Mayor with a past wants convicts to put jobs in their future

President Obama and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim have both made calls to help ease the process of returning to work for those who have spent time in prison. 

Jessica Hill/ AP/ File
In this Feb. 3, 2016, file photo, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, right, talks with state Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, inside the Hall of the House at the State Capitol in Hartford, Conn.

After a political comeback built partly on his message as a candidate of second chances, the mayor of Bridgeport, Conn., is struggling to win support for a program to help fellow ex-convicts find jobs.

The City Council this week said it needed more detail and set aside a proposal to commit $50,000 to help start a program to encourage employers to hire ex-offenders – and possibly even pay some of their salary.

Mayor Joe Ganim, a Democrat who served seven years in prison on a corruption conviction, is confident he can reach an understanding with the council, Ganim's spokesman Av Harris said Wednesday. He said many cities provide counseling and job training, but Bridgeport can become a national model by going a step further and connecting convicts with employers.

"What the mayor has recognized as an ex-offender himself is what people really need is jobs," Harris said.

Ganim wants to open a city office for second-chance initiatives and efforts to mitigate the risk that private-sector employers might see in hiring past offenders. At a news conference last week, Ganim said an estimated 1,100 people come back to the city from prison each year, and the $50,000 would help secure grants from other sources.

The mayor's office, which made the announcement with the support of local businesses and nonprofits, also suggested the fund could cover the first three months of pay for newly hired ex-convicts.

The Connecticut Post reported that City Council members opted not to vote on the funding request because they did not have enough information.

"We have a proposal of one sentence," Councilman Scott Burns told the newspaper. "This seems to come repeatedly — 'Here's a vague, blanket idea.'"

Other council members said they supported the idea generally but also had other priorities to consider for the cash-strapped city.

Ganim previously led the city as mayor from 1991 until 2003, when he was convicted of 16 corruption charges. In November, five years after his release from prison, he was elected again as mayor.

He is not the first to try and decrease the obstacles to employment for convicted criminals who have served their time. Several large companies, including Wal-Mart and Target, along with 19 states, have already removed the "box" convicted felons must check from job applications. 

In May, President Obama expressed support for moving the requirement to report past criminal history until later in the federal employment process, an idea popularly known as "ban the box." 

“There are people who have gone through tough times, they’ve made mistakes, but with a little bit of help, they can get on the right path,” President Obama said last November, announcing his executive action to ban the box on federal job applications. “And that’s what we have to invest in. That’s what we have to believe. That’s what we have to promote.”

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