Bridgeport's Alma Maya: Does It Her Way Again

 alma maya and ganim
Bill Sarno

Never one to be confined by party loyalty, longtime Latino activist Alma Maya has “jumped ship,” adding another twist to an already unconventional race for the Democratic mayoral nomination by abandoning her party’s incumbent mayor to join the Sept. 16 primary ticket of a controversial politician seeking a “second chance.”
Maya, who is running for her third term as town clerk, brings what some observers consider a bit of respectability to the ticket announced recently by former Mayor Joseph Ganim, who is attempting a political comeback five years after leaving a federal prison where he did time on corruption in office charges.
In breaking away from two-term incumbent Mayor Bill Finch, with whom she had shared the top of the Democratic ticket four years ago, the Puerto Rico born local leader, has underscored that being a party person is not her priority.  This move is reminiscent of her supporting the third-party gubernatorial candidacy of U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker in 1991 and backing Ned Lamont against former Democratic vice presidential candidate and incumbent Joseph Lieberman in the 2006 U.S. Senate contest.
For Maya, the “hard decision” to back Ganim, considering his history, was influenced by her disappointment with Finch and her sense that his opponent had matured, learned his lesson and lost his “cockiness”  in the 12 years away from the political limelight.  Moreover, she views Ganim as being more responsive to the needs of not just the Latino and black communities in Bridgeport, but to everyone in the city.
Although Maya recalls that she had “lots of fights” with Ganim  when he was mayor from 1991 to 2003, she is willing to “move forward” with the controversial ex-mayor.  As for Finch, who Maya said has been less than cordial to her,  the clerk emphasized that  her opposition to his re-election should not be seen as a personal fight, but as the outcome of a longstanding disappointment with how the incumbent Democrat has run the city and how he has responded to issues concerning the city’s black and Latino population.
She said she has probably known Finch longer than Ganim, and despite a “rocky past,” had put aside personal issues to “give him a chance” during the last two elections, but has found his leadership is “out of touch” with what Bridgeport needs, citing high taxes, cronyism and “special deals and tax breaks.”  She also said that the only reply the Finch camp makes is that Ganim is an ex-felon.
What Maya brings to the political table is respect and stature, perhaps more than raw votes, according to “Only in Bridgeport” blogger Lennie Grimaldi. “It depends how hard she wants to campaign,” the veteran Bridgeport commentator said.
Maya already has gone on campaign walks with Ganim in the Latino community and  found considerable grassroots support for him. “People love him, kiss and hug him,” she said.   Whether these kisses will turn into votes won’t be known until Sept.  16.
Maya now must wait for the results of the Tuesday, July 21 endorsement meeting of the Democratic Town Committee, to decide how to position herself on the ballot. With no apparent opposition so far and with an announcement of Finch’s ticket pending, Maya expects to receive the endorsement. “People tend to consider me on my own merits and appreciate that I keep the clerk’s office neutral,” she said.
If Finch wins the party endorsement and the top line on the ballot, Maya is likely to turn down the endorsement to run on Ganim’s petitioning candidate line.  “No matter what I will be on the ballot,” she said, “I just don’t quit,” she added, echoing one of the lessons she learned from Cesar Batalla and Willie Matos, two Puerto Ricans who are highly esteemed for their civil rights activism in  Bridgeport.
For the 90-member DTC to deny its endorsement to an incumbent Democratic mayor would be unprecedented, Maya said, even in Bridgeport where the political scene has been described frequently as a soap opera by Grimaldi.
Leading up to the Town Committee meeting, both sides are working the phones, making deals to garner votes, said state Rep. Chris Rosario, who along with his Latino legislative colleague from Bridgeport’s east side, Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, are supporting Finch.  Maya said she had no problem with the legislators, who she considers friends, backing the mayor.  “Politically, they have to go with the incumbent,” she said.
Rosario, who heads the District 136 committee delegation, expects an evening of political fireworks and for the mayor to hold onto enough votes to win the endorsement. However, Rosario said, the situation is “fluid” and “Joe is within striking distance.”
For the rest of the summer, Bridgeport can look forward to a hotly contested three-way primary for mayor, pitting two former mayors against each other and Mary-Jane Foster, who lost to Finch in the 2011 primary.  Maya describes Foster, as “wonderful person” and “a friend,” but also as very unlikely to get the Democratic nomination.
“I have to be on the winning side,” Maya said of the mayoral race, which since 1993 has always been won by the Democratic nominee, noting that if she  continues to serve with Finch as mayor her city job could be more stressful.