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Following a heated primary between an incumbent mayor and an unsuccessful challenger, a high-profile lawsuit and a write-in candidacy have dragged on a controversial mayoral race in Bridgeport — Connecticut’s most populated city.

In September, Sen. Marilyn Moore, who was first elected to the State Senate in 2014, faced incumbent mayor Joe Ganim in the Democratic primary in Bridgeport. Although Moore won more votes at the ballot box on primary day, Ganim received an overwhelming majority of the absentee ballots and secured the nomination.

Since then, accusations of irregularities in the absentee ballot process have led election watchdog groups to launch a lawsuit questioning the legitimacy of Ganim’s win. In an interview with the News, Moore said continued community support and concerns about the primary outcome convinced her to continue her campaign in November as a write-in candidate. Moore and Ganim will also face a Republican candidate, John Rodriguez, in a city that has recently overwhelmingly favored Democrats. Despite the challenges of not having her name appear on the ballot in November, Moore said she believes she can win the election with effective voter outreach.

“Every place I go … people walk up to me and know my name.” Moore said. “We’re canvassing and doing phone calls. It’s a small town … People are tired of this mess, they want a way out.”

Ganim was elected mayor in 1991 and served until 2003. He then spent seven years in federal prison for multiple charges — including bribery — that arose from his time as mayor. After being released from prison in 2010, Ganim returned to legal work before launching a successful mayoral campaign in 2015, knocking off an incumbent Democrat in the primary and easily seizing the general election win. He also unsuccessfully ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.

Ganim’s second tenure as mayor has now lasted nearly four years as he faces his first reelection since returning from prison. His campaign spokesperson Josh Dellaquila told the News that Ganim was given a second chance by the people of Bridgeport in 2015 and is now running on his record of effective leadership seen in the last four years.

“He’s started a lot of good things in the city, he’s put people back to work and cut taxes this year for the first time in a while.” Dellaquila said. “We’re trying to maintain that progress, continue to lower taxes. We’re trying to make sure that our streets are safer … his promise has been kept to hire over 100 new police officers.”

After Ganim beat Moore in the primary by a razor-thin margin of less than 300 votes out of over 10,000, concerns about the legality and ethics of Ganim’s absentee ballot operation surfaced. Some allege that absentee ballot providers pushed voters to select Ganim on their ballot and filled out forms for them. Shortly after accusations were levied, Bridgeport Generation Now, Working Families and P.T. Partner groups combined forces to file a lawsuit, which is still working its way through the judicial system. Secretary of State Denise Merrill also instructed the State Elections Enforcement Commission to begin an investigation. At the same time, a watchdog group in Bridgeport has filed several complaints against Moore for her fundraising work for a nonprofit that supports African Americans with breast cancer.

According to Dellaquila, Ganim’s team is focusing on the November election, lest there be significant legal challenges to his bid due to the lawsuit. While Moore said she is staying out of the courtroom as the case develops, she pointed to significant ethical and legal concerns about voting in Bridgeport. She told the News that contested results like these are normal in Bridgeport and called them a symptom of a “rigged system” many warned her about during the primary campaign.

“This is not about me. This is not about this race. This is about a system that they created and finally somebody has stepped in to look at very deeply in a major election,” Moore said. “It could change how everything happens in Bridgeport. The current Democratic party here… won’t be able to do what they want to do.”

The controversy surrounding the mayoral race only intensified when someone broke into Moore’s campaign office last week. Moore told the News that the nature of the break-in — which did not result in theft of any physical objects in her office — made her believe that it was politically motivated. Moore also cited other incidents she considered to be odd in recent months. For example, she found her car door and trunk open, and, on a different occasion, armed men appeared near a fundraiser she hosted. Moore also said the police were slow in responding to multiple complaints.

Dellaquila said Ganim’s campaign team “doesn’t condone any sort of action” against Moore’s campaign and hopes that the city can come together on Nov. 6. Moore did not blame Ganim’s campaign for the break-in but left the possibility open that it may have been prompted by one of his “surrogates” to “intimidate” her. Despite obstacles from what she called “old-world politics,” Moore said that she is inspired to continue running her campaign for Bridgeport residents.

Bridgeport is the most populous city in Connecticut, with a population of 144,229 as of the 2010 Census.

 

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu