Ex-convict declares victory in Bridgeport mayor's race

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) — 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.

Joe Ganim, who was released from prison only five years ago, declared victory in a race involving seven opponents.

“Tonight, we not only made history, but we defined a new course for this great city,” Ganim said in a victory speech at Testo’s restaurant in Bridgeport, surrounded by supporters.

“Of course, there’s an element of redemption in all of this,” he said.

The Democrat’s campaign was fueled by a wave of good will from many who fondly remembered his years in office, from 1991 until 2003, when he was convicted of 16 corruption charges. His supporters credit his leadership for a time of lower taxes, safer neighborhoods and cleaner parks.

Ganim, 56, entered the election as the endorsed candidate of the hard-luck city’s most powerful party after defeating two-term incumbent Mayor Bill Finch in the primary. His victory created some awkwardness for the Democratic establishment, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who declined to endorse a candidate in Tuesday’s election.

Some of his strongest competition came from Mary Jane Foster, an administrator at the University of Bridgeport who petitioned her way onto the ballot after losing in the Democratic primary. Foster, who had been endorsed by Finch and the city’s largest newspaper, said the city of 150,000 people is still battling a reputation for corruption earned by Ganim’s criminal conviction.

Ganim was sent to prison for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive wine, custom clothes, cash and home improvements. Since his release, he was worked as a legal assistant at his family’s Bridgeport law firm, but he has been blocked by the courts from regaining his law license.

Ganim issued a public apology for his crimes earlier this year. On the campaign trail, where he has tapped nostalgia for what some remember as a times of lower taxes and safer neighborhoods, Ganim said the support he has received shows people are open to supporting somebody who owns up to their errors.

The message resonated with many in the city who said even a felon deserves a second chance.

“We all make mistakes; things happen. But that doesn’t mean he’s any less of a good person,” said Bridgeport resident Vanessa Perez-Rivera.

His opponents contended that his achievements as mayor have been overstated, and that did not take full responsibility for his misdeeds. In 2013, the median household income in Bridgeport was $42,687, compared with $67,098 statewide. About 13.6 percent of households, or 6,574, lived on less than $10,000 a year.

Democrats make up the city’s largest voting bloc, with 42,122, followed by 15,416 unaffiliated voters, 3,578 Republicans and 266 others. Typically, the endorsed Democrat wins the mayor’s office.

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