For more than an hour Tuesday, Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim deflected attempts by the attorney for his Democratic rival, John Gomes, to connect Ganim or his campaign to Wanda Geter-Pataky, the woman at the center of the ongoing hearing over the handling of absentee ballots in the city.
Gomes lost the Sept. 12 primary to Ganim by 251 votes, and he is attempting to overturn the outcome in Superior Court.
Gomes’ attorney William Bloss on Tuesday repeatedly asked the mayor whether he or anyone else involved in his campaign ever spoke to Geter-Pataky about the absentee ballot process. Several months ago, state elections officials referred Geter-Pataky for criminal charges for similar issues in the 2019 election.
After answering “no” several times, Ganim said he “never had a conversation with her [Geter-Pataky] about absentee ballots.”
At one point, Bloss showed Ganim a series of videos showing Geter-Pataky and council candidate Eneida Martinez placing multiple ballots into drop boxes set up around the city. Ganim refused to identify Martinez in any of the videos, at one point saying, “It looks like her in some but not like her in others.”
While he acknowledged Geter-Pataky is shown in videos in front of City Hall, he did not say she was mishandling other voters’ absentee ballots, which is a potential election crime.
But Bloss continued to press the matter.
“You believed that showed misuse of the absentee ballot boxes, right?” Bloss asked Ganim.
“I didn’t know what it showed … It certainly appeared that way,” Ganim said.
Over the mayor’s 62 minutes on the stand, Bloss covered several other issues, asking Ganim whether Geter-Pataky was given access to the names of residents who had applied for assistance through a renter rebate program; whether she was paid for distributing absentee ballots by a company paid by his campaign; and why he focused on who leaked a surveillance video posted by the Gomes campaign rather than possible widespread absentee ballot fraud.
Bloss asked Ganim why, in 2019, he had an attorney defending him in the court challenge over his primary victory over Marilyn Moore but this time had chosen not to be part of the defense — even though he is a named party.
“Is the reason you chose not to defend this case is because you knew that there were several other videos out there showing absentee ballot fraud?” Bloss asked, to which Ganim replied, “No.”
Bloss, who has led other legal challenges to Bridgeport elections in recent years, is attempting to make a case that there was widespread absentee ballot fraud in the mayoral primary — enough to make the judge question Ganim’s 251-vote win on election night.
It’s unclear what legal value Ganim’s testimony might serve in the ongoing civil lawsuit, but it will certainly have political value to Gomes, who is preparing to run as an Independent Party candidate even if his attorneys fail to convince the judge to schedule a new primary.
At a press conference after his testimony, Ganim said there is no evidence “anyone from his paid campaign staff” had anything to do with what’s being argued in front of Judge Willam Clark.
“On my paid staff, there is not a hint or a claim of any of this (ballot fraud),” Ganim said. “There are hundreds of volunteers, so there’s no way that anyone could know at any particular time what somebody else may or may not be doing, as was on this video, obviously.”
Ganim also made it clear that he doesn’t believe the case presented by Bloss compels the judge to overturn his primary victory.
“What the court is going to have to decide here is was there a mistake in the count of the vote. And if there was, does it have a serious impact on the outcome,” Ganim said. “My sense is that that is not what you’re going to see at the end of this case, but it’s up to the court to make that decision.”
In a brief cross-examination, attorney Richard Burturla made the point that it was Ganim that ordered the city’s four drop boxes be placed where they would be under 24-hour surveillance. The attorneys representing Town Clerk Clarence Clemens and Democratic Registrar of Voters Patricia Thomas questioned why Ganim was called as a witness at all and said it was a “political stunt.”
But Bloss has said there were legitimate questions about what Ganim or his campaign knew and whether Geter-Pataky got access to the list of renter rebate recipients.
The Connecticut Mirror reported last month that Rosemary Wong, who ran Bridgeport’s rental rebate program for years, initially resisted plans to give Marie Heller and Wanda Geter-Pataky — two members of the city’s Democratic Town Committee — access to data that included personal information for elderly and disabled residents in the city.
But Wong was eventually ordered by her boss, former Bridgeport Health Director Ebony Jackson-Shaheed, to drop those objections and provide the two women with the information they were seeking, documents show.
“Please grant Marie Heller access to the renters’ rebate portal so that she may assist with the program, effective immediately,” Jackson-Shaheed wrote in an email on April 4. “Also please provide Wanda at the front desk with the renters’ rebate appointment schedule as previously done.”
Ganim testified that he didn’t know Wong had gone to state officials with her concerns about who could access the data. He also said that as the “greeter” at the Government Center, Geter-Pataky would have had a role in “knowing who was coming into the building and where they were going.”
Bloss has subpoenaed the list of Bridgeport residents who received renter’s assistance, but the state has yet to produce the list. Bloss has told Clark he will need time to review the data and compare it to absentee ballot application lists before deciding whether to pursue it.
Bloss also has focused on a company called Park City Consulting, an LLC that received more than $140,000 from Ganim’s 2023 campaign and is run by two city employees, Thomas Gaudett and Constance Vickers.
Last week, when Geter-Pataky was on the witness stand, Bloss asked whether she was paid by that consulting firm to distribute absentee ballots. Her attorney asserted her Fifth Amendment right not to answer.
Ganim testified that he was unaware of whether Geter-Pataky received any money through Park City Consulting.
Vickers, who serves as the director of legislative affairs for the city, told the CT Mirror Tuesday that Geter-Pataky was not paid in any capacity through the LLC. Vickers said she and Gaudett, who is Ganim’s mayoral aide, set up the LLC last year and provided mail advertising services in the lead-up to the mayoral primary.