City political observer John Marshall Lee compares city politics with the American pastime. It’s all in a game, right? From Lee:
In winter with below freezing temperatures and snow blanketing the ground young and old Americans all over the land begin to yearn for news of “the boys of summer,” the return of star veterans, the advent of rookies who will make a franchise, and baseball cards sharing mini-stories and stats of players of the American pastime. At this moment Christmas is less than a week in the future but our minds are not on the “nines” who will be at spring practice later this year, but rather the ten Bridgeport “nines” who have had major effect on our lives, those of our youth, and especially on our pocketbooks as taxpayers annually because we are investors in Bridgeport development.
Who are those other “nines” you may well ask. They are the members of the Bridgeport Democratic Town Committee (DTC). Bridgeport is divided into ten voting districts and each district under State law has an election in early spring in even years to allow registered Democrats to go to the polls and select those nine neighbors. Did you ever realize this bi-annual election goes on? Have you ever voted for a slate? Do you know who your elected “players” are today? Do you know that they will nominate a gubernatorial candidate next year? As well as other State and local candidates as needed? Have you been to a DTC session, read the minutes of a meeting, or kept up on the news of the DTC when they ‘play ball’ on their website or Facebook page? Unlikely!!!
Ninety citizens across the City participate in this “political league without publicity” normally. But they are in the papers today. Just not in the sports pages. If you have followed the story of the 133d District where Council President Tom McCarthy has served for a decade, with glee as he kept his fellow Council persons enamored of stipends for trips out of town twice a year at public expense and legislative funds in general as a form of support to many non-profits with no rhyme or reason in these bare-bones fiscal times. McCarthy kept many realities far from public discussion (like the half-million dollar driveway in Stratford) with assists from the executive branch of the City. He never called a foul ball. He did not respond to pleas for a ‘sheriff’ or commissioner.
In a recent spring DTC dustup (2014) fewer than 300 votes total were cast from a base of 3400 Democrats in the 133rd and McCarthy won the largest number to be on the DTC there.
Many of us have followed the DTC follies in the 133d this year. The Democratic primary started with a rookie to the “party” with no stated position getting the most votes and an incumbent in a tie vote with a challenger. That called for a re-count. A missing “absentee ballot” (AB) was discovered to make things ‘safe.’ But it did not. The CT courts were necessary to guide the action from that point forward. We have heard from lawyers, news reporters and judges more than from those who are supposed to run our AB system or those who seem to be playing with the rules.
There are two elected individuals, the Town Clerk and Registrar of Voters who have responsibilities in providing honest and competent handling of ABs. The Town Clerk is where you turn if you wish to exercise your right to vote and find yourself unable, for a reason identified in the Statute, to be at the polls on an election day. You can file a request for an absentee ballot (AB) with the Town Clerk’s office. They will mail a packet to a voter with complete instructions, or you can visit the clerk’s office and receive it directly. When the voter follows instructions and seals an envelope with their completed ballot in another sealed envelope they send or deliver the AB to the Town Clerk’s office. They have had their “at bat.” Simple? Seems so to me.
US Postal Service returns most ABs to the Town Clerk protected and unopened. On Election Day the Town Clerk’s office has a police officer assigned to catch any stray AB votes that are not going to be delivered timely in addition to mail service. It prepares to “hand off” ballots smoothly as in an infield play: at Noon, 6:00PM and 8:00PM to representatives of the Bridgeport ROV office for delivery to 999 Broad Street, Morton Center. That is where the opening, eventual processing and counting actually occur. At Noon 599 ABs were exchanged, at 6:00PM 417 ABs and at 8:00PM one final AB was signed out and notarized signatures by the Town Clerk’s office and accepted with ROV office notarized signature. Unopened AB were delivered to ROV in mail trays with no call of missing ballots!
Can you spot a missing ballot so far? It reads like the process operated to this point without error. But once the news reported a missing ballot on the recount and Court questioning of Town Clerk Clemons began, it was an interruption by the Judge inquiring of Town Clerk Clemons whether he wished to consider ‘taking the fifth’ that held up further play that day. There was no further testimony as to Town Clerk process. There was discussion ‘off the field’ in the judge’s office with counsel. And the Registrar’s office was never called to testify under oath. (Nor were other veteran players subsequently called for comment under oath.) Clemons sat in the court room for another hour finding he would not be recalled to the ‘batter’s box’ that day. He claims to have taken an honest swing at the pitch from counsel, and did not feel hit by the pitch at that moment but never had “taken the fifth.”
City Attorney John Bohannon represented City interests in this matter; it seems to this citizen that he had two clients in the persons of the Town Clerk and ROV on his hands. They had different responsibilities. Ballots had to be opened and carefully hand counted and/or machine counted by a process known to those who work for ROV. I have not yet been invited to watch the “razzle dazzle” of ROV process. Therefore I did not begin to speculate in how a re-count can turn up a “missing ballot” at a later date that was missed originally.
There has been no word from ROV office to the papers or in court that might explain the “hidden ballot” play. But the court decided to order a supervised do-over primary. How did that work out? Well, as you have doubtless read, this game became even more curious with Town Clerk AB duties usurped by DTC chair, Police Chief, and a veteran officer who was following orders. Fortunately Max Medina a trusted and experienced attorney had been assigned by the Court to monitor the “do-over primary.” “DTC exceptionalism” was discovered. We are in court once again. Taxpayer funds are being used to defend the City, but no statements have been attempted by ROV or Mayor’s office to explain the behavior of those parties with questionable behavior. Is the public getting the secret and silent DTC treatment that has so long kept the MACHINE going? Was the Town Clerk thrown under the bus with a seeming question as to “taking the fifth” having nothing to do with a missing AB? What tale would the ROV tell about the initial primary? About the do-over? And about the role that office plays in blackening the eye of Bridgeport in its local ability to hold a meaningful election?
What will happen when the Courts rule? Will a primary and general election take place for voters in the 133d before the robins appear and the ball fields green? Will those registered with the Democratic Party become aware and attend to their right and ability to vote in DTC elections across 10 Districts of the City this spring? Will they form NEW NINE member slates as candidates for open, accountable, transparent and honest process in the 21st Century? Will there come a time where the call for political “play ball” will not come forth from Testo’s Restaurant? Time will tell.