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Bridgeport absentee ballot case helps drive Republican congressional candidate's campaign

People leave Bridgeport City Hall on January 23, 2024. A court-ordered second Bridgeport mayoral primary election was scheduled in the wake of an absentee ballot controversy.
Joe Buglewicz
Connecticut Public
People leave Bridgeport City Hall on January 23, 2024. A court-ordered second Bridgeport mayoral primary election was scheduled in the wake of an absentee ballot controversy.

Bob MacGuffie, a Republican running for U.S. Congress is challenging incumbent Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat who represents Connecticut’s 4th congressional district of Fairfield County and parts of New Haven County.

MacGuffie said he’s making an effort at reaching out to Bridgeport voters, who he says are disillusioned by an ongoing criminal case over absentee ballot fraud from the city’s 2019 mayoral primary.

“They're fed up with this machine," MacGuffie said.

MacGuffie made a point of standing right by the Bridgeport superior courthouse, where a criminal case over the alleged absentee ballot fraud is underway.

All of the four defendants, Bridgeport City Councilman Alfredo Castillo, Wanda Geter-Pataky, Josephine Edmonds and Nilsa Herredia are pleading not guilty to the charges.

They have been accused of either mishandling absentee ballots, improperly helping voters file them or failing to confirm they assisted voters in filling out ballots.

The case, which comes months after another primary tarnished by allegations of absentee ballot fraud, has turned into ammunition for Republicans to use against Democrats. But some locals say most voters don’t see eye to eye with their viewpoint.

One of them is Callie Gale Heilmann, the co-director of Bridgeport Generation Now Votes, a voter outreach organization, which has consistently challenged Mayor Joe Ganim who won mayoral elections in 2019 and most recently this year.

“What Bridgeport voters, the majority of whom are registered with the Democratic Party, are looking for are democratic candidates who are actually Democrats,” Heilmann said.

But MacGuffie said the people who he’s spoken with — shopkeepers and small business owners — are animated by other concerns as well.

“It takes a year to open a shop, regulations, all kinds of rules and permits required take a whole year to open a shop to sell lunch,” MacGuffie said. “So we need to lift regulations, lift taxes, encourage business, set up enterprise zones in Bridgeport and be thriving."

The city already works with the state to promote small business growth, including an enterprise zone program set up by the state.

It's not just Heilmann who’s pushing back. Some attorneys representing their clients over absentee ballot fraud, declined to speak to the media, except Kenneth Krayeske, who represents Nilsa Herredia.

Krayeske got into an argument with MacGuffie soon after the hearing, outside the courthouse. MacGuffie minimized the conduct of the participants on Jan. 6, 2021 by saying it was not an insurrection, but instead "a riot that got out of control." Krayeske took issue with that claim.

“He likes to cherry pick. ‘Oh, these Black people in Bridgeport did really bad, but the white people who tried to overthrow the United States Capitol was just a riot that got out of hand,” Krayeske said.

All four defendants are due back in court on Aug. 29.

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