Nothing like a good political fight to warm things up. Investigators from the Connecticut Elections Enforcement Commission are probing absentee ballot fraud allegations involving City Councilwoman Lydia Martinez concerning residents at an apartment complex at 1491 Central Avenue during November’s general election. The complaint was brought by Ralph Ford Jr., East End political district leader who’s been on opposite sides of Martinez in a variety of city races including last year’s State Senate primary won by Andres Ayala over Ernie Newton and Ed Gomes. Martinez is no stranger to EEC probes. She’s been fined twice the past few years for election irregularities including assisting a voter with an absentee ballot in violation of state law.
Ford is an ally of Newton who’s facing criminal charges brought by state investigators alleging Newton falsified $500 in campaign donations last summer to qualify for roughly $80,000 in public campaign funds in his primary run.
A lot of tit for tat goes on in city politics. This one files a complaint against that one, and that one files a complaint in return. These kinds of complaints are not easy for state investigators to piece together. Ford’s complaint, however, is enough that last week EEC investigators William Smith and Gilberto Oyola blanketed the 1491 Central Avenue apartment complex with letters requesting cooperation from residents.
“It has been alleged that some of the applications and ballots were obtained fraudulently,” the letter states to one resident of the complex. “Since your name appears on the list of voters voting absentee from that address we need you to confirm whether the handwriting and signature appearing on those pages correspond to you.”
An EEC spokesperson confirms the letter was issued by state investigators and the probe continues.
Ford claims, in his complaint, that Kevin Johnson, a resident of 1491 Central Avenue “reported that two ladies came to his building at 1491 Central Avenue and told the residents to sign the absentee ballot applications. These applications were filed under false pretenses including Mr. Johnson’s. A few days later one of the ladies returned to the building and picked up Kevin Johnson’s ballot telling him “not to tell anybody.” Mr. Johnson as well as other residents were unaware of the elections laws regarding absentee ballots. When I informed him about the regulations he became quite upset and agreed to file a complaint. Apparently, other residents of this building were victimized as well. It was alleged by other residents that Lydia Martinez, a city councilperson (was) involved in soliciting and carrying these applications and ballots.”
Johnson is listed as a witness in Ford’s complaint.
When it comes to an absentee ballot operation, Martinez is the queen of the court in city politics. She’s extremely attentive to the task of prevailing upon unsophisticated electors to cast a vote by absentee ballot, even organizing constituent outings to casinos and Port Jefferson. She often claims she’s simply helping voters that cannot make it to the polls. For a seasoned political operative such as Martinez her absentee ballot constituents are money in the bank for city elections. Martinez also has some clout on the City Council serving as chair of the Economic and Community Development Committee that steers funding for the needy from the city’s Community Development Block Grant program. Her absentee ballot operation generally centers on her East Side council district, but in this case Ford is accusing her of interloping in his district.
Ford actively worked against the November ballot question that asked voters to approve mayoral appointment of school board members. Ford’s heavy African American constituency voted against the question at both his precincts, Harding and Dunbar. Ford, once a supporter of Bill Finch’s, had a falling-out with the mayor more than a year ago, stemming from patronage jobs. Ford has been a player in city politics for decades, leveraging his political action committee to support his candidates for office–dubiously, say his political critics. Ford is a behavioral health physician which sometimes comes in handy for city politics.