Friday, November 20, 2015

John F. Kennedy --- A Martyr for Peace?

           By Reginald Johnson

                In the most memorable speech of his presidency, John F. Kennedy told the graduates of American University in June of 1963 that America had to build a peace that would not just provide security for our nation, but for all of mankind.

            “What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace --- the kind of peace that makes life worth living  --- the kind that enables man and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children’ --- not merely peace for Americans, but peace for all men and women --- not merely peace in our time, but peace for all time.”

    In that speech as well, Kennedy talked of U.S. negotiations with the Soviet Union to achieve controls on nuclear weapons and their testing. He announced a unilateral suspension of nuclear tests in the atmosphere, so as to promote “our primary long-range interests” and a “general and complete disarmament.”

  Essentially, the speech was a repudiation of the Cold War.

   Five months later,  on November 22nd --- 52 years ago this Sunday --- President Kennedy was assassinated, gunned own in a hail of bullets as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas.

   A later investigation by the Warren Commission held that one man, and one man only ---- Lee Harvey Oswald --- was the killer. Oswald was portrayed as a lonely drifter, alienated from society and pro-communist.

   But in the book “JFK and the Unspeakable --- Why He Died, and Why It Matters,” author James. W. Douglass maintains that elements of the U.S. military and intelligence establishment --- enraged over Kennedy’s less aggressive approach to dealing with Cuba and Vietnam and his push for peaceful relations with the Soviet Union --- had him murdered. Oswald was only a scapegoat in a plot carried out by other people.

   Douglass, a peace activist and Christian theologian who studied the Kennedy assassination for years, writes that Kennedy ran afoul of high military officials and the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1960s, with a series of foreign policy decisions.

  The first was when Kennedy prevented direct American assistance in the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles aimed at overthrowing communist dictator Fidel Castro, an invasion which was repelled by Castro’s forces. The second was in October, 1962 when Kennedy, in the eyes of the military, made too many concessions to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during negotiations to settle the confrontation with Russia over Soviet missile installations in Cuba. Kennedy rejected a plan by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to launch a preemptive attack against Cuba (a step which would likely have triggered a nuclear war).

  The third was Kennedy’s push for a nuclear test ban; and the fourth was JFK’s order that the U.S. slow its involvement in Vietnam, and bring all troops home by 1965.

   After that, Douglass contends, Kennedy was a “marked man.”

  Douglass shows in the book how Lee Harvey Oswald, contrary to the myth spun by the Warren Commission, was actually an intelligence asset, a person manipulated by the CIA and made to look like some kooky pro-communist sympathizer who hated the United States and hated Kennedy. The perfect fall guy.

  The author writes that while it is clear Kennedy entered his presidency with a reputation as a Cold War hardliner, his attitudes began to change, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world came perilously close to World War 111.

   “John Kennedy was no saint. Nor was he an apostle of non-violence. However, as we are called to do, he was turning. Teshuvah, “turning,” the rabbinic word for repentance, is the explanation for Kennedy’s short-lived, contradictory journey towards peace. He was turning from what would have been the worst violence in history, toward a new, more peaceful possibility in his and our lives,” Douglass wrote.

    As his administration progressed, Kennedy knew he was out of step with the views of the military, CIA and national security team. Increasingly, he felt isolated, Douglass writes. The author maintains that Kennedy was aware of the possibility of a coup d’etat, and that his life might be in danger.

    Nonetheless, Kennedy was determined to move away from the prevailing Cold War ideology of “defeating the enemy,” and towards dialogue. Douglass reports that Kennedy set up back-door channels of communication with both Khrushchev and Fidel Castro, trying to achieve d├ętente.

  The secret communications between Kennedy and these leaders were facilitated by different people, including journalists. In fact, at the moment Kennedy was shot in Dallas, French journalist Jean Daniel, who had previously interviewed Kennedy, was interviewing Castro in Havana, and getting his response to Kennedy’s openness to improving relations between the two countries.

   Douglass raises the possibility that Kennedy willingly put his life on the line for peace.

   “Was John F. Kennedy a martyr, one who in spite of his contradictions, gave his life as witness to a new, more peaceful humanity?” he asks. Douglass doesn’t answer that question, instead saying, “let the reader decide.”

Douglass intersperses his writing about Kennedy and the plot to kill him, with a discussion of the views of the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. The connection is that Merton, a noted Catholic theologian in the 1950s and 1960s, was writing considerably at the time Kennedy took office about the pressing need for more dialogue between the nuclear superpowers and a move toward disarmament, in order to avoid a nuclear holocaust. He expressed his concerns in letters sent to a number of major public figures of the day, including Kennedy’s sister-in-law, Ethel Kennedy.

  Merton wrote that while he was skeptical about whether Kennedy had enough character to move away from the Cold War mindset and towards peace, he hoped he would. It’s not known whether any of Merton’s letters reached JFK himself.

  Douglass based part of his book title on a term that Merton coined in the mid-sixties --- “The Unspeakable.”  Merton came up with the term as the nation was rocked by the assassinations of Kennedy, his brother Robert, Martin Luther King and the mounting death toll in Vietnam.

  “The Unspeakable” referred to a moral depravity on the part of many of the nation’s leaders and individuals who are part of the secretive intelligence/national security apparatus. Put in another way, Merton felt there was a moral void on the part of people in power, a void which allows them to perpetrate massive crimes, such as assassinations, wanton bombing of other countries and torture, with no accountability.

  But The Unspeakable affects the nation’s citizens as well, Merton said. Lulled to sleep by a media which rarely asks government leaders about what’s really going on and always paints a positive picture about the country's actions abroad, people live in a “climate of denial” about the possibility that terrible things are being done to maintain American power.

   “JFK and the Unspeakable” is a remarkable book that I recommend to everyone. While I have already read quite a bit about the Kennedy assassination, this book gave me even more information and perspective. The book brought home again the power and ruthlessness of our national security state.

    I was particularly moved by Douglass’s writing on John Kennedy’s transformation from Cold War hardliner to peace advocate.

  I agree with Douglass’s assertion that we owe a debt of gratitude to John Kennedy, and his partner in peacemaking, Nikita Khrushchev, for taking steps to create a more peaceful relationship between the two superpowers and for pulling the world back from nuclear annihilation.





Friday, November 13, 2015

Stop World War III

      By Reginald Johnson


     NEW HAVEN ---- As the nation paused this week to honor the veterans of wars past and present, a group of peace activists gathered here to demand that the United States stop trying to “provoke” so much conflict around the world.

            Holding placards saying “Honor Vets, Stop Wars” and “Lower Military Budget, Raise Minimum Wage” members of the Greater New Haven Peace Council and others held a protest called “Veterans Day Vigil to Stop World War 111” to underscore the urgent need for a change in American foreign policy.

       “We’re calling for support of veterans, putting resources into veterans, not ignoring the needs of vets, addressing the medical needs of vets, but at the same time, honoring veterans by stopping wars,” said Henry Lowendorf, a spokesman for the council.

      Lowendorf said the Obama administration has to begin de-esclating the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, which the U.S. had a key role in creating in the first place.  America, he said, has to “stop provoking the Russians, the Chinese, the Syrians and other people and other governments.”

Peace activists demand that U.S. military interventions around the world must end.

    Unless there is a real change in U.S. policy --- turning towards diplomacy as a means of resolving problems and away from military intervention --- the chance of a global catastrophe is real, Lowendorf and others said.

      About a dozen people showed up for the protest, held in a drizzly rain on the corner of Chapel and College streets, in the heart of the city’s downtown.

   The demonstrators held up their signs to the cars going by, and a number of drivers honked their approval.

Mary Compton (center) and Susan Klein (left) say no to war.

     A flyer passed out by the group said: “Our world is at a critically dangerous juncture: there is the possibility of a military, even a thermonuclear, confrontation between NATO, led by the United States, and Russia. These nations each possess thousands of nuclear missiles aimed at each other on hair trigger alert. The militaries of the two superpowers are again facing each other, this time in Eastern Europe, especially in Ukraine, and in Syria. And tensions are increasing each passing day."

   The group demanded immediate diplomatic negotiations to end the conflict in Syria, involving all interested parties, including the Syrian government; removal of all NATO forces from the states bordering Russia; dismantle NATO; remove all foreign troops from Afghanistan; and end the U.S. strategy for global domination.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Ganim is back, and so is Testa


   By Reginald Johnson                  

      BRIDGEPORT ---- Fascinating piece recently in the Connecticut Post about the city’s resident kingmaker, Mario Testa.

        At the election-night victory party for Joe Ganim --- who had just completed a remarkable political comeback by winning the mayoral election in Connecticut's largest city --- reporter Brian Lockhart got Testa, the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee, to open up about his long-standing support for Ganim, and how he (Testa) sees a rather large role for himself in running city government.

       When I read the comments by Testa,  the word “hubris” kept coming to mind.

   Testa revealed that despite his public claims about being neutral during the 2015 mayoral campaign, he was working behind the scenes for a full two years to bring Ganim back and unseat incumbent Mayor Bill Finch.

     Ganim had been mayor from 1991 to 2003, before leaving the mayor’s office in disgrace after the FBI found out he was running a wide-ranging corruption scheme. Following his conviction on 16 felony counts, Ganim served seven years in prison, and was released in 2010.

   It’s unusual and not exactly kosher for a town committee chairman to be working secretly to undo the top elected official in the city, a person who is from the same political party.  The actions by Testa are all the more brazen when one considers that he was trying to replace a mayor who was basically pointing the city in the right direction with someone who had been involved in a major corruption scandal and went to prison for it.

   But Mario Testa apparently doesn’t care. He has always believed he has a lot of power, and also believes he can do things other people dare not to.

  Testa maintained that he turned on Finch because the mayor and his staff were not consulting him enough on political matters.

   “If Bill Finch would have respect for the chairman, he would still be the mayor,” Testa said in the Post interview.

   Testa also said he urged Finch to reach out to the minority community more, to party district leaders in black and Latino neighborhoods, and that wasn’t done.

   Testa has a point here; the administration could have reached out more to minorities, and Finch in the end paid a price. Ganim got strong support from blacks and Latinos in the primary election, when Ganim upset Finch.

   But the Post story indicated the town committee boss wants to be heard not just on political matters, but on City Hall policy issues as well. This was apparently another source of friction with Finch.

   This is a key point. I know that going back to the years of  Ganim’s first administration, there were a number of people who said privately that Testa was included in a lot of key decisions, including who to hire and who to appoint.

  Testa will surely regain this important behind-the-scenes role now that Ganim is back at the helm in City Hall. Since Testa played a central role in helping Ganim mount his comeback, it’s highly unlikely Ganim would now suddenly keep Testa out of the loop on key matters.

   So what you have here is a man who wields a tremendous amount of influence in how the city is run, although he never got this power through a public election or appointment. And Testa doesn’t have to answer to the public for anything he does. There’s no accountability.

    This is a very troubling situation and one which a lot of people in this city have wanted to change for some time.

   Now, it looks like they’re going to have to wait some more before this situation changes.

  Ganim will be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 1, and has a four-year term.



Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bridgeport Voters: We Want Ganim

  By Reginald Johnson 


         BRIDGEPORT, CT ---- Well, there you have it. The voters of Bridgeport have spoken. A majority of them --- about 60 percent --- think it's OK to send a 16-count felon back into the mayor’s chair to handle their tax money, money that’s raised through one of the highest tax rates in the nation.

           Unbelievable, and very dismaying, to put it mildly.

            Joe Ganim completed his improbable comeback by smooth-talking a lot of voters and telling mistruths about how he would do better on taxes and crime and create more jobs. He also may have done some other things to help his campaign, and maybe that will come out in the wash.

           The Democratic Party nominee for mayor trounced his chief opponents in the election, Republican Enrique Torres and Independent Democrat Mary-Jane Foster.

          Ganim, who ran Connecticut’s largest city from 1992-2003 before being driven from office in disgrace following his conviction on corruption charges, will now become mayor on December 1, taking over from outgoing Mayor Bill Finch. Ganim will have a four-year term.

       There’s a lot of things that jump out about this election cycle --- taking in both the main election from Tuesday and the September primary, in which Ganim upset Finch, who served as mayor the last eight years.

     First is the way Ganim was able to fool people with a lot of phony claims about what he did and what he could do. He maintained that “crime is out of control” in the city, which comparatively, is not so. He claimed he could do better. But during several years in the 1990s, gangs were out of control in this city, and shootings and murders were constant. While homicide totals did decline later on under Ganim, they still counted at 19 for the year 2000, eight years into Ganim’s administration. (This year, with less than two months to go, Bridgeport homicides stand at 15).

 Also for the year 2000, there were 1,984 violent crimes in Bridgeport, according to FBI figures.

    Those FBI figures don’t exactly portray a city that was good on crime during Ganim’s tenure.

  It also should be noted that to the extent that violent crime did go down in the Ganim years, much was due to the assistance given local police by the FBI, State Police and ATF in curbing gangs. Crime was also going down nationally, not just in Bridgeport. Ganim’s policies had little to do with cutting crime in this city.

  (The great irony here, of course, is we are talking about stats for violent crime and street crime, not a certain kind of white-collar crime in City Hall, which, it turned out, was going on quite a bit during the Ganim years.)

  Then there’s taxes. Ganim claimed he did better on taxes when he was mayor, and promised that if elected he could help city taxpayers. It is true that Ganim was able to cut taxes in the 1990s, but it was a much better time economically to do it than now. Real estate values in the city were rising, and the state and national economy were strong. It was much easier then to raise revenue than today, and to hold off on any tax increases.

   Since 2007, real estate prices in Bridgeport have plummeted as much as 50 percent due to the national economic slump. Values have still not recovered. So today, city officials have a reduced tax base from which to raise revenue. That’s one of the reasons why the mill rate remains high, around 42 mills (that means $42 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed value).

  The mill rate in Bridgeport has been hovering around 41-42 for a number of years. With property values down and a very tight city budget, exactly how is Joe Ganim going to bring down taxes? The best he’s going to do is tweak the mill rate a little bit.

   If the hard-pressed homeowners of Bridgeport are hoping for significant tax relief under Ganim, it ain’t gonna happen.

   It would have helped in this election cycle if the Connecticut Post had done some good issue stories on the mayoral candidates, explaining what their positions were and analyzing the validity of their claims about their record, and weighing the chances of these candidates being able to fulfill their promises. Ganim’s claims on taxes and crime should have been probed.

  Too much of the Post coverage was about the horse race, the chess match, who’s angling for what, blah, blah. Not enough about issues.

   In every election, people always vote a lot out of economic self-interest, but in Bridgeport, this tendency is very pronounced. There’s always a lot of folks who determine their vote based on whether they or a family member are going to get a job in City Hall, or their union or company is going to get a favorable contract from a certain candidate. I think a lot of people saw Ganim as being a benefactor for them with a job or a contract, in the same way he was years ago. Some were hoping to get back what they had lost under Finch.

  Exhibit A for this fact is the Bridgeport police union. You wouldn’t think that a police group would consider backing a person with a serious criminal record to be mayor, but they decided to endorse Ganim. This was due to Finch’s move to cut police union benefits, and the shortage of police staffing in the Finch administration.

   What’s disappointing here is that the police had the option of backing two candidates who had no legal baggage, and might have worked with them on their concerns --- Foster or Torres. Why did their choice have to be Ganim?

   The final thing that jumped out was the turnout for this general election. It wasn’t very good --- about 34 percent.  This is low for a general election. Given the historic nature of this contest, you would have thought about 50 percent of registered voters, possibly more, would have shown up. Instead, about 20,000 people went to cast ballots, out of about 60,000 registered voters in the city (2014 figures).

   Where were the others? Don’t they care?

   So the results show 11,198 people voted for Ganim. That means just over 11,000 people decided the future direction of Bridgeport, which has 150,000 people.

  But this is democracy, and you get what you get. If you don’t get involved, don’t complain later on.

 I always liked Ralph Nader's line: "If you're turned off by politics, politics will turn on you."

  Ganim claims he has turned over a new leaf. I’m definitely skeptical.  But nonetheless, let’s hope he has. He told Channel 12 after his victory speech Tuesday night that he would provide “the most transparent administration” in Bridgeport history. That is quite a promise, given the fact that he ran a very secretive administration the first time around.

    But if Ganim does run an open administration, and makes an honest effort to build a better city, I will be the first to congratulate him. I hope I’ll have that chance.






Thursday, October 29, 2015

Journalism and Government Corruption


By Reginald Johnson

                       BRIDGEPORT ---- It was good to see the Connecticut Post recently published a long, front-page story detailing the many crimes of former mayor Joseph P. Ganim during his time running this city in the 1990s, before law enforcement officials finally nailed him and sent him off to prison.

     Ganim --- who was released from jail in 2010 and is now campaigning to be mayor again ---  ran a pay-to-play scheme in City Hall, steering contracts to favored developers, and taking bribes and kickbacks in the process.

  The corruption cost the city dearly, with millions of dollars in public money being either stolen or wasted and opportunities for development and job growth squandered.

 The Ganim years were a big setback for Bridgeport, a one-time industrial powerhouse which has been struggling to remake itself following the exodus of factories like GE, Remington and Westinghouse.

   The Post laid it all out clearly in the October 11th story, when the corruption began,  who the players were, the amounts of money involved, and what happened to them.

  The article, entitled “Legacy of Greed” was a nice piece, authored by veteran reporter Bill Cummings.

   But what the Post didn’t focus on, and is not likely to, is how the corruption went on for many years unnoticed and unchecked.

  Municipal corruption can take place anywhere, it’s not just limited to Bridgeport.  In New England alone, we’ve seen city corruption cases in Danbury, Waterbury and Providence, R.I. in the past several decades.

   But corruption is more likely to get started and flourish where those institutions that are supposed to be ‘minding the store’ are not doing their job. In Bridgeport, as in most cities, the watchdog role falls on the local legislative body, or city council, and on the local newspaper.

Bridgeport City Hall. Voters in Connecticut's largest city will go to the polls Nov. 3 to determine who will be their next mayor.

    The local council and newspaper are the ones that on a steady basis are in a position to monitor what’s going in city hall, how money is being spent, who’s spending it, whether there’s any irregularities, etc.  A local states attorney or police department may occasionally get involved in municipal corruption investigations, but for the most part, they’ve got their hands full handling property crime, street crime and acts of violence.

   In Bridgeport, both the city council and the Post failed to adequately monitor what was going on in the Ganim administration with respect to contracts and financial expenditures.

    Both institutions, you could say, were asleep at the switch when Ganim and his henchmen were playing their games.

   While some members of the council during the Ganim years tried to raise questions about issues related to multi-million dollar contract proposals that came before them, many of them did not. As a result, things like the sewage treatment contracts for the PSG firm pushed by Ganim got approved in the end.

  Federal officials later investigated those contracts, and found that Ganim had been given kickbacks and bribes as part of the deals.

  But the Post --- and this was the only print media in town --- did even less than the council in watching city government. This writer, who was employed as an editor by the Post during the 1990s, had a pretty good view of what was going on in the newsroom in terms of Bridgeport news coverage.

   To put it simply, there wasn’t much of it. During the mid and late 1990s, there literally were only 1-2 reporters actively covering City Hall. This was in a city of 135,000 people, with operating budgets of $100 to $200 million.

   Basically, city reporters hit the highlights, and that was it. Major announcements, key council actions and commission meetings were covered, but not much else. There wasn’t time to do anything in-depth, because the limited resources wouldn’t allow it.

  So a lot of unanswered questions or subjects that deserved to get a second look, didn’t get it.

   A little background here is in order. There hadn’t always been a shortage of reporters at the Post. In 1989, under the old Post Publishing Company, there were about 15-20 reporters covering the city, working for either the Post or the Telegram, which was the morning paper. But that same year, the family that owned the Post decided to sell out to media giant Thomson Corporation of Canada, reportedly for about $240 million.

   Thomson immediately dispatched a lawyer/hatchet man to the Post to begin downsizing. First there were buyouts, the Telegram was shut down and staff was cut by one-third. Staff numbers were further reduced through attrition --- as people left for other jobs, they weren’t replaced.

  City staffing was weakened again when the new management  --- believing that Bridgeport no longer provided a lucrative circulation or advertising base --- moved reporters into more suburban and regional coverage,

  It wasn’t for lack of money that the Post was short on staffing. When I was there, we were told at an annual meeting in the late ‘90s  that the paper was doing well and had made over $2 million in net profit the previous year. Management had the money to hire more; they just didn’t want to.

  The company’s penny-pinching also meant that top editors didn’t want to encourage time-consuming investigative projects. 

 I think some people still on the city staff and others sensed that something was amiss with the Ganim administration, and wanted to investigate certain areas, but didn't get much backing. It seemed that editors at the time felt there just wasn't the time or the personnel to do city investigations, and Bridgeport was longer the focus.

 So things that should have been gotten dug into, like the PSG contract, the delays on a $1 billion harbor development project and Ganim’s continual favoritism of the United Properties firm as a developer (United Properties was owned by Al Lenoci, Sr. and his son Al Lenoci, Jr, who both were later convicted for their role in city corruption) were never investigated by the Post.

    It took some complaints to the FBI and then a wide-ranging investigation by that agency that finally uncovered the morass of corruption that was going on in Bridgeport. When all was said and done, Ganim and ten of his cohorts were indicted, convicted and sent off to the prison for their crimes. Ganim was found guilty of 16 felony counts and spent seven years in prison.

   There’s an obvious lesson in this story for today. A city council and the local media have to hold municipal officials accountable for the job they’re doing. It’s not enough for a local council to just rubberstamp what a mayor wants without asking questions. And it’s not enough for a paper or television station for that matter to just churn out stories about accidents, shootings, announcements by the mayor and votes by boards together with a few light features. There has to be more.

   Cities large and small are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in public money and it’s imperative that that money be used wisely. In Bridgeport alone, between the city budget and Board of Education budget, more than $500 million in public funds are being spent this year. (It should be noted as well, that Bridgeport raises a lot of that money by hitting its residents with one of the highest property tax rates in the nation.)

    There’s a lot of programs and contracts out there and opportunities for not only money to be wasted, but unfortunately, for some money to be stolen.

   A local paper has to hire enough reporters to be able to go out and really follow what municipal officials are up to, how money is being spent, who’s benefiting from contracts and spot any troubling patterns. If red flags pop up, a paper has to respond.

  If they don’t, it’s not journalism.

  I don’t want to hear this talk about how ‘we don’t have money.’ It is true that papers are not as strong as they used to be financially, and some have floundered in recent years. But an awful lot of papers, such as the Post and the Hartford Courant (Tribune Company) are owned by large, diversified corporations. They are making money.

   Hearst Corporation, which now owns the Post, earned $10.3 billion in revenues in 2014, a more than 6 percent advance over the previous year, according to a business article in the New York Post.

  Hearst has the money to hire more reporters and editors at the Connecticut Post. The paper now has --- like the 1990s ---  one or two reporters covering Bridgeport City Hall on a daily basis. That’s not enough, even though the staff that is there is doing a good job. The paper, to its credit, now has an investigative team that from time to time will do regional or Bridgeport stories. But more staff is needed to really follow what’s going on in the city on an active basis.

  Next week Bridgeport will hold municipal elections. Joe Ganim, who now admits his wrongdoing, is trying to make a comeback. He won the Democratic Party nomination in a September primary, and may well win the election. Also running are Republican Enrique Torres and Independents Mary-Jane Foster and Charles Coviello.

  It will be critical that in the years ahead, the local media, principally the Post, closely follow whoever becomes mayor and watch how public money is being spent.

  Bridgeport can’t afford a repeat.







Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ganim Stuns


By Reginald Johnson

  BRIDGEPORT ---- I’m sorry. This is hard to comprehend.

  Joe Ganim, he of 16 felony convictions for corruption during his time as mayor in the 1990s and an alumni of federal prison, has won the support of a majority of Democrats voting in a primary to be their standard bearer in the general election for mayor in November.

   Huh? Is this incredible or what?

  Ever since Wednesday night when it was becoming apparent that Ganim was going to beat out incumbent Mayor Bill Finch and businesswoman Mary-Jane Foster for the Democratic Party nomination, I’ve been trying to figure this out. It hasn’t been easy.

  I saw the vote totals come up on the board on Channel 12 and I saw Ganim ahead with well over 5,000 votes. Finch also had over 5,000, but was behind by about 200-300. Then I saw the joyous people at the Ganim election party --- at Testo’s Restaurant of course --- people smiling, laughing and hugging Joe Gamin. Ganim had just declared victory.

   I thought, are these people delusional? What are they thinking?

  What is it about Joe Ganim or what did he do or say in his campaign that is so compelling that people would just wipe away his outrageous record as mayor --- being involved in one of the worst municipal corruption scandals in New England history --- and decide to back him?

  I went over in my mind the various possible reasons. Angst over high taxes. Yes, that’s a reason to be upset with the incumbent, though taxes weren’t exactly low during the Ganim years. Another is Finch’s personality.  Finch can be spiteful and sometimes arrogant, which showed during the Board of Education takeover plan. His persona turned a number of people off.

 And then there’s the police union. Police were upset over contract cuts and staffing shortages in the Finch years. OK, those are reasonable complaints, too. That’s a lot of votes there, between union members and their spouses, brothers and sisters.

 But here’s the $64 question. Why, if you’re upset with Finch for those reasons, would you make the leap and go for someone so tarnished by corruption as Ganim, when there’s a viable alternative in the race, in Mary-Jane Foster?

  Foster was a good candidate, no political baggage, and a proven executive and business person.

   Why would so many people just pass her over, and opt for Ganim?

  I don’t know for sure, but I think there probably two key factors.  First is, a lot of the people going for Ganim were angry over having lost something during the Finch years, something they had in the Ganim years. A job, a position, a title, a program that was lost. A good number of people are in this category and some of them had legitimate beefs. It looks as if these folks were willing to set aside the memory of Ganim’s corruption, because Joe was the guy that was going to make things right, because he did it before, not Foster. This was the guy that was going to float their ship.

  The other thing at work, I believe, was that Ganim pandered successfully to the black community, making lots of promises and glossing over his record. He got a lot of votes from the African-American community. He demagogically played on the public safety issue, blaming Finch for crime in black neighborhoods, when actually crime rates in the city are down. Ganim of course conveniently didn’t tell people that violent crime rates were much worse during his years as mayor. (Remember the “Phoenix Barriers”?)

  He also wasn’t about to tell people that his record on affordable housing  --- another issue very important to many blacks --- was terrible. In the Ganim years, hundreds of units of housing were torn down, with minimal replacement.

    Many blacks were apparently sympathetic to Ganim’s plea for redemption. ‘I did wrong, I served my time, now I want a second chance.’ I think blacks related to that because possibly they knew someone who went to jail, and then came out, and needed a second chance to right themselves. During interviews I did around the city, I heard “he deserves a second chance” several times from black residents.

   There may be other reasons that factored in the primary result, some possibly that could come out from investigations. We’ll just have to see.

  In meantime, it’s shaping up for the general election as Joe Ganim, Democrat, versus Rick Torres, Republican, and Bill Finch, who said he will stick it out and run on a third party ticket, and possibly Foster and others on independent tickets as well.

   Ganim, now the Democratic nominee, has to be favored in this city which usually elects the Democratic Party nominee for mayor.

   Whatever Finch’s flaws, I think the city was basically headed in the right direction the last few years. What happened yesterday was a step backwards.


   A few thoughts on media coverage of the primary race. Basically, it wasn’t very good.
  The Connecticut Post, the main vehicle for coverage, did a fairly good job with breaking news on the campaign. Brian Lockhart is a good reporter, though he tends to over featurize his stories. Everything reads like a column. But overall, not a bad job on regular campaign news.

   My chief complaint is where the paper placed stories related to the campaign and Finch’s administration, and not doing some larger stories on the race. I don’t know whether the paper was bending over backwards to look impartial, or whether they were just teed off at Finch over transparency issues, but they wound up underplaying some news stories that happened to make Finch look good.
Recently, the Hampton Inn chain announced they were going to build a Hampton Inn at Steel Point. This is a major development. A top hotel coming to town --- the first in about 30 years --- well, that’s a big story. It deserves Page 1. But instead it was placed inside the paper. Why?

Downtown developer Phil Kuchma also had a major announcement recently that he was beginning a Phase II in his downtown development. That’s also big. But the Post ran it inside.

 I didn’t get every single paper over the last six months, so maybe I missed this. But there should have been a large, blow-out piece on Joe Ganim. He was mayor for 12 years, and so much happened in this period. The Post should have detailed what he did, both legally and illegally, both the good and the bad. The controversial zoning cases, the demolitions, the fight over the Juvenile Detention Center, the construction of the Bluefish stadium and the Arena, the secrecy of his administration, and finally the corruption cases themselves.

 People who weren’t around needed to be informed, and others needed to be reminded.
But as far as I know, no such a piece ever appeared.

  Also, the Post created the feeling in this race that the real battle was just between Finch and Ganim. Foster got second fiddle. There should have been more equal coverage all the way around.

  Finally, the Post should have dug into some of the claims of irregularities going on during the campaign --- issues about questionable petition signatures, absentee ballots, and so on. The Post, owned by the huge Hearst Newspapers Corporation, could have put the resources into play to do this, but they didn’t. Instead, they left it to state investigators to probe the complaints, and there will be no results for months. When results are announced, the election will have come and gone, and the issue will be a moot point for most voters.

  That's too bad, because voters should get critical information about verified wrongdoing before an election, not after.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bridgeport Primary Battle

 By Reginald Johnson


    BRIDGEPORT --- The most hotly-contested Democratic mayoral primary in years will be decided this Wednesday, and by all appearances the vote may be very close.

    Incumbent Mayor Bill Finch, the party-endorsed candidate is trying to fend off a strong challenge from the city’s former mayor, Joseph Ganim, and businesswoman and University of Bridgeport executive Mary Jane Foster.

    Finch has been mayor for eight years and is seeking a third term; Ganim was the mayor for 12 years from 1991 to 2003, and then was forced out following his conviction on corruption charges; Foster is trying for a second time to be elected mayor following her defeat at the hands of Finch in 2011.

    The biggest story in this election has clearly been the comeback bid by Ganim and his attempt to oust Finch, a one-time ally when Ganim was mayor and Finch was a state senator representing part of Bridgeport.

 For someone with such a tainted record, Ganim has shown surprising strength. Ganim has raised over $200,000 for his campaign in a short period and fell just a few votes short of landing the Democratic Town Committee endorsement for mayor in July.

   But Finch has countered with a substantial fundraising effort of his own, amassing over $500,000 for his reelection effort. He also has won the support of the city’s business community and backing of high-ranking state elected officials, like Gov. Dannel T. Malloy.

  Foster has raised about $70,000 for her campaign, far less than her opponents. But she is waging a determined campaign and may be getting some traction with her pledge that she will bring integrity to City Hall, which has been rocked by so many corruption and ethics scandals over the years.

    Whoever wins the primary will be the favorite to be Bridgeport’s next mayor --- given the Democrats’ huge edge here in voter enrollment --- although City Councilman Rick Torres, the Republican candidate for mayor, will certainly have something to say about the outcome of the general election.

  This reporter drove around the city and conducted some random interviews to try to get a feel for how this contest is going.

  The first thing that jumps out is that, despite his prison past, Joe Ganim has significant support. Joe Ganim lawn signs have sprouted in every neighborhood. People who own the homes where those signs are located, particularly black residents, say the former mayor did a lot of good things for the city and shouldn’t be remembered just for his illegal acts.

    “He paid his dues. He deserves a second chance,” said Janet Adams, who is black and lives on Anton Street.  “All politicians do it,” said Adams of Ganim’s illegal activities. “He just got caught.”

A Joe Ganim lawn sign near Testo's Restaurant on Madison Avenue. The restaurant is owned by Democratic Town Committee Chairman Mario Testa.


    Echoing the sentiment of forgiveness was Jeanette, a black resident on Hughes Avenue in the West Side. “He’ll be on his best behavior,” she said of Ganim, should he be elected.

   The West Side resident said in addition to rolling back high taxes, she wanted a mayor who will be tougher on crime. “Safety means a lot to me,” she said, noting that her boyfriend is a city police officer.

   The Bridgeport police union, angered over contract cuts and staff shortages under Finch, has endorsed Ganim.

   Mark, a white resident of Golden Rod Avenue also thought Ganim would never try any tricks this time because “everyone will be watching.”

  Standing near a “Stop Raising Taxes – Vote Joe Ganim” sign in his front yard, Mark added, “Finch has raised taxes every year since he was elected.”  He also credited Ganim with “getting the city moving again.”

  But the tour also showed considerable support for Mayor Finch. “Bill Finch” lawn signs are as widespread as Ganim’s. People say that Finch deserves credit for finally getting the Steel Point development off the ground and building new schools.

  “For Steel Point alone, he deserves to be re-elected,” said Dennis Scinto, a homeowner on Madison Avenue, about the mayor.

   Scinto, a Democratic Party district leader and city sheriff, rebutted those who say Finch has raised taxes too much. “Taxes haven’t gone up that much. They go up everywhere. I was in Stratford the other day and people are complaining over there about higher taxes,” he said.

Bill Finch, Bridgeport's incumbent mayor, is facing a strong challenge in Wednesday's Democratic primary.

  Scinto, a one-time member of the city council during the Ganim years, refrained from harshly criticizing Ganim. All the same, he said he’s still upset over what happened with the Stop and Shop Supermarket. That store, now an empty hulk, was built in the 1990s opposite his house on the other side of Madison Avenue, in the middle of a residential zone.

  Despite bitter opposition from the neighborhood, the Planning and Zoning Commission under Ganim awarded a special permit to Ganim’s favored developer, Al Lenoci (who later went to jail), to break the zone and build the store. The store lasted about 12 years.

   “Whenever I open my door in the morning, I look out and see this empty building,” said Scinto. “That’s Joe Ganim.”

  John Soltis, a long-time Democrat who lives in Black Rock, said he backed Finch because “he’s done a good job, and he’s the best candidate.”
   Soltis, a city employee, said Bridgeport will suffer from a “perception problem” if Ganim becomes mayor again.

  “If you’re a developer and you have a choice between Norwalk and Bridgeport, and Ganim is mayor, where are you going to go?” Soltis said.

   Ed Gomes, a state senator from Bridgeport and a veteran political and labor activist, is backing Foster.

   “Mary Jane Foster has integrity and honesty. She has the best interests of the people of the city of Bridgeport,” Gomes said.

Mary Jane Foster is stressing integrity in her campaign to win the Democratic Party mayoral primary in Bridgeport.

   Finch has failed in some key areas and Ganim is unsuitable as a mayoral choice, due to his record, he said.

   “Finch promised a $600 tax break when he started. It never materialized. The he raised taxes four separate times,” said Gomes.

   He also said that Finch is unduly taking credit for the Steel Point and school-rebuilding program. The groundwork for those projects was done over many years by a lot of different people, Gomes said.

   On Ganim, Gomes said, the former mayor does deserve an opportunity to turn his life around. “But there’s other ways for him to restore his life besides being mayor,” he said.

   “Foster will restore trust in our city government,” he said.




Friday, August 28, 2015

Pushing Blumenthal on Peace Deal

 By Reginald Johnson

    HARTFORD ---- Grassroots activists around the country are working feverishly to line up as many Democrats as possible to support President Obama’s proposed nuclear weapons agreement with Iran, and say no to Republican efforts to scuttle the deal.

   People from groups like, Democracy for America and others rallied on Wednesday outside congressional offices in 250 cities, hoping to put pressure on Democrats still undecided on the agreement.

   One of the undecided is U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and more than 80 activists showed up at his office near the old State House to demand that the first-term senator get off the fence and back the deal. Blumenthal is the only member of the seven-member congressional delegation in Connecticut (all Democrats) who’s still holding out.

   Chanting slogans like “Give Peace a Chance” and “Peace Yes and War No!” the ralliers formed a circle at the entrance to the building where the senator’s office is located, holding petitions with the names of some 10.000 people in Connecticut who want Blumenthal to back the deal.


   Speakers blasted Republicans and others, such as former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who claim the agreement isn’t tough enough on Iran, and are lobbying Congress to reject it.

  “I’m confident Senator Blumenthal will do the right thing and join with us and five other countries and President Obama and say no to Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman and more war. They were wrong on Iraq, they are wrong on Iran. Peace now!” shouted Tom Swan, of the Connecticut Citizens Action Group.

  Henry Lowendorf, of the Greater New Haven Peace Council, said the agreement is a “good agreement, a peace agreement.”

  He said the deal calls for Iran to “continue to not build nuclear weapons, in return for an end to sanctions.”

   “People who want the United States Congress to reject this agreement have been calling for war with Iran for decades. That is their solution, their alternative,” he said.


    One of those who stood in the circle with a petition was Bruce Corbett of Avon, who came to the demonstration with his wife, Ruth Ellen. Corbett, a retired history teacher, said the events surrounding the Iran deal reminded him of when former President Woodrow Wilson following World War I was trying to get the country to support the Treaty of Versailles and formation of a League of Nations, to help prevent future war. That effort failed amid Republican opposition.

  A League of Nations was formed, but was ineffectual without the United States. Partly as a result of that “we had the rise of Hitler and World War II,” said Corbett.

   To the surprise of some, towards the end of the rally, Senator Blumenthal showed up on the way to his office. He went up and down the line shaking hands and smiling. As he headed towards his office, the group gathered around him, and Lowendorf handed over the petitions. In brief remarks, the senator said he was still weighing his decision, getting input from both sides, listening to constituents and hearing from experts.

  He called the issue “immensely complicated.”

  “I’m going to be listening to the people of Connecticut as I make my decision,” said Blumenthal. “But for me, more importantly, I’m going to decide what is the right thing to do for the United States of America. That’s my job,” he said.

  “What about what’s right for the world?” one person shouted.

  As Blumenthal headed for the door, the crowd chanted “Just Say Yes!” “Just Say Yes!”

  Blumenthal is expected to make his decision sometime in the next ten days, his office said.

   A congressional vote on the Iran agreement is expected sometime in September. 



Friday, August 7, 2015

Time Running Out

By Reginald Johnson

                Christiana Figueres, climate chief for the United Nations, said recently that time is running out for reaching an international agreement on dealing with global warming.

         Referring to the climate conference in Paris at the end of the year, she told the Associated Press, “We are at five minutes to 12 and Paris is the 12 o’clock strike of the clock.”

      Failure to reach a global, binding agreement on curbing carbon emissions --- the key driver of rising temperatures and climate change --- would mean “we are going to be playing with fire,” said the UN official.

     Figueres couldn’t be more correct in her assessment.  NASA testing shows that the average global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide is now 400 parts per million. That’s a full 50 points higher than the 350 ppm that is considered by scientists to be the maximum sustainable level of atmospheric carbon. Beyond that level, the viability of human life in the long term could be threatened by sharply rising temperatures and catastrophic climate impacts.

  Already temperatures have been rising. Last year, 2014, was the hottest year ever recorded.

  And dramatic climate impacts are taking place. We are getting more and more violent, killer storms, like Super Storm Sandy in 2012; more powerful tornadoes, wreaking incredible devastation; brutal droughts in the American west and in other parts of the world; and terrible forest fires, also in the western U.S., which are destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of woodland.

  Experts believe that the extreme weather is linked to changes in the atmosphere caused by greenhouse gases.

   It’s imperative that we move quickly to massively cut back on carbon emissions, as well as the emissions of other global warming gases, like methane.

   But have world leaders been moving to take decisive action to blunt climate change?

  So far, the answer to that question is, no.

  The United States obviously has a leading role to play in any international effort to fight climate change. For most of his presidency, President Barack Obama has not made climate change a major priority, despite his claims to the contrary. He has never once made a nationwide speech in prime time about the danger of climate change and the absolute necessity that we all work together to fight it. Former Vice President Al Gore called the fight against climate change a “planetary emergency.” He’s right. Obama could have said the same thing. He could have laid out all the awful scenarios that will befall us if we do nothing to control climate change, and really scared people. They need to be scared. This is an existential threat --- far more than anything posed by al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or other extremists.

  At the same time Obama could have urged people, particularly young people, to get involved in a national effort to educate everyone about the dangers of global warming and the imperative of moving away from carbon-producing fossil fuels. That national address could have been followed by a series of speeches around the country.

  A major campaign like that could have put the climate skeptics back on their heels and prompted a strong public demand that Congress pass laws that both control carbon, lessen the use of fossil fuels and put major funding into renewables.

 But no such public campaign was undertaken. Obama has not used his bully pulpit to get the nation moving on climate change.

 In general, Obama has given out conflicting messages about how serious he is about tackling the central problem of limiting carbon emissions. While his administration worked to get some things done, like improving auto fuel efficiency standards, the president gave the go-ahead for more Gulf oil drilling, even after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Recently, he gave the green light for Arctic oil drilling by Royal Dutch Shell, despite widespread protests.

  Everyone knows we have to move away from fossil fuels to control climate change. Why is Obama approving more oil drilling?

  Last week, six years into his presidency, Obama announced a new “Clean Power Plan” which plots an outline for tackling climate change. He laid out some steps for curbing carbon emissions from power plants --- which contribute the most CO2 to the atmosphere --- and moving to renewables like wind and solar power.

 That’s fine, as far as it goes. But it’s late. We’re now past 400 ppm of carbon in the air. Why didn’t he announce this plan five years ago?

  The administration behind the scenes has done some good work getting preliminary agreements from other major industrial nations like Brazil and China (two nations which previously had been reluctant to work out a deal on climate change) on the need to reduce carbon emissions and move to renewables. The recent talks set the stage for reaching some meaningful agreements at the Paris summit later this year.

   One possible idea that could be discussed in the Paris talks is setting up a system to impose a world-wide carbon tax. That would mean that the production, distribution and use of all carbon fuels --- coal, oil or natural gas --- would be hit with a special tax. As the price of carbon fuels rose, it would make the market move more rapidly to the development of non-carbon sources --- wind, solar and geo-thermal.

  Whatever specifics emerge for any carbon reduction plan, it’s clear that a strong, binding international agreement on slowing climate change is desperately needed --- now.

  It’s five minutes to midnight.