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.






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