I’m not going into a lot of detail here, because it might be my column this week, but why is it so hard for truant politicians to say anything truly redemptive?
Last week, I interviewed Joe Ganim, who is running once again for mayor of Bridgeport, an office he lost in 2003 when a massive corruption scandal took him down and sent him to prison.
Producer Betsy Kaplan had told the Ganim campaign that nothing would be off limits if we did this interview, and they agreed. Ganim waited a long time to apologize for his crimes, but he did it this year on New Year’s Day. Still, it’s one thing to apologize and another to really own what you did. That’s what I’m always waiting for, from these guys who get caught: a moment where they really explain what they did and why.
So I pressed Ganim a number of times and in a number of ways. He began very unpromisingly with the classic “mistakes were made” formulation. Who even tries that in 2015? After a few other feints that failed to advance the topic very much, I asked him what he tells his son about what he did. His son was traveling with him that day and seemed like a nice kid. I asked Ganim in particular how he prepares his son for avoiding the kind of mistakes he, the father, made. I got nothing.
I know that he held back partly because he worries about his opponent, incumbent mayor Bill Finch, taking the audio and editing it to make him look as bad as possible. But it felt like more than that. I didn’t get the sense that Ganim has a version of the narrative that goes: “I look back at that guy and barely recognize him as me. He’s greedy and entitled. I went to prison for seven years, and I lost everything in the process. But I deserved it for what I did. Here’s how I see things now …”
He can’t do that. Neither could John Rowland. (I always thought Rowland’s radio show would have been great if his past as a rogue and a rascal was part of the regular chatter, the way Don Imus has been taunted by his on-air confederates for years about his days and nights as an addict. Instead, Rowland insisted on being treated reverentially and addressed as “Guv,” with no mention ever of his criminal past.)
They can’t tell a story they don’t know. I’m sure Ganim thought I was hounding him. That wasn’t my intention. I was opening a door I think he needs to walk through, both as a human being and a politician trying to reacquire the trust of the voters. But I don’t think he knows the story about how he turned into a bad guy and betrayed his city. So he can’t ever really apologize for it and mean it.