A second Democratic primary for mayor in Bridgeport will likely take place in January. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

A second Democratic primary in Bridgeport will be held on Jan. 23, giving challenger John Gomes a third shot at defeating incumbent Mayor Joe Ganim.

After several days of negotiating with dates for the primary — with dates as early as Dec. 12 proposed — the two sides and the secretary of the state’s office have agreed on the January date to avoid the holidays and give the Bridgeport registrar of voters time to train new poll workers.

A proposed court order with details of how the process will play out, including when absentee ballot applications would be available, is expected to be submitted to Judge William Clark on Wednesday, but sources familiar with the negotiations confirmed the Jan. 23 date. If Gomes wins that primary, a new general election will be held Feb. 27.

The order also states that municipal officials must make absentee ballot applications available at 9 a.m. on Dec. 29 and have absentee ballots available to be mailed by Jan. 2.

That will give residents only about 3 1/2 weeks to submit an application to vote absentee. For the September primary, members of the campaigns began collecting absentee ballot applications in the spring.

It also adds new conditions specifically for this primary:

  • Municipal election officials must put serial numbers on absentee ballot applications if the applications are provided to an individual who has requested five or more absentee ballots for this primary.
  • The town clerk will be required to stamp each absentee ballot received through a drop box with a stamp reading “drop box” in addition to stamping it with their printed name and date and time received, as done in every other election.
  • New voters who wish to register for the Democratic primary must register before noon on Jan. 19.

Candidates will be able to solicit donations of up to $1,000 from individuals for the primary.

Ganim defeated Gomes by 173 votes in this month’s general election. It was a slimmer margin than in the primary in September, even though Gomes was listed on the fourth line of the ballot below Ganim, Republican David Herz and petitioning candidate Lamond Daniels.

If Gomes were to win the second primary, there would need to be another general election, this time with Gomes on the top line of the ballot. It would be scheduled for Feb. 27. The Jan. 23 primary will only consist of the mayor’s race, with no down-ballot races.

Since this new primary in January will be a re-do of the Democratic primary in September, neither Herz or Daniels is eligible to be on the ballot. 

“I would have preferred having the primary in December, but given the new guardrails that have been put in place regarding absentee ballots, I think it’s a fair trade,” said William Bloss, Gomes’ attorney.

Bloss said the other big change is that absentee ballots applications will not be available until late December. Boss said that someone came into the town clerk’s office on Tuesday and took out 200 applications. Those will no longer be usable.

“This will avoid the situation we had where people were signing their applications in May that they were going to be sick in September when the first primary was held,” Bloss said. “This will limit the amount of time that absentee ballots can be distributed.”

Attorneys for the city of Bridgeport did not immediately comment on the proposal.

Ganim defeated Gomes by 251 votes in the September primary. The mayor’s narrow victories came from big margins in absentee ballots. Gomes won the machine vote in both the primary and the general election.

Gomes challenged the results of the Sept. 12 primary based on video evidence that showed Ganim supporters allegedly depositing stacks of absentee ballots into drop boxes in the city. State law prohibits individuals from handling other voters’ ballots, unless they are a family member, caregiver or “designee” for those people.

Clark ruled in Gomes‘ favor and ordered a second primary.

Gomes’ campaign had been pushing to have the second primary on Dec. 19 to limit the amount of time Ganim supporters could distribute absentee ballot applications. The city’s registrar of voters and town clerk, both named in the Gomes lawsuit, were seeking a primary on Jan. 16 or later.

It is unclear how the Jan. 23 date was picked.

The agreement avoids a scenario where the judge would have to choose a date. Clark had given the two sides until Wednesday to file an agreement. If the two sides had not agreed on a date, attorneys would have had until Friday to file their own briefs on why the date they wanted should be chosen, with Clark making the final decision.

Ganim has said he is planning to be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 1 despite the court challenge hanging over the whole process. Since the election, Ganim has called Gomes a two-time loser who should drop his court challenge and “respect the will of the city’s voters.”

But Gomes has shown no signs of stopping his fight, calling his narrow loss on election night “déjà vu all over again,” because, as with the primary, he was leading in the machine vote, only to lose once again when the absentee votes were counted.

“We beat this incumbent — and the Democratic machine that has been entrenched in Bridgeport for decades — twice at the polls, and the only way they could beat us is by absentee ballot, which is done in the dark,” Gomes said in a recent radio interview.

Dave does in-depth investigative reporting for CT Mirror. His work focuses on government accountability including financial oversight, abuse of power, corruption, safety monitoring, and compliance with law. Before joining CT Mirror Altimari spent 23 years at the Hartford Courant breaking some of the state’s biggest, most impactful investigative stories.