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Articles    H3'ed 10/31/15

Journalism and Government Corruption

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Message Val Hayden

In Bridgeport, both the city council and the Post failed to adequately monitor what was going on in the Ganim administration with respect to contracts and financial expenditures.

Both institutions, you could say, were asleep at the switch when Ganim and his henchmen were playing their games.

While some members of the council during the Ganim years tried to raise questions about issues related to multi-million-dollar contract proposals that came before them, many of them did not. As a result, things like the sewage-treatment contracts for the PSG firm pushed by Ganim got approved in the end.

Federal officials later investigated those contracts, and found that Ganim had been given kickbacks and bribes as part of the deals.

But the Post --- and this was the only print media in town --- did even less than the council in watching city government. This writer, who was employed as an editor by the Post during the 1990s, had a pretty good view of what was going on in the newsroom in terms of Bridgeport news coverage.

To put it simply, there wasn't much of it. During the mid and late 1990s, there literally were only 1-2 reporters actively covering City Hall. This was in a city of 135,000 people, with operating budgets of $100 to $200 million.

Basically, city reporters hit the highlights, and that was it. Major announcements, key council actions and important commission meetings were covered, but not much else. There wasn't time to do anything in-depth, because the limited resources wouldn't allow it.

So a lot of unanswered questions or subjects that deserved to get a second look, didn't get it.

A little background here is in order. There hadn't always been a shortage of reporters at the Post. In 1989, under the old Post Publishing Company, there were about 15-20 reporters covering the city, working for either the Post or the Telegram, which was the morning paper. But that same year, the family that owned the Post decided to sell out to media giant Thomson Corporation of Canada, reportedly for about $240 million.

Thomson immediately dispatched a lawyer/hatchet man to the Post to begin downsizing. First there were buyouts, the Telegram was shut down and staff was cut by one-third. Later staff numbers were reduced further through attrition --- as people left for other jobs, they weren't replaced.

City staffing was weakened again when the new management --- believing that Bridgeport no longer provided a lucrative circulation or advertising base --- shifted city reporters into more suburban and regional coverage.

It wasn't for lack of money that the Post was short on staffing. When I was there, we were told at an annual meeting in the late '90s that the paper was doing well and had made over $2 million in net profit the previous year. Management had the money to hire more; they just didn't want to.

The company's penny-pinching also meant that top editors didn't want to encourage time-consuming investigative projects.

I think some people still on the city staff and others had a sense that something was amiss with the Ganim administration, and wanted to investigate certain areas, but didn't get much backing. It seemed that top editors at the time felt that city investigations would take too much time, there wasn't the staff and Bridgeport was no longer the focus.

So things that should have been gotten dug into, like the PSG contract, the delays on a $1 billion harbor-development project, and Ganim's continual favoritism of the United Properties firm as a developer (United Properties was owned by Al Lenoci, Sr. and his son Al Lenoci, Jr, who both were later convicted for their role in city corruption) were never investigated by the Post.

It took some complaints to the FBI and then a wide-ranging investigation by that agency that finally uncovered the morass of corruption in Bridgeport. When all was said and done, Ganim and ten of his cohorts were indicted, convicted and sent off to the prison for their crimes. Ganim was found guilty of 16 felony counts and spent seven years in prison.

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