Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim has won a do-over Democratic primary, months after a judge threw out the result of the last one because of allegations of absentee ballot stuffing in Connecticut’s largest city.
Ganim defeated John Gomes, his former acting chief administrative officer who narrowly lost the now-voided Sept. 12 primary and later successfully challenged the result in court, in Tuesday’s vote.
It was the third time the two candidates have faced off in the past five months during this unusual and protracted mayoral election, and things might not be over yet.
It is possible the two candidates will meet again in a general election, set for Feb. 27. Gomes can appear on the ballot as a third-party candidate, if he doesn’t drop out.
Ganim declared victory in the primary about an hour after the polls closed.
"It is again humbling for me to know that thousands and thousands of voters and people in the city of Bridgeport who we serve trudged through the weather today, overcame what is voter fatigue and made a strong statement by voting and voting for us to continue the progress in the city of Bridgeport," he told supporters at a rally.
A little later in the evening, Gomes did not concede the race but told supporters voting figures obtained by his campaign were not as good as expected.
"But it’s not over because we still have more numbers to come in," Gomes said. "As a group, as a team, we’re going to sit down, we’re going to evaluate what has happened, we’re going to look at a path forward on to the general election."
Gomes' campaign manager said early Wednesday that Gomes had not made a decision about whether to challenge Ganim again in the general election.
In the general election, the two Democrats would also face Republican David Herz and independent Lamond Daniels.
No matter the final outcome, the mayor’s race has already deepened mistrust of elections integrity among legions of skeptics.
After narrowly losing to Ganim in September, Gomes made public surveillance videos he had received from city-owned security cameras showing a woman making multiple early-morning trips to stuff absentee ballots into a drop box.
It was apparantly a blatant violation of Connecticut law, which requires people using collection boxes to drop off completed ballots themselves or designate a family member, police officer, election official or caregiver to do it for them.
Superior Court Judge William Clark threw out the result of the primary following a multi-day court hearing in which at least two Ganim supporters who were dropping documents into the boxes refused to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Because the court decision came less than a week before the general election was scheduled, the November vote went ahead as planned. Ganim again won by a narrow margin, but that result didn’t count.
First elected mayor in 1991, Ganim, 63, served 12 years in the post before quitting when he was caught accepting bribes and kickbacks. Convicted of racketeering, extortion and other crimes, he spent seven years in prison but then won his old job back in 2015. He was reelected again in 2019.
During the latest campaign, Ganim sought to tout improvements in the city under his leadership and urged voters not to change course.
Gomes, 53, who was born in the Cape Verde Islands, immigrated to the U.S. at age 9 and grew up in Bridgeport, called for a more inclusive and transparent city government.
Bridgeport, a heavily Democratic working-class city of 148,000 about 60 miles (100 km) east of New York City, has been under state and federal scrutiny for decades for alleged irregularities involving absentee ballots. New primaries have been called over the years in state legislative and local city council races because of problems.
Many of the issues relate to a practice known as ballot harvesting, where campaign workers go to people’s homes, help them fill out absentee ballots and then either mail them in or deposit them in drop boxes.
The State Elections Enforcement Commission voted in September to launch an investigation into the September primary after receiving multiple referrals and complaints from Bridgeport police and others.
Various steps were taken to restore voter confidence and secure the do-over, including printing serial numbers on both absentee ballot applications and ballots.
Two interim election monitors were assigned by the state to spot-check absentee ballot applications in parts of Bridgeport to confirm they were legitimate. They also worked to educate the public and city election workers about election rules.
The Secretary of the State’s office deployed more than a dozen nonpartisan volunteers to polling places to record any voting issues that might arise and help file any complaints, if necessary.
Despite such efforts, each campaign accused the other of violations in recent days.
In a debate on WICC-AM on Monday, Ganim alleged wrongdoing surrounding absentee ballot applications among the Gomes camp, and Gomes accused Ganim operatives of "harassing and bullying" voters.
"We need to get rid of the corruption in our city," Gomes said.
Ganim said he would not respond to such "personal attacks" and urged people to get out and vote: "We need to clear this up."
Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas announced last week that her office filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission concerning new allegations involving absentee ballot applications.