Mayoral candidate says he won't quit Connecticut race marred by ballot issues, despite primary loss

A mayoral candidate who got an election re-run in Connecticut’s largest city because of allegations of absentee ballot box stuffing said Wednesday that he is staying in the race, despite losing three straight votes to the Democratic incumbent.

“I have met with my supporters and we have decided not to abandon this campaign because all voters have a final say as to who should we elect the next mayor for the great city of Bridgeport,” John Gomes declared.

Gomes said he is eligible to appear on the ballot for the special Feb. 27 general election as the Independent Party candidate, although Mayor Joe Ganim questioned the legitimacy of his candidacy as a minor party contender. Surrounded by supporters, Gomes raised concerns with the recent primary, saying some of his supporters were turned away, among other possible election law violations. His campaign has requested absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications to review.

“I would say that if elected officials continue to turn a blind eye towards the actions in Bridgeport, we will continue this cycle time and time again,” he said.

Gomes has come under pressure to bow out of the protracted and complicated race after Ganim won last week's primary. Ganim is seeking re-election to a third four-year term since having served seven years in prison for corruption during his first stint as mayor from 1991 to 2003.

After his time behind bars, Ganim won the job back in 2015 after apologizing for his misdeeds. Gomes is Ganim’s former acting chief administrative officer for the city.

Gomes and two other candidates — Republican David Herz and petitioning candidate Lamond Daniels — have been urged to step aside by leaders of the City Council and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont and forgo what will be the fourth election for the city's top seat since September.

Daniels dropped out on Tuesday, saying he didn't "see a rationale for continuing an unwinnable campaign in the new general election.” Herz has said he'd drop out if both Daniels and Gomes do so as well. A message was left seeking comment from Herz about his plans.

Ganim initially won the September primary, which the judge tossed out, and the November general election, which didn't count, by slim margins. Unofficial results from last week's primary showed Ganim winning by a larger margin, 57% to 43% with only 8,775 votes cast in the city of 148,000, located about 60 miles (100 kilometers) east of New York City.

Ganim criticized Gomes for staying in the race, arguing the voters in the Democratic-heavy city have already made it clear from last week's primary showing that they want him reelected.

“There wasn’t a question or a hint, other than some of the fantasies that the Gomes campaign is trying to throw out, to justify asking and forcing the city of Bridgeport to spend another $120,000 for the fourth election in four months,” Ganim said.

The mayor described seeing an older woman with a cane, carefully watching her every step to avoid falling as she walked into a polling place to vote in the do-over primary on a cold winter day.

“I guess Gomes would say, 'That wasn’t good enough, ma’am. I want you to do it again,'” Ganim said.

Superior Court Judge William Clark overturned the September primary following a multiday court hearing in which at least two Ganim supporters accused of being caught on video stuffing absentee ballots into ballot boxes refused to answer questions, invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Clark set both a new primary and a general election, so long as more than one candidate remained in the race.

“The volume of ballots so mishandled is such that it calls the result of the primary election into serious doubt and leaves the court unable to determine the legitimate result of the primary,” Clark wrote in his ruling.

Ganim, who has denied any knowledge of alleged absentee ballot stuffing, has accused the Gomes campaign of committing election law violations as well. Various investigations are currently under way.

The case spread through right-wing social media platforms and on far-right media, connecting the controversy to the 2020 stolen election claims.