Why not Joe Ganim?

During one media scramble with gubernatorial candidate Mayor Joe Ganim of Bridgeport, on one of his campaign stops this year, a reporter wanted to know if he knew of any other candidates to run for governor in the United States with as serious a felony record as his.

I haven't really been interested in researching that, Ganim told the reporter, tossing in a dose of the wry humor he often uses deftly.

Indeed, Ganim, I learned after spending an hour with him during his visit to The Day's Editorial Board this week, can marshal a winning combination of charm, persuasiveness, intellect and humor. He is in this respect an exceptional candidate, far and above any of the others in either party in this race.

Of course, for this run for governor, it's his felony convictions that haunt him.

I couldn't resist, either. My first questions were about his criminal past, how he could expect the public to ever trust him again after so badly breaking that trust once, building an efficient kickback machine over many years.

He is, naturally, good at answering this. He's done it a lot.

The best part of his answer is that the people of Bridgeport have accepted his rehabilitation, soundly returning him, post prison, to office.

One hallmark of his turnaround was bringing into City Hall, as a senior adviser, the FBI agent who was instrumental in taking him down.

As he talked about his own successful second chance, I couldn't help but think about my own prejudice about considering anyone with a serious criminal past. But doesn't that undermine the whole principle of our criminal justice system? If no one can hope for a successful rehabilitation, isn't the whole thing doomed to fail?

Do your time, pay your debt to society and move on to a productive life. Isn't that the principle we strive for?

"Do we believe," Ganim says, "in the ability of one to rehabilitate himself?"

We are going to get a partial answer to that soon, when voters go to the polls Aug. 14 in the Democratic primary.

Ganim makes a powerful argument that he is the best candidate in the race to turn Connecticut around, pitching himself as an agent of change, even as the Republicans want to hang the two terms of unpopular Gov. Dannel Malloy around the neck of whichever Democrat emerges from the primary.

The Bridgeport mayor cites a long history of success in Bridgeport, where he once pulled the beleaguered city from the clutches of bankruptcy, cleaned up crime-ridden neighborhoods, secured valuable concessions from municipal unions and laid the groundwork for reclaiming the city's waterfront.

He claims to have lured more than a billion dollars in new investments to the city since his post-prison tenure began, some projects in place and others in the pipeline.

Luring new investment to the state, creating jobs, focusing on the cities and transportation infrastructure, which appeal to young people, and reforming a system he says is too reliant on property taxes seem to be his mantras. Like virtually all the other candidates, he promises to find savings in state spending.

Unlike many Republicans in the race, he is not shy about raising money from tolls — especially targeting out-of-state drivers — more gambling and marijuana legalization.

He makes the good point that he is the only candidate with a turnaround history of a big, complicated Connecticut city. He is uniquely positioned to tackle Connecticut's fiscal woes, he says.

He is unquestionably determined and a hard worker. His clawing his way back in to office attests to that.

He was good at kickbacks, too, when he was practicing that, taking in more than $500,000 in cash, goods and services, according to prosecutors.

Even in this race, having been denied access to public campaign financing because of his criminal record, he has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Denied enough convention support for a primary challenge, he hit the streets and collected enough signatures to force one.

He has a not-so-subtle way of putting down his opponent, noting that he is not only a rich guy out of touch with the people, but a rich guy who inherited his money. Ganim, on the other hand, knocking on doors in gritty city neighborhoods, can relate to voters with stories about returning from prison.

I know the Democratic establishment frets about Ganim's criminal baggage if he ends up being the party's nominee. But I wouldn't worry about that.

All five Republican candidates, in a recent forum at Mohegan Sun, asked to grade their treasonous President Donald Trump, who refuses to protect the country from an ongoing attack by Russia, responded with a unanimous round of A's.

I would take a rehabilitated Joe Ganim any day over the A-grading Trumpists from the Connecticut GOP. The head of their party, in prosecutorial cross hairs, is a long way from rehabilitation.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

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