Friday, June 12, 2015

No Time for Political Posturing



By Reginald Johnson

    BRIDGEPORT ---- It was about 12 hours after the horrific act of violence on Thursday morning, in which nine people were shot, one fatally, at the Trumbull Gardens low-income housing project.

   I had heard about the shooting after I got up on Thursday, and was watching Channel 12 for updates. I saw Mayor Bill Finch at the scene expressing his sympathy for the victims and their families and talking about what steps he was taking to curb crime.  Police Chief Joseph Gaudett was also on hand to give a statement, and housing officials gave comments as well.

   This is all entirely understandable that the chief elected official of the city, his police chief and other key officials would show up on the scene after such a terrible incident had occurred.

   This is one of the worst cases of violence in Bridgeport in a while, and the mayor in particular had to reassure people about what was happening to stop further violence. I thought Finch was good, although he went on a bit too long about the value of one of the the violence prevention programs he set up, the “Street-Safe” program whereby older men, some reformed convicts, work with young men in the neighborhood, counsel them, and steer them away from crime. I thought, if this program is so good, it sure as heck didn’t work in this case.

The Trumbull Gardens housing project in Bridgeport. One person was killed and eight people wounded in a mass shooting last week outside one of the buildings.

   But what really threw me off was what I saw when I decided to ride up to Trumbull Gardens a couple of hours later and take a look around.

  Driving down Trumbull Avenue through the center the complex, I saw a crowd with TV cameras all around. There was a guy in the middle, white shirt and tie, waving his hands and talking as if he was holding a press conference. Then I felt sick to my stomach. It was Joe Ganim, former mayor Bridgeport.

   This is the same Joe Ganim who about 15 years ago was engaging in a variety of corrupt schemes, making deals with friendly developers at the expense of people in the neighborhoods, tearing down acres of affordable housing and running a very secretive administration throughout.

   Fortunately, the feds were onto Ganim’s antics, he was nailed for his crimes, and went to prison. Served a good long term, I think about eight years.

  Now, a la Buddy Cianci down in Providence, Ganim wants to make a comeback. He’s running for mayor again. A disbarred lawyer, he tried to get his law license back after leaving prison, and was most appropriately turned down. (The idea of a lawyer turned felon being given his license back after serving time is truly absurd).

 But now lots of years have gone by, and I suppose Ganim is counting on the people of Bridgeport forgetting his bad deeds, and remembering some of the successes --- including the construction of the baseball stadium and the arena -- and also on a certain amount of anti-Finch sentiment out there.

  Ganim certainly has a right to run. He has paid for his crimes, and by all accounts, serving time in prison is a miserable experience. I’m not questioning his right to run or to have a decent livelihood. But I am questioning whether he has changed.

  I didn’t like what I saw yesterday. It seemed like classic Ganim, while the cameras are rolling, you make a splash. The mayor of the city had just been there, the crime was still only 12 hours old, and all the press was there.

   It wasn’t as if Ganim said, ‘after this has settled down, maybe in a couple of days, I’ll come out and talk to people about possible ideas for combating crime.’ I would have respected that. The problem is, there would have been no cameras.

  Ganim told the Connecticut Post he knew some of the victims, and wanted to set up a vigil that day. Really. Two hours after the mayor was there.

  There were vigils at St. Vincent’s Hospital and Bridgeport Hospital, and I don’t have a problem with Ganim attending them.

  But for candidate Ganim to set up a vigil at Trumbull Gardens not long after his rival the mayor had been there --- only 12 hours after a terrible tragedy --- struck me as not sincere, politically expedient and inappropriate.

  I’m particularly skeptical about Ganim’s intentions, since he did so precious little for low-income neighborhoods like Trumbull Gardens when he was mayor. I know it’s said some black leaders liked him, but I knew some community activists who didn’t like him and felt he didn’t listen to them. As said, he razed hundreds of low-income units to build projects that quite frankly, the public had little say in.

  But now he’s got religion.

 I’ll conclude by saying I am not a great fan of Bill Finch as mayor, although he’s a decent guy in person. I am open about who to like for mayor, and could support an independent or even a Republican.

   But unless Joe Ganim starts making people walk on water, I know that’s one person I won’t cast a ballot for.