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Wednesday, December 12 Local

Ganim seeks Naugatuck Valley Young Dems support

DERBY — Most eyes and ears in the downtown restaurants and bars on Wednesday night were focused on televisions showing the New York Yankees roll to a fifth game victory over the Houston Astros.

But in a dimly lit basement auditorium of city hall, the eyes and ears of a dozen or so Naugatuck Valley Young Democrats are tuned elsewhere.

The seats are filled with people like Kevin Kosty and Jason Jones, second ward aldermanic candidates in Shelton; Tarek Raslan and his sister, Sennea, who are running for mayor and aldermen in Ansonia and Stephan Behuniak, a selectman candidate and Democratic Town chairman in Seymour. And there’s Kara Rochelle and Chris Larocque, whose efforts during Derby’s primary led to what Mayor Anita Dugatto said helped her retain the Democratic mayoral nomination.

Their eyes watch and their ears listen to a man with rolled up sleeves, a personable style and a goal to be the state’s next governor.

For 30 minutes Joe Ganim makes his case.

“Our state is challenged,” Ganim said to the small group. “I think we’re in a worse situation than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”

Ganim spoke about what he can do, describing his recent partnership with New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who some see as Ganim’s lieutenant governor candidate, to lure MGM Casinos and Amazon’s HQ2 headquarters to their areas.

He spoke of his plans to turn the Bridgeport Bluefish stadium into a Live Nation sponsored amphitheater “similar to what you see on Jones Beach” and a $416 million private investment proposal to restore the long vacant Loew’s Poli and Majestic theaters putting a three-story Marriott hotel above one and building several skyscrapers downtown.

He talked about his path as a former young Democrat who took over a bankrupt city and for 11 years served as its mayor.

“After 11 years I made some serious mistakes” which led to a felony conviction, he said. What he leaves out is the convictions involved about $500,000 in kickbacks and payoffs resulting in a nine-year federal prison term.

“I’m certainly not a perfect candidate,” he said. “But if you find one let me know ‘cause everyone’s got issues. But I think clearly in my mind and you can challenge me on this. I think I’m the most qualified and experienced individual should I make a formal decision to run for governor to lead our state out of its financial crisis and give it a positive vision for job growth.”

Ganim urged the assembled Democrats to knock on doors, speak to groups and talk to people.

“Between now and election day in November, we should be focused on electing every Democrat we can — mayors, first selectman, board of education. Young Democrats are not just about the future of the party—you are about the party right now.”

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This is one of several visits Ganim has made to Democratic Town committees and groups while gauging support for a possible run. He is only latest candidate to speak to the Naugatuck Valley Young Democrats, following Kevin Lembo (who has dropped out of the race), Chris Mattei, Dan Drew and Jonathan Harris.

Rochelle, who heads the group and is running for a spot on Derby’s Board of Apportionment and Taxation, said the group expects to hear from other candidates before endorsing one.

“We’re not in a rush,” she said. “We have no exact time frame.”

While the group’s endorsement does not carry a vote in a Democratic party caucus, members of the Naugatuck Valley Young Democrats sit on several Democratic town committees and individually will help choose the ultimate nominee.

They seemed split on whether Ganim is that choice. Rochelle and Larocque have concerns stemming from his conviction.

“I’m conflicted,” said Larocque. “I believe in second chances but I also hold sacred our trust in government officials.”

“There’s obvious concerns you have and hesitation,” Rochelle said. “That will be a hurdle for him.”

Others like Behuniak and Gary Farrar Jr., an Ansonia third ward aldermanic candidate, think otherwise.

“My mom loves Ganim,” said Behuniak. “He’s her favorite politician besides me. He charms people in a way unlike anyone else. He certainly is among the most qualified candidates on either side.”

Both Behuniak and Farrar said Ganim has proven he can win an election despite his past.

“He’s the comeback kid,” said Farrar, who hopes to fill a third ward seat replacing his uncle Joe Jeanette, who opted to run for Ansonia’s board of education instead. “Besides it’s not like he killed somebody.”