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Tuesday, December 12 Local

Homicide casts pall over Bridgeport’s downtown revival

BRIDGEPORT — With the Grammy-winning duo The Chainsmokers playing Webster Bank Arena on Thursday night, David Galarza was planning an after party to promote his new downtown Mexican restaurant.

Then a 33-year-old Stamford man was murdered around the corner at McLevy Green just after midnight.

“I just canceled it,” Galarza, owner of Tito & Oliver, said Thursday afternoon. “I don’t even know if anyone’s going to walk over here. It is a scary situation.”

A scary situation is the last thing the growing downtown — and a mayor eyeing a run for governor or another statewide office in 2018 — needs. And Mayor Joe Ganim, who campaigned two years ago on making Connecticut’s largest city safer, seemingly did his best Thursday to avoid drawing extra attention to a shooting a block from his offices.

Nearly 12 hours passed between the homicide and when police released some details, including the victim’s name, Max Antoine.

Asked in the late afternoon if the mayor would be holding a press conference or issuing a statement, Ganim spokesman Rowena White said, “As of right now, no.”

By then the green and downtown were back to normal, with a few people walking through and past McLevy, the maze of yellow crime scene tape that memorialized Antoine’s death for morning commuters finally gone.

When violent crimes occurred during his ultimately successful 2015 bid to unseat fellow Democrat Bill Finch, Ganim was the proverbial ambulance chaser, holding vigils and even opening an unofficial police substation.

It made a difference in the campaign, acknowledged a former Finch staffer in an interview Thursday.

That Finch supporter said a homicide in the heart of Bridgeport’s downtown — McLevy hosts a farmers market, small concerts, even a recent television movie production — is not a good thing for the city’s still fragile image, or Ganim’s political ambitions.

“There’s all that housing stock going in downtown and you’re on the train line to New York. A lot of those apartments are being built because they’re looking at it as a sort of bedroom community for New York commuters,” said the ex-Finch staffer. “And if you’re doing your research and want to live in these new apartment complexes and see this...”

Nancy Hadley, Bridgeport’s one time economic development director, agreed.

“Oh my God. Really?” Hadley, who used to live downtown, said when told of the McLevy shooting. “It’s a very difficult challenge to have this happen. ... It’s one thing to say it’s happening in (outer) neighborhoods. Different to say it’s right by the train station.”

Were she still working in City Hall, Hadley said, she would be prepared to talk with businesses and investors about how the city was addressing the shooting and reinforce that “Bridgeport’s on the way to being the greatest city in Connecticut.”

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Police sources Thursday indicated Antoine’s killer may also be from Stamford, but Hadley said: “It’s not, to me, where they’re from. It’s the incident.”

As for the politics, should he do more than consider seeking an unspecified statewide office next year, Ganim already has challenges with non-Bridgeport voters. He was convicted of corruption in 2003 after having run the city for twelve years.

Now that he is back in charge, Ganim needs to be successful in convincing outsiders Bridgeport residents made the right choice in 2015 and that the city has far more to offer than crime and corruption.

The ex-Finch employee said Antoine’s death will get statewide news coverage, and critics can claim that “he (Ganim) ran to clean up crime and can’t even keep people safe in your up and coming downtown.”

But a Democrat involved in statewide politics said an “isolated” downtown shooting will not stick to Ganim.

Chiropractor Dr. Jennifer Lynne runs The Backstroke downtown. She did not fear the homicide’s impact on her business.

“It doesn’t appear to be random,” Lynne said. “It’s unfortunate it happened close to my business, but I’m confident that the Bridgeport Police Department has got everything under control.”

Someone might want to tell that to Tito & Oliver’s Galarza.

“It is pretty scary, especially for a new business,” he said.

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