Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim’s time spent in jail was one of the many subjects brought up at the Democratic Gubernatorial debate at Sacred Heart University Thursday afternoon, July 26.
Ganim, 58 and born in Easton, is running against Greenwich business owner Ned Lamont, 64.
Ganim, who spent seven years in prison for convictions on 16 felony counts of racketeering, bribery, mail fraud, conspiracy, and tax evasion, was asked by one of the panelists why the public should think his crimes were “a mistake” and not a “pattern of behavior.”
In response, Ganim said not only were his crimes a “serious error of judgement” but he has learned from them.
“I learned lessons about the impacts of mistakes,” said Ganim who is now beginning his seventh term as mayor of Connecticut’s largest city. He added he hopes society will “consider the good in a person” regardless if they have broken the law.
The city of Bridgeport has given him “a second chance,” he said, by giving him an opportunity to serve as mayor.
Ganim then referred to a saying he said he often tells others: “Every saint has a past, but with that I like to believe that every sinner may be given an opportunity for a future,” he said.
He added he has demonstrated “proven results” in a “tough environment” running Bridgeport, “creating jobs and giving people an opportunity for a second chance.”
Lamont responded that the people of Bridgeport decided that Ganim deserved a second chance when they elected him to be the mayor.
“I think he should honor that by finishing the term there — and I told him I would be there as governor, doing what I could to make Bridgeport great,” Lamont said, amidst chuckles from the audience.
Moderating the debate, which was open to the public, was Ken Dixon, Hearst Connecticut Media Group political editor and columnist.
Panelists questioning the candidates were Gary Rose, professor and chair of the Department of Government, Politics and Global Studies at SHU; Ebong Udoma, senior political reporter at WSHU Public Radio; and Hearst Connecticut Media Group political reporter Kaitlyn Krasselt.
The Republican Gubernatorial debate was held on Tuesday, also at Sacred Heart University.
On Wednesday, the state Bond Commission voted to spend $10 million for an electronic study to consider reinstating tolls in the state.
A panelist said that at Tuesday’s debate, all the GOP candidates were against reinstating tolls.
However, Ganim spoke in favor of them since he said it brings in revenue.
“How do we get the money from out-of-state residents, truckers included, but everyone who drives to Connecticut from New Jersey, from New York, from Massachusetts, from Rhode Island, from out of town, when we are paying to go through theirs, so with that approach, I say we look at tolls,” he said.
Yet Ganim said he’s not in favor of spending $10 million dollars on the toll study “when people are hurting in cities and towns across Connecticut. Add the money to schools or to highways.”
While Lamont acknowledged he and Ganim are both opposed to the toll study, he said, “Joe was for it before he was against it.”
While both candidates said they think Republicans in general have not been making wise choices, Ganim said Lamont would be making a mistake by not endorsing him as governor should Ganim win the primary.
“My opponent has not agreed to stay a Democrat after the primary if I win,” Ganim said. “He said he won’t endorse me as the Democratic nominee. That’s crazy. Faced with the challenges Connecticut is facing and the different ideology Republicans have espoused, that would be detrimental to the cities and the people.”
When the topic of the fatal shooting by Bridgeport police last year of 15-year-old Jayson Negron was brought up by a panelist, Ganim said his job as mayor sometimes limits him from responding in the way that he wants desires.
“Sometimes where your heart is as a public official is not where your authority allows you to go,” Ganim said, referring to questions at a previous debate on why police weren’t punished for the shooting. “Within the law of that situation, my heart still went out to the family.”
Lamont said, however, that one should listen when a person is grieving over the loss of a loved one.
“When I met Negron’s sister, I saw the pain in her eyes and the pain of her family and her friends who were there and one thing you do as a governor is you reach out and let them know you are there and listening. Her pain was a sense that nobody had listened to her,” Lamont said. “When you’re a governor of a state, you’ve got to be there and let people know you understand the pain they are going through every day.”
Ganim told Lamont being limited in authority is “just one of the challenges you have when you are a mayor or a governor. If you’ve had that experience, you would know.”
When the topic of untruthful politicians was brought up, Ganim accused his opponent of claiming many untruths.
“You said you had a union endorsement, [and] you didn’t have it,” Ganim said. “You claim to be a teacher at Harding high school and you weren’t.”
In his closing statement, Ganim, who in previous debates has pointed out the huge disparity between the income of his opponent with the average Bridgeport resident, told Lamont “Let’s disclose our assets. We should agree to financial disclosure.”
Lamont responded, “the first thing I’m going to disclose is a plan to turn around the state of Connecticut. That’s what we need right now.”