“The state of the city is strong,” Mayor Joe Ganim said in an April 2 speech before the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce. And while the presentation held at the University of Bridgeport’s John J. Cox Student Center was presented as “The Mayor’s Annual Address to the Business Community,” it was difficult not to detect Ganim’s preparation for a re-election bid as he trotted out an inventory of recent and upcoming construction projects while omitting several thorny problems that burden Connecticut’s largest city.
Frank Borres, the president of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce, introduced the mayor and alluded to his unsuccessful attempt last year to secure the Democratic nomination for governor. “Sometimes, the second mouse gets the cheese,” Borres said, a not-so-subtle reference to the struggles facing Gov. Ned Lamont, who soundly defeated Ganim in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.
Ganim served as mayor from 1993 to 2003 before being forced out of office on corruption charges that resulted in a seven-year prison term, only to return in a dramatic comeback in the 2015 election, and he acknowledged his lengthy and often controversial presence in municipal politics as “Bridgeport’s second-longest serving mayor after Jasper McLevy, some say the most entertaining mayor since P.T. Barnum.” Ganim also played a political trump card to highlight the final year of his current term.
“Last week I delivered my budget to the city council,” he said. “We will cut taxes for the first time in 12 years.”
Ganim recalled a number of commercial real estate projects that took place during his current term, including the Cherry Street Lofts multifamily complex, the arrival of the Harlan Haus beer hall and Vinnie Brand’s Stress Factory Comedy Club within the McLevy Square Development and the creation of 1,800 residential units in the downtown neighborhood.
He also dubbed the upcoming Harbor Yard Amphitheater as “one of the most exciting developments happening anywhere” while envisioning a maritime magnet at the Steel Point area where “people from all over will stop here in their boats in Bridgeport Harbor” to take advantage of “the closest deep water marina of its kind next to New York City.”
He reported that Exact Capital, the New York City-based developer on the North End project seeking to reopen the long-dormant Majestic and Poli Palace theaters and the neighboring Savoy Hotel while building two new adjacent residential towers, was moving forward on this effort after failing to meet a December 2018 deadline to have initial financing in place.
“They have made substantial progress and remain on track to secure financing for the first $50 million phase one of this overall $400 million project,” he said.
Ganim also stated the long-defunct Congress Street Bridge project was finally in motion.
“The $25 million needed for this project is finally in place,” he said. “I hope we can walk across the bridge next year or, better yet, pull another Barnumesque stunt like we did at Stratford Avenue Bridge back in 1998 and ride an elephant across.”
However, the mayor’s speech was also notable by what was not acknowledged. There was no mention of the recently released draft of the city’s 10-year master plan, which found Bridgeport residents have a median household income of $43,137 that is less than half of the Fairfield County average of $90,123, along with a 22.1 percent poverty rate that is significantly higher than the overall county’s 8.6 percent.
He also omitted mention of percolating plans to attract commercial airline service to the city-owned Igor Sikorsky Memorial Airport, which carries a half-million-dollar operating deficit and saw the end of commercial flights in the mid-1990s in his initial mayoralty tenure.
While Ganim noted his efforts to increase the ranks of the city’s police force and to diversify hiring in emergency services departments, he did not talk about last month’s internal affairs report by the Bridgeport Police Department that found 17 police officers and two civilian detention officers engaged in serious misconduct in responding to a house party in October 2017.
Two of the officers named in the internal affairs report committed suicide before the findings were released to the public, and the story gave Bridgeport unwelcome national news attention while straining the police department’s already-tense relationship with many residents.
Ganim insisted he would renew his focus on improving the quality of life for Bridgeport’s residents and business community, adding that “holding taxes down is a priority of this administration.”