HARTFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Five years after he was released from prison for embezzling taxpayer dollars, Joe Ganim declared victory in his new bid for mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Ganim spent seven years behind bars for corruption, but he entered Tuesday's election as the endorsed candidate of the hard-luck city's most powerful party after defeating two-term incumbent Mayor Bill Finch in the Democratic primary.
He received more than 59 percent of the votes in the unofficial tally Tuesday, and declared victory, CBS affiliate WFSB-TV, Hartford reported.
``Tonight, we not only made history, but we defined a new course for this great city,'' Ganim said in a victory speech at Testo's restaurant in Bridgeport, surrounded by supporters.
``Of course, there's an element of redemption in all of this,'' he said.
Ganim, 56, served as mayor from 1991 to 2003 before being convicted of 16 charges, including bribery, racketeering and extortion. He was sent to prison for steering city contracts in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expensive wine, custom clothes, cash and home improvements. Since his release, he has worked as a legal assistant at his family's Bridgeport law firm, but he has been blocked by the courts from regaining his law license.
Ganim issued a public apology for his crimes earlier this year. On the campaign trail, where he has tapped nostalgia for what some remember as a time of lower taxes and safer neighborhoods, Ganim said the support he has received shows people are open to supporting somebody who owns up to their errors.
"I'm hopeful today, humbled by the response we've gotten from the neighborhoods," Ganim told WCBS 880. "I'm thrilled and honored to be a part of it, and I just hope that we have the opportunity to see a great result today."
His opponents contend that his achievements as mayor have been overstated, and that he has not taken full responsibility for his misdeeds. In 2013, the median household income in Bridgeport was $42,687, compared with $67,098 statewide. About 13.6 percent of households, or 6,574, lived on less than $10,000 a year.
Ganim had been up against six other candidates. One of them, Mary-Jane Forster, had asked Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill to send monitors to every Bridgeport polling place Tuesday to watch for irregularities.
Merrill said Foster was not entitled to appoint an unofficial checker.
Foster, an administrator at the University of Bridgeport who petitioned her way onto the ballot after losing in the Democratic primary. Foster, who been endorsed by Finch and the city's largest newspaper, says the city of 150,000 people is still battling a reputation for corruption earned by Ganim's criminal conviction.
"Republicans are looking for someone with tried and true business experience. I have 45 years of business experience," Foster told WCBS 880 last week. "Unaffiliated voters, they vote for the candidate. So where do you think those votes are going?"
The party's leader, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, declined to endorse a candidate in the race.
Five other candidates, including Republican Enrique Torres, also are on the ballot for mayor.
"There's six Democrats running. It's a zoo. So they're going to split that vote," Torres said last week.
Democrats make up the city's largest voting bloc, with 42,122, followed by 15,416 unaffiliated voters, 3,578 Republicans and 266 others. Typically, the endorsed Democrat wins the mayor's office.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
for more features.