If 2009 is a barometer for this year’s general election for Board of Education and City Council seats, the turnout will be death valley.
In 2009, the last non-mayoral municipal cycle, just 6394 electors out of 67,687 registered voters cast a vote, according to the official results provided by elections officials, representing about a 9.5 percent turnout. The three Democrats elected to the school board, Bobby Simmons, Pat Crossin and Leticia Colon averaged roughly 2,800 votes, with Simmons the highest vote-getter. Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka, elected on the Connecticut Working Families Party line, received 1909 and 1846 votes respectively. The closest Republican Nate Snow received 1233 votes. The WFP upset the Republicans to claim the state-required minority-party representation seats. The WFP also won another minority-party seat on the school board last year with John Bagley’s election.
But before the general election takes place in November, a potential September Democratic primary for school board is shaping up against endorsed candidates Simon Castillo, Katie Roach Bukovsky and Brandon Clark. Supporters of a challenge slate led by East End City Councilman Andre Baker, former councilman Dave Hennessey and ex council candidate Howard Gardner have fanned out across the city trying to secure more than 2000 signatures of registered Democrats to qualify for the ballot. Bridgeport Education Association Vice President Rob Traber, a seasoned campaign operative, is among those leading the signature drive effort. He’s part of a coalition that includes the BEA, supporters of Connecticut’s Working Families Party opposed to Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas and several political operatives such as former state senators Ed Gomes and Ernie Newton backing the challenge slate.
By mid/late this week election officials will begin the process of reviewing the petition sheets for approval. Primary petitions must be filed by 4 p.m. this Wednesday. Certified signatures from five percent of registered Dems are required. If the challenge slate qualifies for the primary–and it should–it’s game on. They should have bodies and money for the task to put their candidates in play.
Campaigns require support from dear old MOM–money, organization and message. In primaries a premium is place on identifying friends and dragging them to the polls.
Two years ago when Bill Finch defeated Mary-Jane Foster in a Democratic primary for mayor, the turnout was 22 percent with the campaigns spending more than a half million dollars combined. The mayor is not up for reelection this cycle.
In recent history ticket-leading school board races have not inspired voters. The special election for school board last September ordered by the Connecticut Supreme Court that overturned state takeover of city schools, was a miniscule 5.5 percent, albeit the day after Labor Day.
Political operatives are assessing the potential primary turnout to help them identify the number they need to deliver their candidates; for instance if the turnout for a higher-profile mayoral primary was 22 percent two years ago, when roughly 9,200 Dems voted, is it reasonable to project a turnout of 12 to 15 percent, or 5000 to 6000 voters?
Some of this depends on how hard the Democratic establishment works its absentee ballot operation on behalf of the endorsed candidates. This is a key election for Mayor Bill Finch who last November saw his charter revision proposal for a mayoral appointed school board defeated by voters. If the challenge slate, assuming ballot approval, wins the primary the Working Families Party will likely achieve its goal of coalition control of the school board.
If ticket diversity matters to some voters, the endorsed candidate slate features a Hispanic male, African American male and a white women, the challenge slate two African American males and a white male.
Mark your calendar September 10. If the challenge slate qualifies for the ballot it should be a compelling race.