Could Eneida Martinez be returning to Bridgeport City Council?

BRIDGEPORT — A year after losing a close and bitter primary for her East End council seat and failing to convince a Superior Court judge to salvage her political career, former City Councilwoman Eneida Martinez might be on her way back to that legislative body.

Wanda Simmons, the fellow Democrat who ousted Martinez in a primary last year, earlier this month stepped down from the council. She did not cite a specific reason in her resignation letter but has been ill for several months.

Typically when there is a vacancy on the council, the district leaders of the former member's party recommend someone to complete his or her two-year term. The council then exercises its authority to hold a vote to approve that individual.

Martinez in an interview this week did not rule out seeking the support of top East End Democrats to get her old seat back. She was first elected in 2013.

"I don't know what I'm doing just yet," Martinez said. "The community would love to have me back but I haven't made my mind up yet."

Her return would be controversial. Martinez was arrested in October 2020 on charges related to allegations she ran an illegal club — Keystone — where Nyair Nixon, 21, was fatally shot Sept. 27, 2020. That unsolved homicide and Martinez’s still-pending case loomed over the East End primary, with Simmons and Nixon’s family arguing she should not be serving in elected office

Martinez has pleaded not guilty and her next pre-trial court date is Oct. 14. Her attorney last May withdrew her request to participate in a pre-trial probation program in the face of opposition from Nixon's family, whose members blame her for his death.

"I know she (Martinez) didn’t kill my son, but she was a councilwoman and should be held to a higher standard,” Nixon’s mother, Nicole Tate, told a Superior Court Judge at the time. 

East End Democratic leader Ralph Ford this week said of Martinez, “If she’s interested in going back (on the council) I would think she would be a front-runner." He expected himself and others from the neighborhood on Bridgeport's Democratic Town Committee to meet over the coming days about recommending someone to fill Simmons' vacancy.

Ford said it would be up to Martinez to determine if she wanted to return to the council with the trial hanging over her head. But, he added, “She only lost by 13 votes in the primary.”

That September 2021 primary was a four-way contest, with the top-two vote getters moving on to and winning last November's general election. Martinez's fellow incumbent, Councilman Ernie Newton, received 274 votes; Simmons, who was a petition candidate backed by the Working Families Party, came in second with 234 votes; Martinez got 221 votes; and 191 ballots were cast for Victoria Majewski, Simmons running mate.

A recount sustained Simmons' victory. And a Superior Court Judge last December dismissed an appeal Martinez had filed based on alleged issues with mail-in or absentee ballots.

Though Simmons' after her primary victory ran as a Democrat, a spokesman for the Working Families Party this week said that organization should choose who finishes her council term.

“She won the Democratic primary but she won as the Working Families Party-endorsed candidate against the Democratic establishment," said Roger Senserrich. "So that seat should probably go to someone that the Working Families Party chooses, not the 'Democratic machine' in Bridgeport."

Ford responded that any group in Bridgeport can suggest replacements for Simmons for her former council colleagues to consider.

"It's not just the purview of the Democratic Party," he said.

Newton, without offering names, said there are others who have expressed interest in helping him represent the East End. He said he has not spoken with Martinez on that subject, but added that, despite her loss, she continues to work to help the neighborhood.

"She didn't need a title to continue to fight for the community and that's what she's been doing," Newton said. "And I can tell you this, beyond a reasonable doubt, she's helped me, even though she doesn't have a position."

Martinez has also frequently addressed the council during its meetings as a member of the public.

"I don't need the title to do what I've got to do on the East End or (in the) city, period," she said this week. "I've been functioning since I came off the seat. It never stopped. Being a council person is just having a title."