Is Keeley Losing Because Of The Machine Or Campaign Machinations?

There’s been some hand-wringing in the OIB comments section about City Council challengers Bob Keeley and Anne Pappas Phillips conquered by that dastardly big bad Democratic machine that endorsed incumbent Jeanette Herron and Michael DeFilippo in the North End 133rd District. A state judge ordered a new election following a dubious absentee ballot that found its way into the September primary recount. The endorsed candidates prevailed in last week’s do-over. The challengers have asked the court to intervene again citing questionable absentee ballots. The endorsed candidates won on the machines. Keeley, who spent more than 20 years in the State House, was endorsed many times by that machine.

In 2008, Keeley received a primary challenge from Auden Grogins, a former city councilor and school board member. The party endorsement was a tie. Guess who broke the tie on behalf of Keeley? Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa.

Sometimes attacking the big bad establishment is a matter of convenience. The notion that party backing is an automatic victory lap is a fallacy. In fact, many party-endorsed candidates have taken a licking.

Let’s examine the City Council primary races. Bridgeport has 10 districts with two council members per. Nine of 10 districts had primaries. The two party-endorsed candidates lost in the 130th and 132nd districts. Three other districts, 135, 138, 139 experienced split decisions. Keeley, on September 12, was locked in a tie with party-endorsed Herron.

What did the successful challengers do that escaped those who lost to party-endorsed candidates?

A combination of factors go into this. Hard work, messaging, the standing of incumbency, coalition building, identifying voters and dragging them out in low-turnout primaries.

Let’s go back four years. In 2013 all endorsed candidates for City Council and school board were defeated in primaries. In 2014, Marilyn Moore knocked off party-endorsed incumbent Anthony Musto in a primary. In 2015, Joe Ganim defeated party-endorsed incumbent Bill Finch, an outlier of sorts with Finch becoming the first incumbent mayor in history to lose in a primary. In 2016, Moore and State Senator Ed Gomes were not endorsed. They defeated the endorsed candidates in primaries.

Various insurgent coalitions in recent years have done an outstanding job coming together to send messages to city power brokers: they’re not as powerful as conveniently conveyed. Why? Party discipline has waned, the public payroll, although still a factor in some ways, is not nearly the force decades ago when mayoral discretionary positions were substantially higher larding jobs for Democratic Town Committee members.

As for Keeley, who lost handily in three primary tries for mayor, he lost his State House seat 2008, lost again in a State House special election in 2011 to fill Chris Caruso’s seat, lost again in a State House special election in 2015 to fill Grogins’ seat. And now, unless rescued by the court, he has suffered another loss, this time for a City Council seat. A court hearing on Keeley’s election challenge will take place Friday morning.

It’s misplaced messaging for a career pol like Keeley to rant against the system he has been a part of for a long time.

So, is it the “machine” that beat Keeley, or the candidate’s strategy?



  1. Lennie that was a great analysis and right on. I believe the election was anyone’s to win or lose. I know Herron was being cut the first time around, but not the second. I also believe Mario had his hand in it the first time. I believe the outstanding issue is the amount of ballots returned on election day by a police officer. The TC’s office was smart to include this information on the electronic reports and that’s what is in question. There’s no doubt about who the winners are. There’s a statute that speaks to a situation that would require a ballot to be picked up from a voter. It states who is authorized under law to do this, as well as how a request is made. I understand that when the head monitor of this primary questioned the police officer as he returned ballots to the TC’s office, he told the monitor that an employee of Mario Testo, by the name of Michael DeFillipo, made the request. I’m repeating what I was told from a person of standing in this election,(not Keeley), the Judge was made aware of this also. Let’s see if what I was told is true or not. We may know on Friday. Just another way to manipulate abs.

  2. I’ll link these two articles together:
    The winner of turkey of the year goes to, Oh My God, its a tie!!!!
    Mario Testa, Mike Difilippo and Janet Heron!!!!
    They are the endorsed slate with the backing of the town chair. They were given the chance to do it over again and yet they still played the same games.
    Very questionable AB’s, voter suppression along with a bogus AB operation all add up to a losing strategy unless you are the town chair.
    And I have not seen any reports on the other “M” and that is money; above board or under the table.

  3. Keep in context it’s not a level playing field. The challengers only win because they are forced to work twice as hard when they do win. I speak from personal experience

      1. Len. It is what I said. When jobs and contracts are on the line and the machine has financial bread winning at stake that is a more sustainable entity than an individual or a certain team who have idealistic motives and have no remuneration. I lost because I had less time for campaigning due to council responsibilities and my running partner went to sleep while the mighty machine kept cranking with its ABs, it’s boss and it’s jobs.

  4. This is the standard playbook of the machine and if in fact the DTC Chair is giving orders to the police to run ABs then it’s quite about time for an intervention. It might restore some faith in the system. Laregely people have lost faith and with good reason. The press is complicit. Spank these reprehensable, disreputable disingenuous, self-serving people !

    It’s not a level playing field and responsible, honest government is not sustainable in this culture. Go Keeley!

    1. It’s time for the Courts to step in and investigate the total operation of the DTC.
      Order a Comprehensive Audit of the DTC books for the past five years.
      Starting with the Schools Building Committee and every contractor who works for the School system and who donates to the DTC.
      Judge Bellis should order the State Elections Enforcement Commission  and the State Prosecutors office to investigate this campaign (133rd) and the City Clerks office in addition too,
      The Registrars office.
      Every year and every District, the Voters of Bridgeport have been cheated by Mario Testa and the DTC.

          1. Judge Bellis has taken a keen interest in Bridgeport politics, oarticularly the electoral process (ABs esoecially).

          2. Just wait, Frank. The evidentiary hearing today is going to be enlightening to say the keast.

  5. It is somewhat true what you say but I really think that you are over analyzing this from the voters point of view.
    You are going back 10 years ago. Do you really think the voters have his piece of literature that says ENDORSED by the DTC?
    Do you really think that they are saying “wait a minute. Weren’t you once the darling of the DTC?”
    I don’t think so. The lines do not overlap that much so for many of the voters in the 133rd. Its a name that they have heard of but do not really know.

    1. Yes, Troll, a super small universe of voters tend to be the most active and knowledgeable that can decide these races. Keeley has continuously mailed it in as a candidate which is why he loses. He’s a slave to the past rather than a proponent of the future.

  6. Lennie I agree with you. In Bridgeport politics you can’t snooze, if for one reason or another you take a sabbatical of five or ten years, you lose the energy, become unaware of changing demographics, new coalitions, and of course the technology now used that gives a candidate more time to work the voters on a touch-me-basis. In Bridgeport the move-out, move-in rate is more prevalent than surrounding municipalities. The base voters we rely on dwindle over time and have to be replaced. That takes the willingness to get to know and engage new residents, be consistent, and keep them informed. While Bob Keeley has skills, he missed a decade of changes. The one consistent is the use of ab ballots. They were always abused, but not to the extent they are today. I personally blame Mario Testo for this; he encourages and lures vulnerable, weak candidates to “steal” votes, and he teaches them how. The Town Clerk’s office has taken steps to bring transparency and modern reporting of these ballots to us. It will take more time and vigilance, more court cases, or just eliminate Testo from the position of TC, and maybe then there will be more honesty in the area of this form of voting.

      1. I see what you’re saying Lisa. I think this transcends politics and is an opportunity to reform the process and urge you and others attend the Evidentury Hearindg at 6A Friday morning

  7. BRIDGEPORT – City Democratic Party Chairman Mario Testa and his bartender and hand-picked candidate for city council are refusing to testify at a court hearing Friday on allegations of mishandling of absentee ballots during the recent special primary election without first consulting with their own lawyers.
    “(I) have spoken to Democratic Chairman Mario Testa and city council candidate Michael DeFilippo regarding the court’s intention to compel their testimony… each individual has indicated his desire to consult with or retain counsel regarding his procedural and substantive rights in this matter. Neither individual consents to appear before the court absent opportunity to consult counsel,” Deputy City Attorney John Bohannon states in a motion filed in Superior Court Wednesday.

    Full story here:

  8. Obviously there are no improprieties here. None whatsoever! Collection of ballots- counting of ballots- delivery of ballots; of course one would need an attorney to explain such a simple thing as this!!! Same law firm for the liquor zoning fight that’s been going on for the past two years?????

  9. Kid, good job! Since Testo gave his attorney for this matter to Herron, I wonder who he’ll use for his representation. If DeFilippo had attended the previous court dates as did Herron, he probably wouldn’t have to retain an attorney now. It does seem that they will be compelled to answer to the Court regarding their involvement in ballots they directed to be delivered to the Town Clerk’s Office. Most likely the Judge will interpret the statute as it stands, and not excuse past practices used outside the statute. Kudos to Bob and Ann for pursuing this. It won’t have an impact on the election result, but hopefully other Testo-like-minded individuals will take heed when bending or breaking the law in the area of absentee ballots.

  10. And by the way, who pays for the attorneys to represent these cohorts? Defilippo’s attorney fees for his failing liquor fight has to be well over $50,000 IF he is being charged! That’s an investigation I would love to see!!! And I did say IF!!!
    Off topic but the zoning commission meets again on HIS issue that THEY are using OPED to promote : this Monday at 6:30 in the chamber. Open to all who wish to attend and even speak out against OR for. Dozens have spoken against including PhD’s, real estate planning and development experts, the entire school board, common council members, paralegals, attorneys etc etc -over the past 2 years. Those who agree with the proposals…oh yes…. only one person: Willinger! Even Michael doesn’t get up to speak for himself!!! Future council member?!!

  11. The Case of the “Found” Ballot…..
    John Bohannon represented the City in Judge Bellis’ court recently for the persons holding Town Clerk and Registrar of Voter offices. The two offices have separate elected officers, with different responsibilities overall, and reasonably defined duties relative to absentee ballots. The Town Clerk makes applications for ABs available to the applicable registered members of the public and accepts return of closed envelopes by mail or in person. At certain points the TC provides delivery of ballots to the ROV office by means of an assigned police officer. At the handoff of absentee ballots there is witnessing, signing for, and ballot counts agreed upon. Identified personnel for transporting said unopened and uncounted ballots deliver them to the ROV office where it is presumed a like kind acknowledging process of ABs happens and where the ballots are actually counted. (At least that is what I believe is the routine process.)

    So, the first court session never got to deal with the ballots themselves, I take it, and perhaps two different attorneys should have represented Town Clerk and ROV? And now Deputy City Attorney Bohannon is also in contact with DTC CHair Testa who holds no official City position and has questions about representation by counsel? Who is the client may become the primary question requiring answer before we get to ballot, ballot, who found the ballot? And the ROV is preparing to talk turkey at court on Friday? Or at a later postponement? Is everyone fully “lawyered up” as the saying goes? Time will tell.


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