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Tuesday is primary day — again — in Bridgeport

April 7, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — Councilman Tom McCarthy pulled a chair up to the mayor’s conference table earlier this week, joining his colleagues for a briefing on the proposed municipal budget.

McCarthy was not supposed to spend another spring pouring over Bridgeport’s finances. The veteran council member and, until recently its president, was set to retire in early December from the legislative body.

But McCarthy is stuck working on another city budget as the dramedy that has become the race for his seat and a second council slot representing the North End’s 133rd District drags on ... and on ... and on.

“I am the most looking forward to this being over, you can rest assured of that,” said McCarthy, who in the meantime will continuing representing that neighborhood.

Tuesday, for the third time in seven months, 133rd District residents will have the opportunity to vote for two council candidates in a Democratic primary.

The four contenders remain the same: Party nominees Michael DeFilippo and incumbent Councilwoman Jeanette Herron, and their challengers, petition candidates Robert Keeley, a former state representative, and Zoning Commissioner Anne Pappas Phillips.

DeFilippo and Herron won the first primary last September after an absentee or mail-in ballot appeared during a recount, breaking the tie for second-place between Herron and Keeley.

Keeley and Pappas Phillips questioned the results in court, and Judge Barbara Bellis ordered a do-over for Nov. 14.

DeFilippo and Herron again prevailed, this time by a wider margin. And Keeley and Herron again headed to court, where legitimate questions were raised about their opponents’ absentee ballot operation.

It came out in court, for example, that Democratic Town Chairman Mario Testa asked Police Chief Armando “A.J.” Perez, a friend of Testa’s close ally, Mayor Joe Ganim, to dispatch an officer to pick up ballots from addresses supplied by DeFilippo, who bartends at Testa’s restaurant.

Critics argued the Town Clerk is in charge of absentee ballots, already has a cop assigned to that office to retrieve ballots, and that Testa and DeFilippo should have butted out.

Also adding to the intrigue, some absentee ballots in the race popped up in the City Hall mail room but lacked postmarks.

Bellis ordered a third primary. The city appealed and lost before the state Supreme Court, resulting in Tuesday’s second rematch.

“I feel confident,” DeFilippo said of Tuesday’s third primary. “I believe the people will speak again.”

That has been one argument by DeFilippo, Herron and their allies like McCarthy: That, court decisions aside, twice now North End voters have chosen DeFilippo and Herron over Keeley and Pappas-Phillips.

The city’s lawyers have also criticized the Supreme Court for “digging deep to rationalize its interpretation of the (absentee ballot) law” and who is allowed to handle the ballots.

Meanwhile Keeley and Pappas-Phillips, who are running as the political outsiders even though they have long been involved in politics, have claimed they successfully thwarted Bridgeport’s corrupt Democratic machine.

Pappas-Phillips said the response from 133rd District residents has been, “Good for you! It’s about time!”

“I know Bridgeport has years and years of history,” DeFilippo said, alluding to the city’s reputation for shady politics. This is his first race. “But I’m not part of that history.”

And thus far the court spectacle has not moved the needle for Keeley and Pappas-Phillips. The pair last month were part of a slate of candidates that lost a primary to become members of the Democratic Town Committee, losing to a slate that included DeFilippo, Herron and McCarthy.

Testa also appears unaffected. He was recently re-elected town committee chairman for another two year term, even though the 133rd District court battle has cost the party $12,367 in attorneys’ fees.

“I’m hoping for a resolution (Tuesday), absolutely,” DeFilippo said. “Not even for us. Just for the citizens, you know? I think everybody kind of deserves that at this point.”

Perez in an interview said on Tuesday he will refer any requests for an officer to pick up absentee ballots to the Town Clerk: “I don’t think anybody’s going to be calling me. You live and learn, that’s all I can say.”

The two victors of Tuesday’s primary still must win an as-yet-scheduled general election. They will face one Republican challenger — Neville DeLaRosa — who, as is typically the case for the outnumbered Bridgeport GOP, has an uphill fight.

Republican Chairman Mike Garrett has been watching the Democrats battle one another in the 133rd District.

“It is just part of the political culture here in Bridgeport,” Garrett said. “You expect the worst, and they live up to it.”