Vote 2023: Ganim fighting for political future against former aide

Tuesday is Primary Day in more than two dozen communities across Connecticut, where Democrats and Republicans will pick their candidates for the November ballot.

John Craven

Sep 11, 2023, 9:56 PM

Updated 316 days ago


Tuesday is Primary Day in more than two dozen communities across Connecticut, where Democrats and Republicans will pick their candidates for the November ballot.
In Bridgeport – where the Democratic primary almost always decides the eventual winner – Mayor Joe Ganim is fighting for his political future against a one-time political aide.
Ganim spent Primary Eve cutting the ribbon on a new Starbucks. He said Bridgeport is a comeback story that’s just beginning.
“In just the last three days, we had M&T Bank make a major commitment to the East End of the city of Bridgeport,” the mayor said. “We had a $40 million announcement of the Fillmore brand of venue coming to Bridgeport – $40 million private investment.
Ganim knows a lot about comebacks. Voters gave him a second chance in 2015, after serving seven years in prison for corruption. Ganim said he’s made the most of the last two terms.
“Holding the line on taxes and seeing our waterfront grow,” he said. “These are the things we want to stay committed to.”
Ganim's challenger is John Gomes, his one-time aide. Instead of running as an outsider, Gomes said he's an insider who can run the city more efficiently.
“I have intimate knowledge of inside municipal government and how it needs to be operated at 100% capacity,” he said Monday.
Despite the infusion of investment, Bridgeport still struggles with high crime, under-funded schools and squabbling among city leaders.
“Money is always an issue, but I think the fundamental problem is management,” said Gomes.
Bridgeport also has a history of questionable absentee ballots. The last mayor’s race led to a month-long trial.
Ganim barely won the 2019 Democratic primary against state Sen. Marilyn Moore, after taking a lopsided share of mail-in votes. A judge ruled that absentee ballot abuse clearly occurred, but the impact was not enough to change the outcome of Ganim's 270 vote win.
“The plaintiffs were successful in identifying very serious election law violations, but the heat of this evidence was not hot enough to vacate the entire primary,” Judge Barry Stevens said.
The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld Stevens’ ruling hours before the general election, paving the way for Ganim’s win. But now, state prosecutors are considering potential criminal charges for three people connected to the mayor’s campaign, including city council member Alfredo Castillo.
One longtime political operative believes charges are unlikely.
“No one's been charged in this case, right? At all,” said Lennie Grimaldi, a former Ganim campaign manager who now runs the blog Only In Bridgeport. “And I highly doubt somebody will be charged, you know, after four years, because memories fade.”
Both sides want state election officials to keep an eye on their opponent for any questionable tactics.
“If that happens, or you hear of anyone acting like that, to report it to authorities immediately,” said Ganim.
For his part, Gomes asked the Connecticut Secretary of the State to provide election monitors at every polling place on Tuesday.
“One of the first things is to educate the voters of Bridgeport,” he said, “to make sure they're not intimidated, bullied, and they're not harassed.”
An SOTS spokesperson said the office no longer has statutory authority to send election monitors, as they did in 2021.
“Throughout the state, we will have attorneys on call as designees of our office to respond to any issues that may arise,” said spokesperson Tara Chozet.
Whoever wins on Tuesday will be the official Democratic candidate for mayor, a huge advantage in deep-blue Bridgeport. But both Ganim and Gomes have secured back-up lines on the November general election ballot, along with fellow Democrat Lamond Daniels.
Moore failed to collect enough signatures to get on either ballot. The Working Families Party also declined to endorse her, or anyone else, this year.
New Haven and Hartford are also holding closely-watched Democratic primaries. Republicans will pick candidates in Derby, Brookfield and West Haven – closely watched after a city employee was convicted of stealing $1 million in COVID relief funds.
Polls are open Tuesday from 6 a.m. until 8 p.m.

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