Ganim, Lamont square off in gubernatorial debate
NEW HAVEN — Joe Ganim and Ned Lamont on Thursday night finally exchanged visions for the state, and a series of personal barbs, in their first public encounter heading into the Democratic primary for governor next month.
During their showdown at The Shubert, Ganim claimed successes during his second tenure as Bridgeport mayor, vowing to become the voice of the cities if he wins the party nomination Aug. 14. He tried to characterize the Greenwich businessman as a suburbanite and the heir of inherited wealth.
Lamont charged that Ganim has flat-funded education, raised taxes, neglected the city’s pension obligations, and he hinted that the mayor’s federal-corruption conviction should disqualify him for office beyond mayor.
Ganim said that upon his return from prison, he thought he still had something positive to bring to the city.
“In the past, there were things I certainly regret,” he said, stressing that he “pulled the city out of bankruptcy.” In fact, Bridgeport never slipped into bankruptcy at any time before or after Ganim’s first stint as mayor.
Ganim admitted the “mistakes” that led him to a criminal trial, where he was found guilty, which preceded his resignation and seven years in prison.
“Every saint has a past and I hope that every sinner has a future,” Ganim said, paraphrasing Oscar Wilde.
Ganim charged that back in 2006, around the time of Lamont’s successful primary against U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Lamont laid off employees of his former cable TV business.
“There’s not a word of truth in that,” Lamont replied. “You have to have a basic concept of the truth to convince people to vote for you.”
He said that he sold off a division of his firm, but the employees retained their jobs with the succeeding new company.
“The public trust is the most sacred oath one takes as a public servant,” Lamont said, turning to his left and the podium behind which Ganim stood. “I salute the people of Bridgeport in giving Joe Ganim a second chance, after he badly abused the trust of those people. They gave you a second chance, now fight for them. Finish your term. Turn around Bridgeport. I would like to work with you each day as the mayor of Bridgeport.”
“I appreciate Ned’s remarks to a certain extent,” Ganim said, as the audience laughed. “When you talk about Bridgeport, in the last three years, and the elements of accountability and transparency that we’ve tried to put into place, I think we’ve delivered on those. We’ve delivered on the important things, the public services that you’re supposed to do. A record of balancing budgets, of creating jobs, of attracting businesses. I have made over a decade of commitment to public service.”
Lamont underscored his success as a businessman, his support from union leaders, and his ability to communicate with the corporate community that he hopes to expand in the state. Head of the state pension board in the early 1990s, Lamont recalled “shouting from the rafters” warnings that the public retirement plans were underfunded.
“I think it’s time for change in the way we do business,” Lamont said, questioning Ganim’s ability to run his city’s retirement plans. “I managed a $20 billion pension fund.” He said Bridgeport’s pensions are in the same shape as the state’s.
“That’s the same kind of bad behavior that got us in trouble in Hartford,” Lamont said, during the hour-long debate sponsored by the Connecticut Realtors Association and News Channel 8.
Ganim indicated he succeeded in persuading state lawmakers to restructure Bridgeport’s pension obligations, saving local taxpayers $60 million over decades.
“We’re being creative and saving taxpayers’ money,” Ganim said, while the state is neglecting the extraordinary needs of inner-city school kids.
The historic Shubert Theater, where major American plays including “Oklahoma” and “A Street Car Named Desire” have been staged, was about two-thirds full for the one-on-one debate, which was sponsored by WTNH Channel 8 and the Connecticut Realtors Association.
The even brought out partisans on both sides, as well as Democrats getting their first look at their Aug. 14 choices. Despite requests to remain quiet, Ganim supporters continually shouted and clapped in support.
Both Lamont and Ganim promised to adhere to existing union contracts. Lamont said the existing gun laws are not strong enough to control so-called ghost guns, which are kits that people can assemble into assault-style weaponry.
“I’m going to do everything I can to make cities safer,” Lamont said.
Ganim recalled that he filed lawsuits against assault-style weapons, back during his first period as mayor.
Lamont said Republican candidates have been misleading voters with claims that they can cut income taxes, which generate about half the state’s annual $20 billion budget.