Mayor Bill Finch has made clear in recent remarks that reform of city schools–following city voters’ defeat of his November ballot question to appoint school board members–continues to be a priority including a road tour to engage parents about their education insight. Come November five school board seats are up for grabs including two occupied by the pesky Connecticut Working Families Party, Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka who’ve been a source of irritation to Finch. Could the Democratic Party establishment recruit petitioning candidates in an effort to defeat Pereira and Baraka?
The nine-member city school board operates under state-sanctioned minority-party representation. That means three of the nine members cannot be from the controlling party, in Bridgeport’s case Democrats. For decades that meant three Republicans sat on the board until Periera and Baraka shocked Republicans by finishing ahead of GOP candidates in the general election of 2009, assisted by Democratic operatives who now regret the support. (Careful what you wish for.)
Pereira and Baraka have been a toothache to the establishment, irrespective of the mayor and Democrats on the school board controlling the votes. So “frustrated” were the mayor and controlling interests on the school board by the “dysfunction” created by Pereira and Baraka asking questions about school expenditures that the BOE dissolved itself in July of 2011 in favor of state control that was eventually overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court, restoring local control.
The Connecticut WFP picked up another minority-party seat last November with the election of Harding High School hoop star and former NBA player John Bagley and now most school board votes are a razor-thin 5-4, controlled by Democrats. Republicans are now completely extinct from the school board in favor of the Connecticut WFP, basically an anti-establishment splinter group of the Democratic Party.
In addition to Pereira and Baraka, Democrats Tom Mulligan, Leticia Colon and Bobby Simmons are up for reelection this year. Simmons has been voting in a bloc with the Connecticut WFP. Bobby’s public enemy number one, according to the Democratic establishment, who’s highly unlikely to be endorsed by the Democratic Town Committee at the party convention in July. If that’s the case Simmons must wage a city-wide primary in September.
But how do Finch et al. take out Pereira and Baraka? They must beat them in November by either supporting Republicans or putting up opponents running as petitioning candidates or on another minority party line.
So what was shaping us a sleepy election cycle for 20 members of the Bridgeport City Council and five school board seats might become a fascinating study in how the Democratic Party establishment tries to defeat the Connecticut WFP.