'I can't tell exactly what she's putting in there.' Ganim testifies about alleged ballot stuffing
Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim took the witness stand on Tuesday, insisting he knew nothing about alleged ballot tampering in last month's Democratic primary.
Ganim's opponent, one-time political aide John Gomes, is asking a judge to order a new election.
GANIM TAKES THE STAND
When Ganim took the stand, it looked like déjà vu. The last time he testified in court was during his criminal corruption trial in 2003. Ganim served seven years in prison, before being reelected in 2015.
This time, lawyers grilled the mayor about nearly 20 minutes of security video allegedly showing his supporters stuffing absentee ballot boxes.
On the stand, Ganim offered conflicting opinions about the footage.
"I can't tell exactly what she's putting in there," Ganim testified. "Something white; it could be envelopes."
But later, Ganim conceded that the videos likely show ballot box stuffing.
"It certainly appeared that way," he testified.
WOMAN IN THE VIDEO
The mayor did acknowledge that the woman in most of the videos appears to be Wanda Geter-Pataky, a longtime campaign organizer and front desk greeter at the Margaret Morton Government Complex. Last week, Geter-Pataky refused to answer questions under oath, asserting her 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination dozens of times.
Ganim and Geter-Pataky have appeared together multiple times over the years. In a video released by his opponent, Geter-Pataky rubs Ganim on the shoulder and shouts, "I got your back, Mayor!" But on Tuesday, Ganim downplayed Geter-Pataky's role in his campaign, calling her an unpaid volunteer.
"There are hundreds of volunteers, so there's no way that anyone could know at any particular time what somebody else may or may not be doing," the mayor told reporters outside the courthouse. "On my paid staff, there is not a hint or a claim of any of this."
Geter-Pataky is also facing possible criminal charges for her work on Ganim's 2019 campaign.
"This is not the first time. It certainly happened in 2019," said Gomes' campaign manager, Christine Bartlett-Josie. "We didn't have video evidence, and I'm sure it's happened plenty of other times."
Gomes' legal team said it's obvious that Ganim and Geter-Pataky are closely connected.
"It sort of sounds like Donald Trump with Sean Spicer and some of the other people," said attorney Bill Bloss. "She has been an intimate part of campaign – political campaigns in Bridgeport for years and years and years."
DO NUMBERS ADD UP?
Beyond the videos, Bloss is basing his case on numbers. He believes that approximately 1,253 ballots were dropped in absentee ballot boxes, but surveillance video only shows 428 people dropping them off.
Lawyers representing the city of Bridgeport aren't sure about that math, especially since Bridgeport Police testified that 36 hours of ballot box footage was lost.
They also pointed to other possible explanations.
"It is completely allowable for immediate family members to drop off ballots for their family members," said John Kennelly, who represents Bridgeport's Democratic voter registrar. "It is appropriate for someone who cares for another person to drop off a ballot for them."
Gomes' legal team plans to wrap up their case when the hearing resumes on Thursday.
Kennelly said it's unclear yet if the city will call witnesses or present evidence, including additional surveillance footage showing a handful of Gomes supporters making multiple stops at drop boxes.
Gomes has insisted everyone in the video was casting a ballot for close relatives, which is generally allowed under Connecticut law.
"We've interviewed and talked to them, and they're willing to put a signed affidavit – sworn statement – of what they've done," Gomes told News 12 Connecticut on Oct. 3. "But more importantly, they'll supply names of who they dropped it for."
The judge is also considering whether to allow the city to present an "Unclean Hands" defense, which would deny Gomes relief because both sides cheated.
We might not know what's next for a while. Judge William Clark indicated he will issue a written ruling in the next few weeks.