Column: Joe Ganim and the inevitable return of history

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)

Joe Ganim is re-filling his corrupt shoes with astonishing speed and virtuosity in Bridgeport. Mayor Ganim has “forced out 56 people in the name of cost savings and restructuring” since his return to office last year, according to a Connecticut Post report. In reverting to his old ways, the mayor has validated concerns regarding the extent of his rehabilitation and identity as a changed man.

While Ganim has decimated his staff this new year, he has also secured questionable positions for close associates, even hiring his old driver as a “$75,000-a-year aide.” The people of Bridgeport reelected the mayor with blind optimism, hoping a prison stint reformed Ganim. Instead, voters fulfilled his wildest dreams, letting an icon of corruption waltz back into his old office and tap the same reservoir of power he’d been forced from years earlier.  

On the campaign trail, Ganim made overtures to the electorate, promising change. When announcing his victory, Ganim looked into the eyes of the people responsible for his unlikely return to power and reiterated that he “never stopped caring.” Unfortunately, Ganim’s only care is for his own ego, which he protects and inflates with vicious efficiency. 

The people of Bridgeport entrusted Ganim with the stewardship of their city, looking for a way out of a decades’ long trough. The Connecticut Post quoted Ganim’s communications director, Av Harris, who characterized the mayor’s recent personnel changes as “restructuring.” The mayor and his cronies must understand restructuring is a process suited to failing corporations, not a living, breathing city.

While new staff are vital to invigorating a stagnant bureaucracy, undermining the foundation of City Hall provides no benefit to the city or the people. If Ganim hopes to revitalize the city with the strategies of an organized crime syndicate, he will only contribute a short-term solution to Bridgeport’s myriad pitfalls.

A former member of the mayor’s administration characterized his City Hall as brimming with advisers and aides. Ganim has surrounded himself with a cadre of well-paid officials, while the city suffers through dire financial straits and locals pay some of the highest taxes in Connecticut. Instead of adopting a pragmatic approach, Ganim has reverted to his old, brash methods, dusting off the rusted guillotine, burning through office after office in an effort to create his perfect army of loyal commandants. 

Ganim is a prototypical politician, grinning throughout stump speeches and gritty campaign months, in pursuit of clout and personal prestige. There are few publicly elected officials in Connecticut with as much power as the Mayor of Bridgeport.

 This man has once more proven himself to have possess no control when surrounded by the intoxicating aroma of raw political might. He settled into his restored chair with an alarming aura of déjà vu. By installing cronies in all major city offices, Ganim has renovated the Bridgeport mayor’s office into a facsimile of his nineties enterprise.

In Orson Welles’ 1954 film, Mr. Arkadin, the protagonist recalls the fable centering on a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion asks the frog is he would help him across a river, to which the frog wisely refuses, fearing the scorpion’s sting. The quick-witted scorpion then tells the frog that if he were to sting the frog, they would both drown. Trusting this logic, the frog begins to cross the river with the scorpion on his back.

It appears that Ganim occupied his hours in prison not with repentance, but planning his calculated plot for political retribution. In the aforementioned fable, the scorpion stings the frog halfway across the river, dooming them both. The frog asks, “Why did you do that? Now we’re both going to die,” to which the scorpion responds, “Because I’m a scorpion.” Like the scorpion, Ganim has proven the indelibility of corruption on the soul. 

The City of Bridgeport is in desperate need of a turnaround. In seeking change, the electorate failed to prod Joe Ganim’s “reformed” façade for remnants of his past sins. Ganim promised the people of Bridgeport a reformed man of character, morality and ethics.

Instead, he has delivered an aged, vengeful version of his prior self, ready to take back his gilded castle at all costs, drowning the city along with what remains of his career.


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