Oh baby, this should be something to watch. Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa’s taking no chances with the September 4 special election for Board of Education just two weeks away. Mario’s come out of hibernation to ramp up his absentee ballot operation and this time he plans to visit senior citizen housing centers with bowls of pasta made fresh from his Madison Avenue restaurant. That’s right, step up to Mario’s very own mobile absentee ballot buffet line. No wait, Mario may even serve them individually, all in the name of democracy. He’ll add lots of spicy love to this dish. And gee, can you please fill out these absentee ballot applications? Be careful not to drip the sauce.
Mario’s concerned the turnout for the September 4 special election, the day after Labor Day, will be so embarrassingly low, challengers to his Board of Education candidates, in particular Working Families Party candidates John Bagley and Barbara Pouchet, may bag enough votes to control the school board. (Oops, there goes the contracts for his fundraising peeps.) As a result Mario’s hoping to bag a few hundred absentee ballots. Mario has called in absentee ballot guru from the West End Wanda Geter to perform her magic in P.T. Barnum Apartments. Yes, City Councilwoman Lydia Martinez may be the city’s queen of absentee ballots, but Wanda knows her peeps in the West End.
Mario’s put out the call to his political organization to flex their AB machine. And that includes Lydia. This race is so important to Mario he’s not planning to attend the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina that starts September 4 even though he’s a delegate. Some campaign operatives say the turnout could be less than 10 percent and if that happens opponents to Mayor Bill Finch’s influence on the school board may defeat the Democratic candidates.
The Democratic candidates for school board are Ken Moales, Hernan Illingworth and Jacqueline Kelleher, all three members of the state-appointed Board of Education. The Connecticut Supreme Court invalidated the state takeover of city schools and ordered a special election. The three Dems, in addition to the WFP candidates, are being challenged by three Republican candidates, former GOP Registrar Joe Borges and husband and wife Wayne and Evelyn Hayes. Karen Jackson is running as a petitioning candidate. City electors can fill in the ovals of up to three of the nine candidates. The top four voter producers win.
If Bagley and Pouchet win, the WFP is in position to control the board. WFP already has two of its members on the board, Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka who had generally voted as a bloc with Democrat Bobby Simmons before the elected board asked for state intervention last year.
One of the open board seats is reserved for minority-party representation. Joe Borges is the best known of the three Republican candidates. Mario likes Joe. Will Mario ask his absentee ballot operatives to push Joe’s ballot spot?
On Wednesday the Burroughs Community Center, 2470 Fairfield Avenue, will host a candidates forum from 6 to 8 p.m. sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Greater Bridgeport and the education advocacy group Excel Bridgeport www.excelbridgeport.org. Bagley and Pouchet have decided to boycott that forum in protest of Excel Bridgeport which they claim has an agenda that works against their support of an elected school board. City voters will decide in November if they want to maintain the current process to elect school board members or support Finch’s proposal to appoint members.
The irony in this special election and proposal for a mayoral-appointed board is the mayor’s assertion he wants to take political influence out of the selection process, but it’s Mario who’s trying to help deliver the three Democratic candidates the mayor wants on the board. But is he? There’s more than just a whisper that of the three Democrats, Moales, a city minister, is on the outs for a number of reasons including the support Ernie Newton received in his State Senate loss to Andres Ayala from members of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. Ayala defeated Newton on the machines by just under 150 votes.
Newton has a strong following in the city’s East End and he tells OIB he intends to be active in this special election. How his peeps vote could be critical to the results of the special election. Meanwhile, Mario’s boiling another pot of water for the ziti.