with a coming-out party of sorts: a fundraiser that drew Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, Attorney General George Jepsen, Comptroller Kevin Lembo and Democratic State Chairman Nick Balletto.
Their attendance was less a tribute to Ganim than to Bridgeport’s important role in Democratic politics: The city trails only New Haven in the number of votes produced for Democratic candidates. Barack Obama carried the city five years ago, 32,135 to 5,168 for Mitt Romney. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy carried the city three years ago in his re-election, 16,863 to 4,623 for Republican Tom Foley.
Malloy, a Democrat, is not expected to seek a third term for governor, though he has made no announcement.
In the first round of any Democratic contest — the convention endorsement — the backing of the city organization in New Haven or Bridgeport is an advantage. Whether the party as a whole is willing to look past Ganim’s conviction is untested.
Ganim got through his first budget crisis last spring, closing a $20 million deficit with the help of some one-time revenues, including $6 million from the sale of city land. He was a Hillary Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where he addressed the state delegation and was introduced by U.S. Rep. John B. Larson as the “comeback kid.”
Later in the summer, Malloy made a high-profile visit to the city, sitting with the mayor to address the state’s efforts to help Ganim’s police department quell a spate of shootings.
Left unsaid is that, as a sitting mayor, Ganim would have some fundraising clout should he be denied public financing: He could solicit people who do business with the city, which would be awkward for a mayor who did time for shaking down city contractors for about $500,000.
Ganim, 57, a disbarred lawyer, completed his unlikely comeback 24 years after winning his first term in city hall in 1991 and five years after ending a seven-year stay in federal prison in 2010. He defeated Mayor Bill Finch in a Democratic primary, then won the November election by a 2-1 margin.
He has been a frequent visitor to the Capitol since his election.
Ganim would prefer public financing if he runs statewide. The Citizens Election Program, a reform created in 2005 after the corruption conviction of Gov. John G. Rowland, provides more than $6 million for a gubernatorial general election campaign. Ganim said the ban on felons makes no sense.
“As I read it, this statute potentially creates an illogical system whereby, although I am currently the mayor of Connecticut’s largest city, and can run for and be elected to the highest offices in state government, this law appears to preclude me from participation in Connecticut’s clean election law program. This law, if so applied, could have the effect of distorting the democratic process.”