The mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut, declared himself the winner early Wednesday of a disputed election thrown into uncertainty by allegations of voting irregularities in a now-voided primary.
Speaking to supporters shortly after midnight, with the city's vote tally showing him with a 175-vote lead, Mayor Joe Ganim called on his strongest challenger, John Gomes, to withdraw from a court fight that has the election probably headed to a do-over.
"You’ve been rejected twice by the voters. Respect the voters of the City of Bridgeport!" Ganim said, in remarks directed at Gomes, a fellow Democrat. "Withdraw these claims. They have now lost their legitimacy."
The people of Bridgeport cast their ballots Tuesday knowing the results might not settle anything.
A judge last week tossed out the results of the Democratic mayoral primary and ordered a new one, citing "mishandled" absentee ballots that left the court unable to determine who won.
That set up the most bizarre of the mayoral contests held across the state Tuesday.
Both Democrats who competed in the primary — Ganim and Gomes — were on the ballot again for the general election.
But because of the judge's order, the pair may have to face each other again in a new primary to be held at a date that has yet to be set. Then, depending on the outcome of a continuing court fight, there might be a rerun of the general election.
"The one thing I want to make clear is that this is not over. It’s not over," Gomes told supporters shortly before Ganim claimed victory.
The Associated Press will not declare a winner in the general election until all legal issues and challenges related to the primary are fully resolved.
It isn’t clear exactly what might happen next. Any appeal of the order for a new primary could potentially stall it from being held, or lead to it being canceled altogether if the judge’s ruling is overturned.
The Bridgeport election got an extra dash of chaos Tuesday when two City Council members were arrested in separate incidents at the same polling place.
Council Member Samia Suliman was charged with breach of peace after police received a 911 call at 4:21 p.m. about a person causing a disturbance outside the John F. Kennedy School. Less than an hour later, police arrested Council Member Maria Pereira and charged her with assaulting a 70-year-old woman.
Texts seeking comment from the two Democrats were not immediately returned. Police did not release details about the circumstances of either arrest.
In more normal contests held Tuesday, voters across the state chose candidates for local offices, including first selectman and school board.
Voters chose Democrat Arunan Arulampalama, CEO of the Hartford Land Bank, as the new mayor in Hartford, the state's capital city. The current mayor, Luke Bronin, chose not to seek a third term.
Voters in Connecticut’s smallest city, Derby, elected a Democrat as mayor after the Republican vote was split by the incumbent mayor and a city alderman charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The mayor's race in Bridgeport, though, is what has captured attention beyond the state, especially among people who are already skeptical about voting security in U.S. elections
Superior Court Judge William Clark tossed out the primary Nov. 1 after a multiday court hearing on a legal challenge by Gomes, who had appeared to lose the September primary by 251 votes.
The hearing featured surveillance video showing at least two Ganim supporters dropping stacks of absentee ballots into outdoor collection boxes, or directing other people to do so, in violation of a state law requiring voters to drop off their ballots themselves or designate certain people to do it.
Summoned to court to explain, two women seen in the videos invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination and declined to answer questions on the witness stand.
In Clark's decision, he said the videos and other testimony was evidence of ballot "harvesting," a banned practice where campaign volunteers visit people, persuade them to vote by absentee ballot, then collect those ballots or mail them in on behalf of the voters.
"The videos are shocking to the court and should be shocking to all the parties," the judge wrote.
Ganim, 64, has repeatedly denied any knowledge of wrongdoing related to the ballots. Critics, though, are skeptical. Ganim's first run as Bridgeport's mayor was interrupted when he was convicted of corruption and served seven years in prison. He won his old job back in 2015 after his release from prison and contends he has the "good, solid experience" to lead the city of about 148,300.
"Sure, we're far from a perfect city or a perfect administration," Ganim said during a recent debate. "But we're fighters for what's good for the people of the city of Bridgeport."
Gomes, the city's former chief administrative officer, appeared as an independent on Tuesday's ballot.
Ganim lashed out at him in his remarks to supporters, calling him a two-time loser.
"Tonight, vengeance and bullying loses to vision and progress," he said.
The two other candidates were Republican David Herz and Democrat Lamond Daniels, who failed to qualify for the primary and ran as an unaffiliated candidate.
In the mayor’s race in Derby, Connecticut, a city of 12,400 people near New Haven, former Alderman Joseph DiMartino, a Democrat, beat three other candidates in a contest that highlighted a split in the Republican party.
He defeated the Republican incumbent, Mayor Richard Dziekan, Republican Alderman Gino DiGiovanni Jr., who was charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and an unaffiliated candidate.
"Today, the residents took back their city," DiMartino told a crowd of cheering supporters. "Today is a new beginning for Derby."
Despite his arrest, DiGiovanni beat Dziekan in the Republican primary. But the mayor refused to give up, gathering enough voter signatures to run as an independent candidate in the general election.
Having two GOP candidates on the ballot lifted the chances of DiMartino, 57, who had lost to Dziekan in the 2021 mayor’s race by just 48 votes.
DiMartino also bested non-affiliated candidate Sharlene McEvoy. A retired Derby Public Works employee, DiMartino focused heavily on the city’s fiscal challenges and the need for a professional finance director. There was scant mention of DiGiovanni’s arrest throughout the election campaign.
In New Haven, incumbent Democratic Mayor Justin Elicker easily won a third term, defeating a Republican and an independent candidate.