BRIDGEPORT — Mayor Joe Ganim squeaked out a narrow victory Tuesday night in a highly anticipated rematch against his top challenger, John Gomes, but the win could be merely symbolic due to a recent court order that tossed out the results of the city’s earlier Democratic mayoral primary.
Ganim, a Democrat who returned to office in 2015 after serving a seven-year prison sentence on federal corruption charges, unofficially captured roughly 175 more votes than Gomes, who worked in Ganim’s administration prior to mounting a primary challenge against the incumbent mayor this year.
“This is more the continuation of a course of progress for the city of Bridgeport tonight. Vengeance and bullying loses to vision and progress,” Ganim said.
“The one thing I want to make clear is that this is not over. It’s not over,” Gomes told his supporters Tuesday night. “That’s really all I can say.”
The slim margin of victory in Tuesday’s election may provide some confidence for Ganim and his supporters, but it won’t guarantee the mayor another term in office.
To keep his seat, Ganim still needs to win a new primary election, which was ordered after a state judge sided with Gomes and agreed that the city’s earlier Democratic primary on Sept. 12 was marred by ballot fraud.
Superior Court Judge William Clark made that decision after five days of court hearings, during which Gomes’ attorneys presented city surveillance footage that featured Ganim supporters and members of Bridgeport’s Democratic Town Committee depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes ahead of the September primary.
Two of the women apparently depicted in that footage — Wanda Geter-Pataky and Eneida Martinez — chose to assert their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than testify in court.
But in his order, Clark ruled the videos were evidence of “blatant” ballot harvesting, which is illegal under Connecticut law.
“The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all of the parties,” Clark wrote. “These instances do not appear to the court to be random.”
As of Tuesday, the city had yet to decide whether it was appealing Clark’s decision.
In his comments to supporters at his victory party, Ganim called for Gomes to withdraw the lawsuit.
“Gomes and his crew have been beaten twice. In sports terms, they are two-time losers,” Ganim said. “Respect the vote, withdraw these claims. They have now lost their legitimacy. Respect the voters of the city of Bridgeport, and let us get on to do the progress and the work that we were elected to go by every day.”
It’s unclear how the judge’s decision played into the results of Tuesday’s general election in Bridgeport.
Gomes won the in-person vote again, but Ganim made up that distance once the absentee ballots were counted, just like the primary.
Ganim won 1,166 absentee votes, easily surpassing the 429 absentee ballots cast for Gomes.
Gomes continued to allege improprieties in the absentee balloting process in Bridgeport, despite the judge’s decision earlier this month.
“I urge the state of Connecticut. I urge the governor. I urge the secretary of the state. I urge our elected officials to come out more than ever and speak against the injustice, the oppression, that’s being imposed upon the people of Bridgeport,” he said.
“We, the people of Bridgeport, continue to believe that we are being betrayed,” Gomes added.
Because of his earlier victory in the primary, Ganim was on the general election ballot as the Democratic candidate, which is a significant advantage in a city like Bridgeport, where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
Gomes was listed on the ballot as the Independent Party candidate. Also on the ballot were Republican David Herz and Lamond Daniels, another Democrat who gathered enough signatures to petition his way onto the ballot.
Many of the people who cast absentee ballots in Tuesday’s election in Bridgeport did so prior to the court overturning the results of the Democratic primary.
Receipt-like paper sits taped to a wall, showing absentee ballot results in Bridgeport's mayoral election. A person can be seen looking at totals.
There were fewer absentee voters in the general election, however, than there were in the Sept. 12 primary. That’s despite the fact that more than 27,000 Republican, Independent and unaffiliated voters had the right to cast a ballot this time around.
The atmosphere in Bridgeport was tense on Tuesday.
Two candidates running for Bridgeport city council were arrested at a polling place Tuesday afternoon.
Police were called to the scene of the John F. Kennedy Campus in Bridgeport for two separate incidents. The first resulted in Samia Suliman being charged with breach of peace. And roughly an hour later a second council candidate, incumbent Maria Pereira, was charged for allegedly assaulting a 70-year-old woman.
Gomes took the stage at his election night party a little before 10 p.m. and announced that he was leading Ganim at the polls by more than 500 votes. But at the time, the Bridgeport Registrar of Voters was still working through the more than 1,800 absentee ballots that were cast in the election.
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That left both campaigns in a familiar situation, with Gomes leading on in-person votes and Ganim hoping to make up ground with absentee ballots.
“We are victorious at the polls once again,” Gomes said, noting that the absentee ballots were still outstanding.
Ganim told his supporters it was going to be a close vote.
“You can only go by the patterns, so we won … in certain areas and lost … in certain areas,” Ganim said. “Mail-in ballots are always unpredictable, at best, right? So stay tuned.”
Ganim said the uncertainty surrounding the election hindered voter turnout.
“There was some impact by the reporting, saying that maybe this election didn’t count,” Ganim said. “We asked people to come out and vote, and many of them did, but frankly, there were a lot of people I think that stayed home.”
Gomes characterized his strength in the general election as historic in Bridgeport, and he recognized Wilfredo Martinez, the chairman of Bridgeport’s Independent Party, who helped Gomes to secure a spot on the general election ballot.
“The Independent Party went against an established party that has had its grip in the city,” Gomes said.
Gomes also recognized the lawsuit that he filed in the aftermath of the Democratic primary and the national attention that was placed on Bridgeport as a result of the alleged ballot harvesting.
“The spotlight has been unfortunate,” Gomes said. “But we need to eradicate the corruption.”
A person is stapling a white envelope while sitting at a table. The person carrying out the action is an election official.
Ganim arrived at his election party around 9:15 p.m. as city council chairwoman Aidee Nieves was speaking at the podium with council hopeful Eneida Martinez nearby. Ganim stopped to hug Martinez as she left the podium.
Martinez had simple words after hearing she had won a seat on the city council: “I’m back.”
Martinez, who lost a council seat in 2019, was elected Tuesday despite the controversy swirling around her and the absentee ballot investigation.
On Tuesday night, she wanted to talk about the victory, not the court case.
“I worked hard in my district to get people out to vote,” Martinez said. “At the end of the day, I’m going to do what I need to do for the people in my district.”
This story originally appeared at ctmirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror.