Column: With Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Icarus gets a new set of wings

Democrat Joe Ganim celebrates with his son Rob and other supporters after winning the election as Bridgeport's new mayor at Testo's Restaurant in Bridgeport, Conn., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015. Ganim, an ex-convict who spent seven years in federal prison for corruption, reclaimed the Bridgeport mayor's office Tuesday, completing a stunning comeback bid that tapped nostalgia for brighter days in Connecticut's largest city. (Hartford Courant via AP)

 When former mayor and mayor-elect Joseph Ganim took the stage on election night to announce his victory, an unmistakable sense of absolution washed over the resurrected politician’s face. He said, "Tonight, we not only made history, but we defined a new course for this great city…of course, there's an element of redemption in all of this,” according to coverage from The Associated Press.

Ganim previously served as Bridgeport’s mayor from 1991 to 2003, when, as reported by the AP, he was convicted of 16 charges of corruption stemming from political favors and actions.

Reelecting this man highlights the most tragically naïve elements of the American psyche.

Reelecting Joe Ganim represents the worst aspects of this system.

To vote for a man convicted of deceiving the people and the office will, save divine intervention, prove catastrophic for Bridgeport. He proved prone to megalomania before, and now those 11,198, according CT Post reports, who reelected Ganim have given him a chance to hone his power-drunkenness and savor the power he dreamt of redeeming while serving his sentence. 
Ovid wrote of the boy Icarus, caught in a delusion of hubris, who “began to delight in his daring flight, and abandoning his guide, drawn by desire for the heavens, soared higher. His nearness to the devouring sun softened the fragrant wax that held the wings: and the wax melted: he flailed with bare arms, but losing his oar-like wings, could not ride the air.” Though Joseph Ganim lacks Icarus’ naiveté, his fall from grace and subsequent political resurrection offer an alternate version of this tale, in which Daedalus, instead of seeing his son collide with the “dark blue sea” caught his son Icarus and brought him back from the brink. Bridgeport has brought back their fallen son, and with him, the ridicule of the nation. 

The city, which The New York Times described as being fraught with corruption, choking taxes and crime, has reelected their former mayor, Ganim, choosing to ignore his past sins. Though a criminal record should not hinder success, electing a man convicted of felony corruption and racketeering whilst in office, back to that very same office, is a twist better suited for the stage. This reelection rests on an unfounded belief in the potential for dramatic personality transformation. The people of Bridgeport have placed all their chips on red, hoping their resurrected hero will rise above his megalomania and champion their needs. Perhaps they will be proven right. Other political figures have risen from the ashes of their own misfortune, made some Faustian deal and found political redemption. However, when the crime committed is one that speaks to a fundamental inability to be trusted with duties enshrined in the office of mayor, reelection is blissful ignorance.

We continually elect individuals who profess a desire to help the everyman, willfully ignoring their clear desire for personal power and political clout. Reelecting Joe Ganim represents the worst aspects of this system. With the average candidate, one who has never been caught in political grey areas, this wishful thinking and benefit of the doubt provides plausible deniability. With Joe Ganim, there are court documents, mug shots and seven years of prison time to prove that the man failed to hold up his promise to the people of Bridgeport. Instead of hoping that a mayoral candidate isn’t cut from the same cloth of the politically corrupt, the voters chose to ignore irrefutable proof. 

This is indicative of the state of politics in America, where voters have become so used to corruption that even proof of such is not enough to deter votes. Where voters used to opt for the ostensibly clean cut, they are now finding solace and comfort in the comeback hero. Perhaps the people of Bridgeport will be absolved of their willingness to reelect a corrupt man. They have given Icarus new life and new wings, hoping that the wax does not once more melt away in light of intense hubris. For the City of Bridgeport, we must hope they have elected a rehabilitated man. The CT Mirror quoted Ganim as saying, “This election, it’s not about the past”; perhaps the penal system has turned the formerly corrupt Joe Ganim into a trustworthy man. However, unless the system succeeded where it too often fails, this election needed to include meditation on the past. Once the intoxicating air of redemption disperses, reality will become painfully clear. The skills suited to his crime are identical to the skills needed to pull the wool over the peoples’ eyes, capitalize on the American parable of a comeback, and commit Bridgeport to an uncertain future.


Christopher Sacco is opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.sacco@uconn.edu.