Bridgeport mayor wins do-over election in race marred by ballot irregularities

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim has won a do-over election in Connecticut’s most populous city, months after a judge threw out the results of the first one because of allegations of absentee ballot box stuffing during a Democratic primary.

Ganim on Tuesday defeated fellow Democrat John Gomes, the city’s former acting chief administrative officer.

Gomes successfully battled in court to get the mayoral race rerun on the grounds that the original result was tainted by voting irregularities. Yet in the end, he was not able to turn that legal victory into votes.

Tuesday marked the fourth straight time Ganim bested Gomes in voting during the messy and protracted election, including the now-voided primary in September, a nullified general election in November and a rerun primary last month. Ganim also defeated Republican David Herz.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

The voters of Bridgeport, Connecticut, went to the polls on Tuesday to choose their mayor — some for the fourth time — after the result of the last election was thrown out because of allegations of absentee ballot box stuffing during a Democratic primary.

Less than an hour after polls closed, and with only a fraction of the expected total vote publicly reported, incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim took the stage at a post-election party and declared victory over his former aide, fellow Democrat John Gomes.

“If wasn’t clear three times in a row. It’s clear today. Louder than ever. Bridgeport has spoken," said Ganim, referring to the two primaries and one general election that predated Tuesday's election and where he and Gomes went head-to-head.

The Associated Press has not declared a winner in the race.

Speaking to supporters shortly after Ganim declared victory, Gomes said he was proud his campaign brought attention to longstanding voting integrity issues in the city. He didn’t concede, but spoke about his campaign being “at halftime” and said he planned on staying involved in Bridgeport and Connecticut civic affairs.

Bridgeport's path to Election Day has been complicated, and to some in the city of 148,000, embarrassing.

There were two primaries. Ganim appeared to win the first one, held in September, but the result was voided by Superior Court Judge William Clark after security camera footage emerged showing what appeared to be at least two of the mayor's supporters making repeat trips to ballot collection boxes and stuffing them with papers that looked like absentee ballots.

Longtime political observers in Bridgeport said it looked — at best — like evidence of ballot harvesting, an illegal practice where campaign operatives and volunteers cajole people into filling out absentee ballots for their candidate, and then collect and submit those ballots. Connecticut law requires most people to drop off their ballots themselves. Ganim, who has accused the Gomes campaign of committing voting irregularities, said he was unaware of any wrongdoing by his supporters.

Because the court decision came less than a week before the general election was scheduled, the November vote went ahead as planned. Ganim got more votes, but that result didn’t count, either, because of the judge's ruling.

A new Democratic primary was held on Jan. 23. Ganim won again, this time more comfortably, but the two Democrats faced off yet again Tuesday because Gomes had also qualified for the ballot as an independent candidate.

Both Democrats spent the day trying to rally voters, many fatigued and frustrated, to once again cast ballots.

Gomes mentioned that weariness in his speech to supporters.

“Bridgeport right now is a divided city. We understand the voter fatigue, frustration and many who didn’t show up to vote,” he said. “But we respect them. We appreciate them and we love them.”

The two Democratic candidates sniped at one another in the final weeks. Ganim accused Gomes of running for mayor out of revenge for being fired as the city’s acting chief administrative officer, saying putting him in charge would be a “mistake.”

Gomes, in turn, brought up Ganim’s criminal record. After an initial 12-year run as mayor, Ganim was convicted of corruption. He spent seven years in prison, then persuaded voters in 2015 to bring him back as mayor.

“I can no longer tolerate the abusive insults and ad hominem attacks aimed at me by a lawless, immoral, and unscrupulous disbarred lawyer who is bent on perpetuating a corrupt enterprise in the City of Bridgeport,” Gomes wrote in a recent opinion piece.

Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas said despite the fatigue, voter turnout during this protracted election has been modest yet steady. Also, she said election monitors have been in the Town Clerk's office daily, conducting spot checks of absentee ballot applicants and reviewing video footage of outdoor drop boxes. Since Feb. 1, her office has made three referrals to the State Elections Enforcement Commission regarding possible election violations.

Ganim picked up support from top Democrats in the final days of his campaign, including endorsements from Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Jim Himes and appearance by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz at a get-out-the-vote rally Saturday.

“Your support is crucial now more than ever,” he urged supporters in a Facebook post.

Besides Ganim and Gomes, Republican David Herz is running in the do-over general election. Herz didn't attract much support in the first election in the heavily Democratic city.

Susan Haigh, The Associated Press