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Reporter's Notebook: Investigating Bridgeport's long history of political challenges

Illustrated graphic of buildings in Bridgeport CT, a ballot box, an "I Voted" sticker and the name In Absentia across.

When a video surfaced in Bridgeport last fall showing a woman stuffing papers into a ballot box, it upended the city's primary election. But the ramifications weren't limited to that mayoral contest.

The video also changed the course of a major reporting project that had been underway for months at Connecticut Public. Our investigative team set out last year to understand the nature and causes of Bridgeport's long history of dysfunctional politics. And when the video surfaced, it added a whole new dimension to our work.

This week, we released the first episode of a new podcast that explores the city's complicated history. In Absentia tells the story behind that ballot box video, and asks key questions about the systems of accountability that are meant to safeguard everyday Bridgeport residents.

This four-part series examines the storied career of Mayor Joe Ganim, the role of Bridgeport’s Democratic political machine in shaping local government, and possible solutions to help strengthen the city’s vital institutions in the future.

This work began when former Accountability Project editor Walter Smith Randolph gave us the charge of unraveling the bareknuckle world of Bridgeport politics. Walter wanted to know how a mayor who spent seven years in federal prison for municipal corruption managed to win his old job back, and why Bridgeport has been beset by problems going back decades, from a near-bankruptcy in the early 1990s, to the persistent allegations of misconduct in its local elections.

Reporters Bria Lloyd and Kate Seltzer took on that assignment. They talked to historians, politicians, faith leaders, journalists, activists and voters. They went to housing complexes, senior centers, city council meetings, churches and community events. And when Bridgeport’s 2023 mayoral primary wound up in court, they dutifully reported from the polls during a series of repeat primary and general elections.

Episodes of the podcast will be released weekly, and are available wherever you get your podcasts, and at ctpublic.org/bpt. You can also give the trailer for this series a listen to get a feel for our work. We hope it will spark dialogue about the city's future in the weeks ahead.

Jim Haddadin is an editor for The Accountability Project, Connecticut Public's investigative reporting team. He was previously an investigative producer at NBC Boston, and wrote for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

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