BRIDGEPORT – Joseph Ganim is touting the city’s quality of life, housing stock — especially at affordable and market rates — its community policing efforts and the city’s many entertainment options as bright spots and reasons he should be reelected to a third consecutive four-year term as mayor.
His opponents instead paint the 63-year-old Ganim – who was mayor from 1991 to 2003 and then again since 2015 – as ineffective and lacking transparency.
Ganim, a Democrat, who spent time in prison for corruption before mounting a mayoral comeback in 2015, told CT Examiner that the city is on the right track, has grown its grand list for several years, and has been noticed by Wall Street and the national media as a great place to live.
Ganim also noted that Fitch Investor Service had upgraded the city’s bond debt rating from A to A+, and the city’s rating was also upgraded by Moody’s — both in August 2022.
Ganim acknowledged a somewhat negative perception of the city, but said it wasn’t baked in reality, and touted instead an ABC Good Morning America report naming Bridgeport among the top 5 “booming cities” in America.
“We have an administration that is not only very competent and capable, but has been recognized by Wall Street for how we handle our finances,” said Ganim, who was recently endorsed unanimously by the city’s Democratic Town Committee.
He has also received the support of the New Movement Party and said he’d address whether or not to run on that line if he doesn’t win the Sept. 12 primary.
Ganim is facing Democrats John Gomes, Lamond Daniels and State Sen. Marilyn Moore in the primary. The Republican Town Committee endorsed local attorney David Herz.
Daniels and Moore – who lost to Ganim in the 2019 primary by less than 300 votes – have gone after Ganim on the issue of trust, transparency, and the perception of corruption in the city.
Herz, for his part, said he knows he is a long-shot candidate and is making education and economic growth the cornerstone of his campaign.
Gomes’ campaign did not respond to numerous requests for an interview.
Moore, a 74-year-old four-term state senator and executive director of The Witness Project of Connecticut, a breast cancer awareness nonprofit, said she’s proud to have the support of Bridgeport Generation Now Votes, a nonprofit calling for more transparency in city government and expanded access to the ballot.
Moore said she was “looking to bring integrity, honesty and transparency” to City Hall, which she said was “lacking” now.
“I believe that’s what the people want and they have not had that in a candidate other than myself. I have spent many years focusing on integrity and transparency. I will work with the people; not the special interests.”
Moore promised to convene an advisory committee to encourage an effort to better the city.
The committee, Moore told CT Examiner, would include the business community, community activists, clergy and immigrants.
“Immigrants have been left out of the conversation, but they are a large part of the fabric of the city of Bridgeport,” said Moore.
Daniels, who works as a licensed clinical social worker for neighboring Norwalk, told CT Examiner that people are leaving the city for a variety of reasons.
“Why are they moving away?,” asked Daniels, who lives in the city’s Brooklawn community. “I think there is a perception of our city and that continues to be a stain on us. There is this perception of corruption and backdoor deals. There is a perception that when they come to the city that they are not going to be treated fairly and equitable when they are submitting bids or wanting to do business here. That’s what folks are telling me.”
Herz, the only Republican in the field, said he volunteered when his party’s town committee asked who wanted to run for mayor. Since that time, Herz has run a campaign calling for educational “autonomy and choice.”
“I want people to be able to choose their own schools,” said Herz, who is running as a Republican in a city where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 10 to 1. “I’m very much for choice, we need options like magnet schools. We can’t be beholden to the unions.”
Herz, who lives near Beardsley Park, also claimed, like some others running for the mayoral post, that bureaucracy often gets in the way of doing business in the city.
“There is an old trope here in Bridgeport that, you know, the developers will develop on either side of Bridgeport but don’t actually come into Bridgeport because the bureaucracy is something else and because the timeframes to get things done [such as the permit process] are longer,” said Herz, who added that he’d work closely, if elected, with organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and the Bridgeport Regional Business Council.
His platform, outlined on his web page, also touched on gender affirming therapy and the role that God plays in society.
Interviewed earlier in the week, Ganim rattled off what he called successes in areas ranging from housing to nightlife to policing and business growth.
Ganim said he was proud of the city’s new police chief, Roderick Porter, and said that the city is in the process of hiring 100 more officers — there are currently 280 uniformed officers and 53 civilian personnel on the force. There are also 23 officers currently in the Police Academy and scheduled to graduate in October.
Ganim said public safety remains a top priority, and called community policing, which includes sensitivity training, a positive for the city.
“Police officers are on the street, walking the beat,” said Ganim, who chairs a public safety subcommittee for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Look, I know we are low on manpower, but you will be amazed at what you can do when you get out of your car and walk.”
Countering claims by his opponents that the city needed to offer better housing options, particularly ones that are affordable, Ganim touted the city’s numerous market rate and public housing developments, including the former “Marina Village,” and Crescent Crossing, and the market rate Lofts 881 on Lafayette Boulevard.
Ganim also said that, with the help of federal ARPA funds, several Bridgeport businesses have been able to flourish and expand, including Grill II, which recently opened a second location, and Preventive Healthcare Solutions, an integrative health center that provides affordable alternative healthcare.
Ganim said the city – at 17 square miles – is also a destination.
He noted the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater on Broad Street and the nearby Total Mortgage Arena, at 600 Main St., a 10,000-seat multi-purpose facility.
He called Bridgeport the “entertainment capital of Connecticut.”
But Moore told CT Examiner that Ganim had not kept his promises regarding city projects and that he is disingenuous when it comes to the city’s major venue and nightlife.
“So, people come to our big events at the arena or amphitheater but, because we have no hotels, they stay in Shelton, Trumbull or Fairfield,” she said. “Why would a major tournament come here if you can’t even host the people because you do not have a hotel.”
Moore noted that the last hotel in the city, a Holiday Inn, closed in 2021.
Moore says she’d like to see more “recreational facilities for our kids. We need to get our kids off the streets and give them [a place to go and congregate].”
The three challengers for mayor who spoke to CT Examiner also said the city’s permit process needs to be streamlined.
“The problems we are seeing in Bridgeport are, and I’ve heard this a lot and again [recently] when I sat down with some small business owners, is how hard it is to do business,” Moore said. “It’s about how slow the city is to respond and how slow the permit process is.”
Daniels told CT Examiner that there needed to be “a streamlining of the permitting process. You go to one person and they give you one answer and you go to another department [and it might be different.] We really need to increase technology so that city employees can do their jobs efficiently.”
Daniels said he’d call for a city-wide audit, including of the schools, to see “how we are spending our money.”
Moore, who lives in the city’s Brooklawn neighborhood, said the city needs more affordable housing given the city’s high rents.
Moore said that as state senator she was part of a group of legislators that voted to approve millions of dollars to retrofit older homes throughout the state. She said Bridgeport has its fair share of older homes and that a concerted effort needs to be made to make those homes more livable.
“You can ride around Bridgeport and you will see older homes that may need siding, windows or doors,” Moore said. “You need to retrofit these older homes, energize them, and you would be saving money [in the long run]. It would pay for itself over time.”
Daniels told CT Examiner that as a social worker he sees how important mental health services, especially for the youth, can be.
“We need more mental health services and more resources [for the school district],” Daniels said. “We also have to make sure we have the latest start-of-the-art equipment. I’m in Norwalk, I work in Norwalk, and I’m always impressed when I visit the public schools there and see what’s in those [school] buildings. And, when I come back to Bridgeport, you know, I’m disappointed. I want my daughter [who attends Bridgeport public schools] to have what other communities have and that’s just not happening on a regular basis.”
Ganim, who said he’s knocked on between 1,000 and 2,000 doors in the city, was asked if there is an area where his administration had fallen short.
While underscoring his successes, Ganim said there was more he wanted to do about homelessness, helping people with disabilities and the elderly.
“I think we’ve done a really good job, but there is always more to do,” Ganim said. “We’ve done tremendous work with many of our nonprofits on the effort with the homelessness, and working with people that have handicaps and disabilities and providing greater for our seniors. I still think we still can do more.”