Mayor who served time wants to help ex-prisoners get jobs

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – After a political comeback built partly on his message as a candidate of second chances, Bridgeport’s mayor is struggling to win support for a program to help fellow ex-convicts find jobs.

The City Council this week said it needed more detail and set aside a proposal to commit $50,000 to help start a program to encourage employers to hire ex-offenders — and possibly even pay some of their salary.

Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democrat who served seven years in prison on a corruption conviction, is confident he can reach an understanding with the council, Ganim’s spokesman Av Harris said Wednesday. He said many cities provide counselling and job training, but Bridgeport can become a national model by going a step further and connecting convicts with employers.

“What the mayor has recognized as an ex-offender himself is what people really need is jobs,” Harris said.

Ganim wants to open a city office for second-chance initiatives and efforts to mitigate the risk that private-sector employers might see in hiring past offenders. At a news conference last week, Ganim said an estimated 1,100 people come back to the city from prison each year, and the $50,000 would help secure grants from other sources.

The mayor’s office, which made the announcement with the support of local businesses and nonprofits, also suggested the fund could cover the first three months of pay for newly hired ex-convicts.

The Connecticut Post reported that City Council members opted not to vote on the funding request because they did not have enough information.

“We have a proposal of one sentence,” Councilman Scott Burns told the newspaper. “This seems to come repeatedly — ‘Here’s a vague, blanket idea.'”

Other council members said they supported the idea generally but also had other priorities to consider for the cash-strapped city.

Ganim previously led the city as mayor from 1991 until 2003, when he was convicted of 16 corruption charges. In November, five years after his release from prison, he was elected again as mayor.