BRIDGEPORT — On Wednesday, Judge William Clark upended Mayor Joe Ganim’s primary win, after reviewing video footage that appeared to show several instances of his supporters illegally stuffing stacks of ballots into city dropboxes.
Two days later few, if any, federal, state or local elected Democrats have called on Ganim to step aside.
Asked by CT Examiner on Friday whether they plan to call on Ganim to end his run for mayor, given the ruling, Gov. Ned Lamont, Sen. Chris Murphy and Rep. Jim Himes did not respond.
State Representatives Marcus Brown, Fred Gee, Steven Stafstrom, Antonio Felipe and Christopher Rosario also did not respond to the query.
Press aides for Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Attorney General William Tong did respond, but only to decline comment.
An aide for Tong explained that because Tong represents the state’s top election official, Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas – and a target of candidate John Gomes’ ballot fraud lawsuit – he could not comment.
“It would be inappropriate for the Attorney General to comment on any individual candidate. The Office of the Attorney General has no preference for any outcome in this election other than that the election be conducted in a fair, open, and orderly manner,” said Tong’s office.
Gomes named Ganim, Thomas, Town Clerk Charles Clemons and Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Howard as defendants in the lawsuit.
Asked whether she would call on Ganim to step aside, Thomas – who reportedly attended a pre-scheduled Boys & Girls Club event alongside Ganim on Thursday – said her office lacks the authority to remove a candidate from the ballot.
Before the ruling on Wednesday, Ganim’s campaign claimed the backing of Murphy, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Attorney General William Tong and Comptroller Sean Scanlon – which the officials largely denied.
After a 2003 conviction for fraud, extortion and bribery, Ganim spent seven years in prison, before staging a political comeback and winning reelection as mayor in 2015. Since then, appearances with Ganim have become a staple of the campaign circuit.
Ahead of the 2019 Bridgeport general election, Ganim received public endorsements from Murphy, Blumenthal and Himes.
Before Clark’s ruling, Gomes blamed the alleged fraud on the state legislature, saying the body should impose stricter penalties for election abuse. But Thomas backed current state penalties in response to queries by CT Examiner on Friday, and suggested instead additional voter education as a solution.
“Absentee ballot violations are currently punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both,” Thomas said. “Penalties may deter some people, but we must also arm our voters with the tools to protect themselves. Funding for regular voter information and education campaigns will help everyone spot and prevent potential wrongdoing sooner.”
Thomas also pointed to a new bill passed during the Sept. 26 special session, which approved funding for an election monitor in Bridgeport. In addition to finding and placing a monitor through the end of 2024, she said she would continue to advocate for policies regarding dropbox surveillance and investment in voter education in Connecticut’s most-populated city.
Asked if the new ruling calls for statewide reform, Thomas said she looked forward to the upcoming legislative session when she said she will propose a system to consolidate election law cases.
“We are seeing the confusion that can occur when a decision doesn’t address all aspects of the election process,” she said. “In the upcoming legislative session, we will again propose the creation of a Connecticut Election Court along with other policies that will strengthen our elections system.”
At the local level
Two candidates for City Council, endorsed by the Bridgeport Democratic party, responded to the query from CT Examiner – council members Tyler Mack and Scott Burns.
In an email, Mack condemned the alleged fraud, but not Ganim directly. He said he respected the court decision, and is concerned by “all that has happened.”
“Democracy needs to be protected and the only way to do that is by making sure our constituents vote and their voice is not overturned because of political convenience,” Mack said. “As elected officials, that should be our priority. Voting issues aren’t new to Bridgeport and must end.”
In a call on Friday, Burns told CT Examiner that he hasn’t endorsed either Ganim or Gomes, but supports instead a petitioning candidate, Lamond Daniels, a Democrat.
Asked if he thinks the incumbent, Ganim, should drop out of the mayor’s race, Burns said he believes Ganim has the right to continue his campaign.
“I’m not a supporter. But if he wants to continue to run and give voters a chance to vote him back in without anything overtly, criminally charged against him personally, then then he should have the right to put his name on the ballot,” Burns said.
As of Friday, Bridgeport voters are still awaiting a date for the new Democratic primary election, which Clark said needed to be determined by state and city election officials.