Surrounded by a small crowd of allies that she must grow into a movement for change, state Sen. Marilyn Moore on Monday announced her long-anticipated candidacy for mayor. Moore (D-22nd) represents a district that includes all of Trumbull, about one-third of Bridgeport and a small part of Monroe.

“We all agree I am the person to reset and restore Bridgeport. ... If not now, when? And if not me, who else has successfully worked independently of the systems that oppress us?” said Moore, 70, referring to her reputation as independent of Bridgeport’s Democratic Town Committee, its chairman, Mario Testa, and his friend, the man Moore wants to unseat, Mayor Joe Ganim.

“I declare war on every person and every thing that has kept Bridgeport in bondage,” she declared.

Moore, who if elected would become the city’s first black chief executive and its second female mayor, delivered her remarks in a side room at Mount Aery Baptist Church minutes after a Martin Luther King Day ceremony celebrating the courage to speak out and act to right wrongs.

“I have no fear. God has not given me the spirit of fear,” Moore said. “I only know victory. I only work to win.”

Moore’s track record seems to back her up.

She beat the establishment when she successfully ran for the 22nd Senate District seat in 2014, defeating Democratic incumbent Anthony Musto. And Moore survived a 2016 primary challenge from then-Bridgeport City Council President Tom McCarthy.

Last year Moore, while seeking a third term, again bucked Bridgeport’s Democratic power brokers when she supported Ned Lamont of Greenwich over Ganim for governor. Lamont defeated Ganim in the primary, and went on to win November’s general election.

But as Moore and Ganim prepare to wage political war, the latter has some strategic advantages: Testa’s support and counsel, the power of incumbency, a two-year head start on fundraising — and Ganim, who was first mayor in the 1990s and waged a successful comeback in 2015 after a felony corruption conviction, is an aggressive campaigner who loves walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors.

Still, Moore in an interview Monday said she is a believer in lives having “seasons” and that this is her time to run for mayor.

“I just don’t see the barriers others see,” Moore said. But she would not say whether the plan is to face Ganim in a Democratic primary this summer or to run as an independent or third-party candidate in November.

“All I know is I will be on the ballot in November,” she said. “How I get there we’ll figure out along the way. ... I don’t want to box myself in.”

A city in peril?

Ganim also attended Mount Aery’s King Day event, sitting a few yards from Moore. He left before the state senator’s announcement. In an interview afterward, the mayor said, “It’s that time of year. I’m sure a number of people may turn around to consider running.”

“Hopefully they can create a vision for the city,” Ganim said. “What I’ve been doing is stabilizing the city’s budget, working to make the city safer, building tax base growth and trying to improve the quality of life. It’s going to be a hard record for someone to compete with just words.”

But the mayor does have his vulnerabilities. Though his past couple of budgets held the line on taxes, that was only after Ganim and the City Council hiked the rate to 54 mills in 2016 — one of the highest in the state.

The major economic developments Ganim has touted — a concert amphitheater, renovating the long-shuttered Palace and Majestic theaters, and building a downtown ice skating complex — are either delayed, short on funding or still just on paper.

Critics have argued Ganim has not been engaged in improving public education and has failed to adequately fund Bridgeport’s schools. The mayor has instead focused on trying to obtain more state education dollars.

“I’m not satisfied, certainly. There’s always room for criticism,” Ganim said. “Words are easy to throw around. The job is tough, tough, tough. There’s no tougher job, trying to make progress.”

Moore, without offering specifics, said she would focus on jobs, poverty, crime, youth violence, transparency and accountability.

Ganim’s pitch in 2015 was similar, particularly the promises to run a clean government. At that time Ganim, whose first administration ended in 2003 with his conviction, was asking Bridgeport for a second chance.

But last week, agents with the FBI were again in town, visiting City Hall as part of a criminal probe into employees’ alleged sale of scrap metal for cash.

“Bridgeport is once again in peril,” Moore said, alluding to the FBI ongoing investigation. The mayor and Police Chief Armando Perez have said they were the ones who alerted the FBI about the scrap metal allegations outlined in an anonymous letter from last fall.

Juggling duties

Councilwoman the Rev. Mary McBride-Lee said she believes voters will give the mayor another four years in office.

McBride-Lee, who is black, said that Moore as a state senator has “done absolutely nothing” and is not as close to the community as Ganim. She portrayed Moore as having a base in certain sections of town but not a wider following. Ganim in particular in 2015 courted the lower-income minority neighborhoods where his experience in the criminal justice system resonated.

“You can’t be for some people,” McBride-Lee said of Moore. “You have to be for all the people as far as I’m concerned.”

Moore leveled similar criticism at Ganim — that he is part of Bridgeport political power structure that only benefits insiders.

“Together we will put the people back into government,” Moore said during Monday’s speech.

Moore in an interview said that she will not be promising anyone who helps her campaign jobs in City Hall. Ganim’s administration is packed with loyalists from his 2015 campaign and from his 2018 gubernatorial bid.

“I want the most learned, experienced, thought-provoking, challenging people around me,” Moore said.

Moore criticized Ganim for spending too much time running for governor. But Moore, who also represents Trumbull and Monroe in the state Senate, now has to juggle her part-time legislative duties with a competitive mayoral race.

“That’s what people have said to me — how do you do both?” Ganim said. “The (legislative) session just started. It’s a critical session for Bridgeport.”

Ganim said the city needs “a full delegation in Hartford to fight hard for the priorities for Bridgeport. That’s the best way to make things happen.”

Moore had been negotiating with another potential mayoral candidate, former Ganim ally state Rep. Rev. Charlie Stallworth, to avoid splitting the anti-Ganim vote. Asked Monday about Stallworth, she said, “I’m running. I don’t know what Charlie’s doing.”

Stallworth, who is also black, Monday afternoon said, “I haven’t come to a final conclusion. Her announcement was a surprise.”