By Brian Lockhart, Connecticut Post
BRIDGEPORT — Politics can be pretty brutal. So can football.
Bridgeport’s cash-strapped high school football teams seem to be benefiting from this year’s gubernatorial race, with Democratic rivals Ned Lamont and Joe Ganim — the former using his wealth, the latter the city budget — giving money for safety equipment.
Call it the sport of one-upsmanship. Or political football.
A week ago, Hearst Connecticut Media reported that businessman Lamont, the Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate for governor, had quietly donated $5,000 of his fortune — he is a Greenwich millionaire — to Harding High School’s Presidents for safety equipment.
The football players have been trying to raise $20,000 and Lamont, who as a volunteer taught a business class at Harding in 2005, has been recounting that experience as much as possible on the campaign trail to establish credibility with urban voters.
He happened to write his check to the Presidents not long after Hearst began asking his campaign whether he has done anything for — or at — Harding in the last 13 years.
Then on Friday Ganim, Bridgeport’s mayor who this week qualified to primary Lamont in August, suddenly announced he had found $8,000 somewhere under the couch cushions in his cash-strapped City Hall to purchase safety equipment for Bassick and Central high school football players.
The $8,000 was characterized as a “donation” from Ganim and the city. The mayor’s office did not immediately say where in the budget the money was located.
While Ganim on the campaign trail has been portraying himself as the gubernatorial candidate in touch with inner city residents’ needs, critics back home argue his administration has flat-funded schools and that the mayor has not been engaged in education issues.
“We need to continue to do everything we can to support our young people and encourage extracurricular activities in Bridgeport,” Ganim said in a statement Friday. “Sports and other youth programs are an integral part of creating a positive environment that fosters teamwork and personal achievement.”
Ganim also said that his administration in 2016 partnered with the the police to donate over $21,000 of sports equipment to local youth teams, and that he donated football helmets to the presidents last year.
Regardless of the motivation, Lamont’s contribution and the added city money are sorely needed, and not just by the football teams. As Hearst reported last August, from soccer to wrestling, tennis to fencing, Bridgeport students and their coaches were forced to find creative ways like crowdfunding to continue.
“It’s horrible but a lot of sports teams and coaches have to rely on it for survival,” Andrew McConnell, a long time coach for Central’s boys tennis team, said last year. “Sports are such an integral part of development in high school.”
The good news is it is over a month until the Democratic primary — plenty of time for those other Bridgeport teams to appeal to Lamont and Ganim for campaign contributions.