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Bridgeport community organizers are fired up after Ganim win

 Bridgeport Generation now leaders Gemeem Davis and Callie Heilmann
Molly Ingram
/
WSHU
Bridgeport Generation Now leaders Gemeem Davis and Callie Heilmann speak to John Gomes on the night of Bridgeport's primary election re-do. Bridgeport Generation Now initially supported State Senator Marilyn Moore (D-Bridgeport), who did not qualify for the primary. They began supporting Gomes before the primary re-do.

Bridgeport’s mayoral election is over — but for one of the city’s civic organizing groups, the fight for fair elections is far from finished.

Bridgeport Generation Now Votes President Gemeem Davis said the 2023 election shined a spotlight on the city’s wider corruption problem.

WSHU’s Molly Ingram spoke with Davis to discuss what comes next.

WSHU: Tell me about Bridgeport Generation Now and Bridgeport Generation Now Votes.

GD: Bridgeport Generation Now is a C3 organization that was started in 2016 by Callie Heilmann. And a small group of founding members came together after the 2015 election, and asked, 'what is going on here in our city? And what do we want? What does the larger community want?'

Our mission is to increase civic engagement. We want to dismantle systemic corruption and racism. And we do all types of things throughout the year, we have a civics one-on-one weekend, like a workshop that we run and we do an anti-racism workshop.

Bridgeport Generation Now Votes is our C4 affiliate. And so on that side of the organization, our mission is to increase voter turnout and elections and to carry the issues forward through the election cycle.

WSHU: What did your role in the city’s 2023 mayoral election look like?

GD: We had an endorsement process in 2023. Two candidates filled out our questionnaire and pledged to the platform and came in for interviews. And at the end of it, we believed that Marilyn Moore was the closest candidate that aligned the most with our platform. And so we endorsed her. And we did most of our independent expenditure, like most of our work, promoting her candidacy. And when her campaign didn't qualify for the September primary, we didn't endorse anyone. John Gomes had qualified, Marilyn Moore and Lamond Daniels did not qualify.

After that primary, when we saw all of the malfeasance that happened during that primary, one of our biggest issues is to fight against this corruption, to give everyone equal access to the ballot, right? So there are all these things wrapped around what was happening during the election cycle, we really believed it was our responsibility to get behind the independent candidate who was trying to fight the system in the same ways that we have been fighting since 2019. In 2019, our organization brought that lawsuit around the Ganim campaign and the absentee ballot abuse and fraud. This time, it was someone that we didn't know.

So we met John Gomes during the initial interview process, but we certainly didn't know him. But we said this person is fighting. Like, we see the disparity, we know that it's true based on you know, 2019, and what in the complaints we were hearing, and so, our organization said we are going to support him, right. Because he, during that time, when nobody knew what was going to happen, what was going on. John Gomes was willing to engage with us on the issues and was fighting for, you know, the issue that Bridgeporters told us in 2023 was the most important issue. That was our local government is corrupt, and our electoral process is corrupt. And so we did decide after the general election, that didn't count, everyone took a break. We thought about what was going on. And so we started to support John Gomes in January for the special primary.

WSHU: It sounds like you weren't surprised when the news broke in November that there had been election interference.

GD: No, no. We were not surprised.

WSHU: So, now that Mayor Joe Ganim has won another term, where do you go from here?

GD: We continue to do our work and to organize and to hold him accountable for the things that he's been saying for the last two months because he's never said that before, right? He is not a person who funds education. He's not a person who upholds our election laws or even supports any of the things that we support. W don't see him in Hartford advocating for, you know, all the different things that we've been involved in. So it'll be interesting, but our work, from our perspective, has just gotten stronger. And we are committed to moving forward.

You know, this morning, I was scrolling through Instagram and Kamala Harris, our vice president, was standing in front of a John Lewis mural. And she wrote something to the effect of, our democracy is only as strong as our willingness to fight for it. And we are fired up. One election doesn't make or break our organizing. We learned from the election and from the people of Bridgeport what is important. We try to cut through all the noise and educate people on the truth about what's going on. Because our primary goal through Bridgeport Generation Now is social good.

WSHU: Is there a world in which Ganim reaches out to Bridgeport Generation Now and says, 'hey, maybe we should partner with them?'

GD: I think Ganim and his inner circle don't see that as something real. They see it as performative. And something that they could use for their political advantage. I do not believe based on his actions for the last eight or nine years, that he is not interested in true partnership with community organizations, he is interested in using them to make himself look good.

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Molly is a reporter covering Connecticut. She also produces Long Story Short, a podcast exploring public policy issues across Connecticut.