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Dem mayoral candidate to contest primary results after accusing city employee of stuffing ballot box for the incumbent

Composite screenshot of John Gomes for Mayor Facebook video

A man who narrowly lost a bid to be the Democrat nominee in the upcoming mayoral race in Bridgeport, Connecticut, has announced that he intends to contest the results of the primary vote after surveillance footage suggests that election fraud may have taken place.

On September 12, incumbent Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim narrowly edged out Democrat challenger John Gomes by a mere 251-vote margin. Primary Election Day ballots favored Gomes, but after absentee ballots were tallied later that evening, Ganim prevailed over Gomes, 4,212 to 3,961.

Gomes, a 52-year-old immigrant from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Western Africa, never conceded the race. Then, four days later, his campaign posted a video to its Facebook page that appears to contain footage from Bridgeport's City Hall. The message attending the video calls it "video surveillance proving that the mayoral election was unequivocally stolen through corruption within City Hall by tampering with absentee ballots."

On the video, a woman wearing a light-colored dress and shoes appears to make repeated trips to a ballot box stationed outside City Hall. While there, she appears to deposit stacks of what Gomes has alleged to be "absentee ballots." Time stamps for the video indicate she makes three stops at the box early in the morning on September 5: once at 5:42 a.m., then again about a minute later, and a third time at 6:39 a.m.

The video also indicates she stood by and watched as a man, reportedly a city employee, appeared to make yet another deposit at the ballot box around 7:18 a.m.

The Gomes campaign has claimed that the woman in the video is Wanda Geter-Pataky, a city employee and a long-standing supporter of Mayor Ganim. The video includes a short clip of Geter-Pataky standing behind Ganim at a campaign event and assuring him, "I got your back, Mayor."

Screenshot of John Gomes for Mayor Facebook video

"There is no question in our mind that Wanda Geter-Pataky is the person in the video," said Christine Bartlett-Josie, Gomes' campaign manager.

Geter-Pataky and Ganim have a long history together, much of it clouded in suspicion and controversy. In 2019, Ganim squeaked by yet another hotly contested primary election — this time against state Sen. Marilyn Moore — with the help of absentee ballots. This past June, state election officials voted unanimously to recommend criminal charges against three of Ganim's campaign associates for possible fraud in that 2019 primary race. Geter-Pataky is one of those three campaign associates.

Mayor Ganim also has a history of sordid political behavior. In fact, his tenure as mayor — which began all the way back in 1991 — was interrupted 12 years later when he resigned following a conviction for crimes related to accepting bribes and kickbacks while in office. He served seven years behind bars before returning to the outside world, where he made a stunning comeback, winning re-election to the mayor's office in 2015 and re-election again four years later.

Ganim, now 63, has responded to these latest accusations against his campaign supporters. "I want to state unequivocally that I do not condone, in any way, actions taken by anyone including any campaign, city, or elected official, which undermines the integrity of either the electoral process or city property," he said in a statement issued Monday. "The Bridgeport Police Department is actively investigating all these matters, and my administration will continue to update the public as we are able to obtain more information."

Bridgeport police have indeed opened an investigation into the alleged incident. However, they have also opened an investigation into how surveillance video of City Hall was leaked. An "internal investigation is being conducted to determine if any possible breach to our security video management system has occurred," a statement from Bridgeport PD said in part. The Gomes campaign claimed it received the video from an individual after the primary election was over.

According to Connecticut law, absentee voters may have another person deposit their ballot on their behalf, but the law strictly limits who that person may be. Among those authorized to deposit an absentee ballot for another person are family members, caregivers, some licensed medical professionals, police officers, and the registrar of voters.

The Gomes campaign has reportedly filed a complaint with the State Elections Enforcement Commission about the alleged absentee ballot fraud. Though SEEC spokesperson Josh Foley could not comment on whether the agency had received any such complaints, he did confirm that the commission will hold a meeting on Wednesday.

Gomes' campaign is also seeking a court injunction regarding the alleged fraud. Bill Bloss, an attorney for the campaign, claimed that his team wants a judge to declare Gomes the winner. Barring that, they hope a judge will toss out the results from September 12 and force a new primary election.

Connecticut Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas has called the video footage of alleged fraud disturbing but insisted she has no authority to intervene in the situation. She has recommended that the SEEC and local law enforcement conduct "a quick and thorough investigation."

Geter-Pataky did not respond to requests for comment from the CT Mirror.

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