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November 10, 2023

Bridgeport election: Campaigns in talks over new mayoral primary

JADEN EDISON / CT MIRROR The counting of absentee votes in Bridgeport's mayoral race takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023, at the Margaret Morton Government Center.

Since the day after Mayor Joe Ganim narrowly defeated challenger John Gomes with an overwhelming tally of absentee ballot votes, representatives of their campaigns have met with city and state election officials to discuss the logistics of a court-ordered second Democratic primary.

In his order for a second primary, Judge William Clark gave the two sides 10 days to come up with a proposal for the court to review. A meeting was held Wednesday and talks are continuing today, sources told the Connecticut Mirror.

The 10-day deadline is Friday, but since it is a state holiday and courts are closed, officials expect to submit a plan by Monday.

If they cannot reach an agreement, then all sides can submit their own schedules to Clark by Nov. 17. The judge would then review them and decide the primary date himself, likely some time in mid-December.

Only in Bridgeport do you have a general election and then a primary.

If Ganim were to win that second primary, he would be elected mayor. If Gomes were to win, a second general election would have to be scheduled — this time, with Gomes on the Democratic line.

Even as officials were huddling to discuss the date of the third Ganim-Gomes contest, the mayor was calling on Gomes, whom he referred to as a two-time loser in an election night speech, to withdraw his court case. 

“I think we’re now at a point where everyone has to look at the results of this election,” Ganim said. “In legal terms, it may not fully apply, but there’s a word called moot. In other words, the claim that was made before maybe isn’t a valid claim anymore.”

“But I think at the end of the day, we all need to respect the voters who came out and voted overwhelmingly in this election and said ‘No, Mr. Gomes, I’m sorry, you’re not going to be the next mayor of the city of Bridgeport,’” Ganim said during a radio appearance on WICC on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Gomes has shown no signs of stopping his fight, calling his narrow loss on election night “déjà vu all over again,” because, as with the primary, he was leading when the machine vote was completed by more than 500 votes, only to lose once again when Ganim got nearly 1,000 absentee ballot votes.

“This is definitely not over, and we will not give up until we feel we have received a fair election,” Gomes said during his WICC interview on Wednesday.

“We beat this incumbent, and the Democratic machine that has been entrenched in Bridgeport for decades, twice at the polls, and the only way they could beat us is by absentee ballot, which is done in the dark.”

“We need some serious intervention from those at the state or the federal level,” Gomes said. “This is a mockery of the election process, the democratic process, here in Bridgeport.”

A third election became necessary after Clark sided with Gomes, who challenged the results of the Sept. 12 primary, based on video evidence that captured Ganim supporters allegedly depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes.

State law prohibits individuals from handling other voters’ ballots, unless they are a family member, caregiver or “designee” for those people.

Clark wrote in his ruling that the video footage, which initially leaked from city hall, was evidence of “blatant” ballot harvesting and was enough to call the entire election result into question. Even more, Clark concluded that two of the women allegedly depicted in the video — Wanda Geter-Pataky, the vice chairwoman of the city’s Democratic Party, and Eneida Martinez, a city council candidate this year — clearly violated the state’s election statutes.

Ganim’s campaign subsequently accused Gomes’ supporters of committing the same actions, even though no members of Gomes’ campaign were called into court to testify.

Since then, all eyes have been on Bridgeport.

National media picked up the story of the overturned election and particularly of the video clips played in court of multiple people stuffing ballots into the drop boxes.

Republicans in the Connecticut General Assembly issued a call for tougher criminal penalties for violating the state’s election laws. Supporters of former President Donald Trump have used the videos to support the unfounded claims that President Joe Biden did not win the 2020 election. And Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas, Connecticut’s top election administrator, appointed a temporary monitor to watch over Bridgeport’s voting processes.

Gov. Ned Lamont was asked about the election controversy during a radio interview on WICC on Wednesday, and he suggested that the national attention over the alleged ballot harvesting was not good for Connecticut’s image.

“Yes, Bridgeport. Only in Bridgeport do you have a general election and then a primary,” Lamont said “I’m ready to say let’s turn the page. I can’t have Bridgeport defining this state.”

In remarks on Thursday, Lamont continued the theme.

“I don’t think it’s systemic statewide. I think we got to take a hard look at Bridgeport, because it’s happened before there.”

Lamont said he thought the video surveillance in Bridgeport and the resulting investigation will deter wrongdoing, assuming there is a timely conclusion.

“I’d like to see the wheels of justice speed up a little bit. Last time, four years ago, it took three and a half years before we could hold somebody accountable. I think that was a problem.”

While the State Elections Enforcement Commission recently made criminal referrals to the Chief State’s Attorney over absentee ballot handling in the 2019 Bridgeport mayoral race, no charges have been filed.

Lamont said the rules for issuing and handling absentee ballots are clear, but no law ensures that corruption will not occur.

“I don’t think that early voting-absentee ballot is the cause of some of these cases of potential corruption. I think it’s people who do the corrupting.”

Christine Bartlett-Josie, Gomes’ campaign manager, confirmed on Wednesday that Gomes would not be dissuaded from preparing for a second primary.

“It’s just setting an election date. That’s it,” she said. “We are extremely hopeful, and I think we worked hard enough and the message is out there.”

The court-ordered election will once again be a closed primary, meaning only Bridgeport’s roughly 41,000 registered Democratic voters will be able to cast a ballot.

Bartlett-Josie alleged on Wednesday that Ganim supporters and members of the Democratic Town Committee continued to influence the absentee ballot numbers in Bridgeport. She suggested the numbers from the general election were evidence enough.

In Tuesday’s election, Gomes won the in-person vote, but just like the earlier primary, Ganim overcame that lead by picking up nearly three times the number of absentee ballots that Gomes won.

“It continued,” Bartlett-Josie said. “It’s right there in your face.”

CT Mirror staff writer Mark Pazniokas contributed to this report.

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