'Waiting for the next shoe to fall': Latest federal charges called 'another black eye' for Bridgeport

BRIDGEPORT — On Tuesday morning, Lydia Martinez had breakfast with state Sen. Dennis Bradley.

Martinez, the current City Clerk, a former councilwoman and well-known Democratic mover-and-shaker, thinks of herself as “a mother” to Bradley and has supported his political ambitions over the past several years.

A few hours after they dined, Bradley, along with his former campaign treasurer, Jessica Martinez, a Board of Education member, became the latest Bridgeport officials ensnared in a federal criminal probe, turning themselves in on charges they attempted to fraudulently obtain $179,850 in state campaign grants.

Lydia Martinez said while Bradley appeared to be in a hurry — “he only had a cup of coffee” — she claimed to be unaware of what was about to transpire. She said the federal investigation did not come up during their breakfast.

“He loves me a lot. I don’t think he would worry me with something like that,” Martinez said, adding, “Dennis is a fantastic person. ... The community loves him very much (and) will be very sad if something happens to him.”

But others were more concerned Tuesday about the further harm Bradley’s and Jessica Martinez’s arrests could do to Bridgeport’s longtime reputation as a corrupt city that is still reeling from another recent scandal.

On Monday and then Tuesday, former Police Chief Armando Perez and ex-Personnel Director David Dunn, respectively, began federal prison sentences after pleading guilty last October to conspiring to help Perez cheat in 2018 to become top cop.

“We just got over the whole police chief scandal and, sure enough, there’s another taking place,” said retired state Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport. “It almost seems never-ending. I just don’t know when this is going to stop.”

Caruso said the fact a state legislator is involved will only make it that much more challenging for Bradley’s fellow city lawmakers to get things done at the Capitol in Hartford.

“It compounds the negative perceptions and feelings that others have about Bridgeport from around the state, from surrounding communities,” Caruso said.

“Today is another black eye for Bridgeport,” Bradley’s legislative colleague, state Rep. Steven Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, said Tuesday. “I believe in due process of law but these allegations are very troubling and implicate a violation of public trust. It puts another cloud over the legislature and makes our job that much difficult.”

While still being allowed to continue his legislative duties, Bradley’s influence was severely curtailed Tuesday by Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who stripped him of his title of deputy majority leader and from committee assignments, including co-chairmanship of the public safety and security committee.

Gov. Ned Lamont was “supportive” of Looney’s actions, according to Max Reiss, communications director for the governor, who noted Lamont was “aware of the serious allegations against Senator Bradley.”

State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, said he was “troubled” by the allegations and said that the onus is on majority Democrats.

“Those of us fortunate enough to be elected to the state Senate have a special obligation to make and uphold the law,” said Kelly. “The trust and faith that our constituents place in us must never be broken. Our court system will carefully weigh these allegations. In the meantime, it is incumbent upon Connecticut Democrats to take steps to rebuild the public’s trust.”

State Rep. Chris Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said he was shocked and disappointed in Bradley’s arrest, but emphasized “the Bridgeport delegation is going to continue doing its business. We have a lot of work to do here in the final days of the session.”

Mayor Joe Ganim’s office did not return a request for comment about the situation. Ganim is one of the examples cited when people talk about corruption in Bridgeport. First elected mayor in 1991, he was convicted in 2003 of federal charges of running a pay-to-play operation out of City Hall, served seven years in prison, then waged a comeback in 2015.

Born and raised in the city, Gemeem Davis is a leader of the Bridgeport Generation Now civic group which for the last few years has been advocating for cleaner, more ethical local politics and government.

“It absolutely breaks my heart people use this city for their own personal gain and just leave us exposed,” said Davis. “But it makes me work harder to stay and to do my part to dismantle the system of corruption that is here.”

Another resident, Donald Greenberg, is a retired Fairfield University politics professor. He said Bridgeport had seemed to be moving in a more positive direction.

“Then you had the thing with Dunn and the police chief and now this,” Greenberg said. He blames the situation on one-party control — Bridgeport is a Democrat-run city with a weak opposition Republican party — leading to a lack of oversight and accountability, coupled with a host of socioeconomic issues and poor voter turnout.

He said it leaves many people “waiting for the next shoe to fall.”

Dan Onofrio is executive director of the Bridgeport Chamber of Commerce and, like his predecessors, has had to try to convince investors not to pass the city by.

“When we’re trying to recruit businesses and bring organizations from outside the region ... it’s difficult to show Bridgeport in a positive light because all they see or read or hear are these particular stories,” Onofrio said. “That said, when we do break down and isolate and separate the good and the bad, there’s so much more good that’s happening.

“Bridgeport is pretty resilient,” Onofrio said. “We work through these issues and rise above them. That’s all we can do and we keep moving forward as best we can.”

Martinez has found turning to a higher power works. And that, she said, is what she intends to do for Bradley.

“I’m going to start praying now,” she said.