Bradley concedes CT primary challenge to Gaston for senate seat

In a low-turnout primary Tuesday, a majority of voters in the 23rd Senate District threw their support behind newcomer Rev. Herron Gaston, according to unofficial results.

Gaston, a Yale-educated activist who currently serves as Mayor Joe Ganim’s deputy chief administrative officer, beat incumbent Dennis Bradley, a lawyer who is betting on him to win a third term was hurt by his indictment on last year on federal charges related to his successful 2018 state Senate bid.

Bradley has denied any wrongdoing.

The district includes about half of Bridgeport and part of Stratford. Gaston won the city’s vote handily, winning by 176 votes to Bradley’s 73, according to unofficial results. Unofficial results from Bridgeport were not yet available three hours after polls closed at 8 p.m.

The announcement of Gaston’s victory in Bridgeport came late in the evening, with Bradley first to declare victory after 9:30 p.m., only to concede shortly after 11 p.m.

Gaston’s victory party was held at the home of fellow Democrat Marcus Brown, who himself is challenging state Rep. Jack Hennessy for his House District 127 seat.

At the party shortly before 11 p.m., Ganim introduced Brown and Gaston as Bridgeport’s next state legislators.

Gaston thanked the mayor for his “unwavering support, commitment and friendship during this process.

“I am grateful and deeply humbled by this opportunity to serve this great city that I love,” Gaston said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

He cited education funding, increasing the stock of affordable housing, fighting crime, public safety, flooding in certain areas and reducing taxes among his goals for his two-year term years, should he win in November.

“I look forward to continuing to serve as a pastor and also as the next state senator in Stratford and Bridgeport,” Gaston said.

The victory party was attended by Democratic City Committee Chairman Mario Testa, City Council Speaker Aidee Nieves, and state Reps. Steve Stafstrom, Chris Rosario and Antonio Felipe, among others.

Bradley said the results showed Gaston beating him by 216 votes, though Gaston’s team had a 140-vote margin.

“What are you going to do? That’s how the votes went down,” Bradley said. “All you can do is congratulate your opponent on a fight well fought. He won. Let’s hope he puts the people and not the Joe Ganim administration at the forefront of what he does.”

The victory in the primary paves a near-certain path to Gaston’s victory in November, as primaries often determine the outcome of the general election in Democratic-dominated Bridgeport.

A native of Florida, Gaston moved to Connecticut over a decade ago to attend Yale Divinity School. In addition to his work with the city, he serves as the lead pastor at Summerfield United Methodist Church. He also holds a law degree from Quinnipiac University.

The primaries were held just weeks after Bradley’s trial had begun.

Bradley and his former campaign treasurer were arrested last year, and federal prosecutors alleged they filed fraudulent documents with the state Election Enforcement Commission to obtain public campaign finance. Bradley, who he faces up to 20 years in prisonhe has denied doing any harm.

Bradley’s trial should have been underway this summer but in June a judge dismissed the jury amid defense allegations that it withheld the existence of a video from them during the discovery phase of the case for a year.. This issue is still pending.

The battle between Bradley and Gaston has not only been notable for Bradley’s legal troubles. It pitted Bradley, who had been a rising political star and a possible mayoral candidate, against an equally young and ambitious opponent who lacked the experience of running for office.

But Gaston also had a monetary advantage over Bradley, whose alleged crimes disqualified him from taking advantage of the state’s so-called Clean Election Grants program, which requires participating candidates to make a certain amount of small individual contributions to change of campaign funds. Gaston received a $99,000 grant in late June.

And as of Aug. 4, the latest date for filing campaign finance reports with the state Election Enforcement Commission, Gaston had raised $120,537 and had $21,516 left, while Bradley had $13,312 from a war chest for a total of $53,410.

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