Wednesday was a banner day for Marilyn Moore.
Moore (D-22nd), who represents a district that includes all of Trumbull and parts of Bridgeport and Monroe, began another two-year term in the state Senate and celebrated the swearing-in of her friend and fellow Democrat, Ned Lamont, as governor — a job coveted by Moore’s big city chief executive, Mayor Joe Ganim.
Twenty-four hours later, Moore, long considered a potential Ganim challenger in this year’s mayoral race, told Hearst Connecticut Media, “I am leaning toward it.” Moore, 70, plans a formal announcement next week.
“I have been spending time talking to various people in the city and around the city,” she said Thursday. “Not just people saying, ‘Oh, you’ll be good,’ — solidifying relationships and support.”
But, Moore said, she needs to have a final discussion with her family “to make sure everybody understands the risks” of taking on Bridgeport’s political machine.
Ganim not only has the typical advantages enjoyed by incumbents — he is well-ahead in fundraising and has the use municipal government to promote himself and reward supporters — but he also has strong backing from Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa.
Moore, in contrast, has for years sought to define herself as independent of Testa and the town committee. A likely scenario would be for Ganim to receive the town committee’s endorsement and Moore to petition her way onto a primary ballot against the mayor.
It is unclear how crowded that primary might be. State Rep. Charlie Stallworth, who helped elect Ganim in 2015, has soured on the mayor’s performance and has plans to announced by mid-January whether he will mount his own challenge.
Will others step forward? If elected, either Moore or Stallworth would be Bridgeport’s first minority chief executive. Will a Latino also see an opportunity to try to make history? Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, who is Puerto Rican, has been urged to run.
“I have not ruled it out,” Lopez said Thursday.
Moore first joined the legislature in 2014 after unseating Democratic state Sen. Anthony Musto to represent the 22nd District. She then survived a 2016 primary challenge from then-Bridgeport City Council President Tom McCarthy, who is also very close with Testa.
In April 2017, Moore was interviewed in Bridgeport for radio station WNPR’s “Where We Live.” Host Lucy Nalpathanchil asked the state senator, “Why not run for mayor?”
“Why not?” Moore responded. But she noted one big challenge — Ganim and Testa were already fundraising. The incumbent early on built up a campaign war chest of over $170,000 before turning his focus to last year’s failed bid for governor against Lamont.
One Ganim supporter who did not wish to be identified said this week that the mayor’s re-election fundraising would soon resume with the goal of amassing an additional $200,000.
Moore said Thursday that she is well aware she will need “a message, organization and money.”
And that still might not be enough to beat Ganim, who is admired by friends and foes for his tireless and aggressive campaigning skills. Those skills helped Ganim, who ran Bridgeport from 1991 until he was convicted of corruption in 2003, convince city voters in 2015 that he deserved a second chance when he beat incumbent Bill Finch in a three-way primary.
Ganim did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Moore on Thursday. Some Ganim allies admitted he is vulnerable after three years back in office and after spending so much time last year focused on his bid for governor.
“He’s got a lot of patching up, fence mending and bridge building (to do),” said one. “But that’s what he’s good at. He’s a great candidate. (And) he’s already out there doing that.”
Another Ganim supporter said Moore “doesn’t have very high negatives.” But that person questioned whether the state senator had the mastery of the local issues needed to effectively manage the city.
And while Moore’s insistence on independence may earn her votes, it may have cost her some support. State Rep. Jack Hennessy, who has also bucked the establishment, backed Moore for Senate. But asked this week whether Moore would run for mayor, Hennessy said they had not discussed it.
Then Hennessy added, “Maybe I’m completely missing this, but I don’t see Ganim doing a horrible job that he needs to be taken out (of). … I think he’s been pretty good. I just hope he concentrates on Bridgeport issues and loses his state ambitions.”
Moore could open herself up to similar criticism, should she be seen as shirking her senatorial duties during this legislative session, scheduled to end June 5, to campaign for mayor.
“I definitely think she should run,” said Aaron Turner, a former state senate staffer who ran unsuccessfully last year to replace Moore’s legislative partner, Bridgeport’s Ed Gomes, who retired Thursday.
“I know folks — the general population — aren’t happy with the incumbent (Ganim). … Marilyn has been out in the community for years,” Turner said. “She’s been a great advocate for Bridgeport and the rest of her district during her time in Hartford. And she’s done some good stuff, with integrity.”
City Councilman Kyle Langan also used the word “integrity” in describing Moore.
“I hope that she runs, and I encourage her to run,” Langan said. “We need a pool of legitimate candidates to have a competitive primary that gives the citizens of Bridgeport a lot of credible options.”