Five mayoral candidates including incumbent Bill Finch sans his Democratic primary opponents Joe Ganim and Mary-Jane Foster addressed education issues at a one-hour forum Thursday night at the Cathedral of Praise in the South End hosted by the faith-based group FaithActs for Education. More than 200 people attended in a largely polite church crowd with a few outbursts from candidates and audience.
Finch was the only candidate participant running in the September 16 Democratic primary. The others, Republican Enrique Torres and petitioning candidates David Daniels, Tony Barr and Chris Taylor will appear on the general election ballot in November. Ganim and Foster opted out citing scheduling conflicts. Campaign operatives for Ganim and Foster had concerns that the forum sponsor with members supportive of charter schools was teed up for Finch who backs them. Charter schools receive public funds but operate independently of traditional school districts. The majority audience, however, did not appear to have a dog in the fight. If the audience was pulling for Finch, members did not vocalize it.
Finch’s opening remarks: focused on greater access to pre-k, increased afterschool programs, new school construction, social, physical and emotional development of kids.
Daniels’ opening remarks: product of city schools raised in P.T. Barnum Apartment, stressed he’s on a listening tour of voter opinions.
Taylor’s opening remarks: Says mayor has no strong authority over school board, I work for you you don’t work for me.
Barr’s opening remarks: I listened to the mayor saying all these wonderful things. We don’t need any more parks, we need to fund the school system.
Torres’ opening remarks: Says report from the state places city’s school system dead last. We have failed our children. He claimed 91 percent of students from Bassick and Harding cannot meet the requirements of a graduate. Raising his voice says kids in suburbs perform much better than city students.
The forum rules provided no give and take between the candidates. Each was asked four questions in succession with no rebuttal opportunity. The four questions:
Recently deceased civil rights leader Julian Bond said, “Violence is black children going to school for 12 years and receiving 6 years’ worth of education.” If you are elected mayor of the City of Bridgeport, what will you do to create an education system that ends racial inequity rather than sustaining it?
The City of Bridgeport is home to 45 public schools, 35 of which are run by the Bridgeport school district. Bridgeport students also attend vocational-agricultural schools in Trumbull; charter schools in Stamford; open choice schools in Westport; and magnet schools in Norwalk. More than 2,600 Bridgeport students attend private schools. What schools did your children attend, and what choices do you believe Bridgeport parents should have for their children?
Education is the largest part of the city’s annual budget, yet Bridgeport contributes 40% less per student to its public school system than Hartford or New Haven. Do you believe the city spends enough on education, and if not, will you raise taxes to cover the additional costs?
In a special on Child Hunger in America, CNN recently noted that the United States has one of the highest child-poverty rates in the industrialized world with 1 in 5 children relying on food stamps. In Bridgeport that number nearly doubles: 40% of children here rely on food stamps. As mayor, how would you remove poverty as a barrier to student achievement?
Torres: We have to provide decent living environment for our children. We have too many neighborhoods as terrible places to grow up. Kids have to feel safe and they cannot be hungry. We have to start loving our babies, they have to feel absolute love from us. Let’s love our babies. Torres shared he went to Bullard-Havens and is a trained carpenter. He sent his kids to St. Ann’s School in Black Rock and then private high schools. It makes me crazy that amazing children don’t have those opportunities. Torres says 2016 revaluation of taxable property will shake city to its core. Says city wastes money. We’re putting a park everywhere because contractors are filling their pockets with our money. Contractors building school are filling pockets with our money. Says he will eliminate waste and corruption.
Torres added economic freedom has not been granted to minorities in America. Chains came off but left us poor. Solution to problem is not Bass Pro Shops that will anchor Steel Point redevelopment area of East Side. Our people want to work, no more handouts. We want jobs. If we increase taxes we will put a bullet in the head of our city.
Torres remarks receives applause.
Barr response: Attended Notre Dame of Fairfield. System does not work for the people of color. Urged church leaders to do their job and get involved. Says daughter attended public schools. Barr, an African American, urged voters to stop voting for an Italian or an Irish for mayor. “I am here to wake you up!” he shouted stridently. “Finch has a million. Ganim a half million. I have $37 in my pocket,” he said of his campaign money. It received chuckles from the audience. Why are we building schools? “Our kids are dumbest kids. Bridgeport school system is a joke.” His assertions drew a buzz from the crowd.
Barr added we have to bring change to Bridgeport. We had nine people shot. Barr says Bass Pro is a gun company with a free run.
Taylor responses to questions: He said open up educational opportunities for all kids through school choice. Supports school vouchers. Give parents the power to make their choices about kids education. “I was a bad kid.” Went to Wilton schools and got thrown out. “Went to school of hard knocks.” Said he went to college and graduated two years ago. Taylor says he will lower taxes. Says he wants to follow Mayor Mark Lauretti’s model in Shelton, a reference to the mayor known for keeping taxes down by not investing in schools.
Daniels response to questions: Said as a 25-year police officer he fought racism. I came through the school system. Daniels says what Bridgeport spends on public schools is criminal. Bridgeport taxpayers are the most taxed people in the country. Says there’s a lot of waste in government. On removing poverty he said no child can learn when they are hungry. Shared his experiences as a police officer addressing hunger needs of kids.
Finch responses: Finch focused on diversity. As a dad I’m most concerned about bringing thousands of new jobs available to kids. Proud of water parks, fresh air, sunshine in a wonderful way. Not one fire hydrant was opened this year. Bridgeport getting better every day. Finch said his children attended public schools, but will not make them political football. He added this is about resources through pre-k, getting kids starting early and building new schools with technology in a clean environment. Finch said we have a poor state and a rich state. His comment that the city should fight the state for underfunding city schools drew applause. Says state has an obligation to spend more on city schools.
Finch said a good education is a way out of poverty. We must fight the funding formula in the state legislature. He said the balance of power is in the suburbs. He urged people to vote the top line of his ticket.
At the end of the forum a man stood up and yelled “tell Bill Finch that Joe Ganim is not a member of the Klu Klux Klan,” a reference to a mailer the Finch campaign sent out to voters regarding Ganim doing paralegal work in 2010 for a law firm that represented a man accused of providing weapons to the white supremacist group.
The forum was moderated by Jason Newton of WTNH and Frank Recchia of News 12 Connecticut.
The organization’s Executive Director Jamilah Prince-Stewart had worked at the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, the education reform group focused on closing Connecticut’s achievement gap. ConnCAN has been a high-profile public education advocate pushing policies to further more school choice such as charter schools and classroom accountability. Finch is a proponent of charter schools that receive public money but operate independently of traditional school districts.
Rick Torres won the round, that’s for sure. He received the warmest and most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
Bill Finch came off as smug and condescending. Pre-K is all fine and good but what do waterparks have to do with fixing a broken public education system?
Tony Barr was an angry man with a chip on his shoulder.
Kudos to Chris Taylor and David Daniels. The latter’s upbringing in the project and experience as a police officer gives him a qualified perspective on life here.
Mary-Jane Foster and Joe Ganim were conspicuous by their absence.
People are putting their children into charter schools because public elementary and high schools in Bridgeport just plain suck. A strip mall anchored by a sporting goods store and a second-string motor lodge is not going to fix the lack of decent education for our children. Nor will waterparks and free taxis to Pleasure Beach. Bill Finch did not make a good impression with the crowd. They want decent jobs, affordable homes and good schools. The mayor hasn’t provided any of that stuff.
Mayor Finch has always been condescending towards blacks, he acts like they should be glad whenever he’s in their company.
I only agree with Bridgeport Kid that Rick Torres was very impressive and I liked his preacher style, David Daniels can do no wrong by me. Tony Barr had a chip on his shoulder bigger than Steelpointe. I found Tony Barr and Chris Taylor entertaining and wasn’t sure if they were serious or putting us on.
Mayor Finch, well I totally disagree with Bridgeport Kid. The Mayor was effective and engaging. I did not find him smug in the least. I agree with everything he had to say and I know the parks and new schools as well as pre-K resonated at least from the people where I was sitting. I thought the Mayor was cool, calm, collected and succinct and honest.
The muttering in the crowd regarding Ganim and Foster choosing to do other things due to a scheduling conflict. Well this debate was planned weeks ago. Joe Ganim spent the evening at Stop & Shop. I cannot imagine any Ganim supporters thinking it was a good idea to avoid this debate. It came across as arrogant and disrespectful from a man who thinks he has the black community in his back pocket.
Ron Mackey, Foster made a huge mistake! Your comment about Finch always being condescending to the black community is beyond absurd. He had a lot of support there tonight and what Lennie did not witness personally, I did. I tried to leave at 7:30 but left when they turned the lights off in the parking lot; Lennie, 45 minutes after you. It was a pleasure speaking to all the Finch supporters. Ron Mackey, I think you have a totally wrong impression of whom is supporting the Mayor.
I thought Rick Torres looked sharp and confident and was impressive. It was nice seeing his sons there. I remember meeting his sons and daughter in front of Winthrop school.
I had the pleasure of meeting my online nemesis, The Bridgeport Kid. Though I had never met him, my radar was up and I picked him out of the crowd. At least I have a face to see when he is destroying me here. He was nice in person.
It was a pleasure not canvassing in this oppressive heat. Just to sit for two hours was a treat. I will say the group that hosted the event and the church were most gracious. I am pleased Mayor Finch thought it was important to be there this evening. Ganim shaking hands at Stop & Shop was probably a “mistake.”
Steve, the mayor was in a black church, so how else to do you think those there would act? There are some black pastors who support Finch with Rev. Moales at the top of the list.
Ron, bottom line, Foster and Ganim were absent. Big “mistake.”
Steve, let me say this about Rick Torres, he is real good at telling us about the issues but not with the answers.
You’re welcome to tell us how you would fix the problems of Bridgeport’s failing school system. You sound like you know all the answers.
Rick Torres made it abundantly clear what needs to be done to heal the city from decades of abuse committed by self-interested opportunistic elected officials and their politically connected cronies. He told us at the forum, he told us via a letter to the Connecticut Post. What more do you need to know?
Can it be true what the CT Post is reporting about one of the candidates, Tony Barr, stating the following during the forum?
“Why are we building schools? Our kids are (the) dumbest kids,” he said, evoking a stunned response from the audience.
That is wrong on so many levels.
While it’s abhorrent what Tony Barr said to any youth of Bridgeport who had the displeasure of reading his statement, Mayor Finch by not fully funding education is to blame for the lack of progress the youth of Bridgeport experience being educated here.
Donald–I hear what you are saying. But money alone is not going to fix this. The schools have been an issue long before Finch took office. Money is needed to provide resources, but the parents need to step up, too. There are some dedicated parents out there. Most of those are likely parents whose children are on waiting lists for Magnets and Charters. Parents need to step up and:
1) become more active in the day-to-day of their child’s education.
2) demand more from the BBOE and other elected officials. The mayor and the state can provide the funds, but the BOE controls where they go. ALL members are a fault, not just the majority group. The group that is in the minority now (Sauda, etc) had the power of the chairmanship, and was more interested in payback. We need people with strong beliefs, educational background, but willing to compromise and work together. We have too many “my way or the highway” attitudes when it comes to the schools.
3) I know this is not popular, but listen to some of the parent who defected to charters, or are doing all they can to get to the Magnets, if only so they can explain why they did. We need to open our eyes to new ideas, not throwing money at the problem while using the same tactics that have failed in the past.
LB, I think you are full of hyperbole. You say money alone won’t fix the problem, but the fact is we don’t know if money alone will fix the problems. No mayor including Mayor Finch has fully funded the education of Bridgeport youth nor has the state of Connecticut given Bridgeport what’s given to Hartford annually. I’m tired of hearing people say money won’t do it, all the while compromising the future of Bridgeport-educated youth with less than full funds.
I don’t understand your discourse for parents who leave public for charter schools. Maybe, just maybe charters won’t advance the education of their children, but they sure as hell know public schools won’t advance the education of their children because they have been there done that with their children now and in the past. Parents wants what’s best for their children and all our lives we were told education is the key and we bought into that wholeheartedly and now we are being told just not for Bridgeport-educated children.
LB, when the education of Bridgeport children is fully funded for a couple of decades then and only then will the argument only money doesn’t work have any validity.
Donald, I don’t think you read my comments regarding the parents. I was saying we should ENGAGE those parents who have chosen other education options. The problem with some today is they want to almost demonize those parents since they are not in traditional public schools. We can agree to disagree money alone will not solve the problems.
WHAT YOU READ IN THE PAPER WASN’T THE HALF OF IT! TONY BARR also made it clear the clergy should support him because he was black and they should stop supporting white Irish and Italian candidates. Our students were dumb was the least of it. DONALD DAY’S CANDIDATE DID NOT SHOW UP. THAT SCORED HIGH MARKS I AM CERTAIN! NOT!
I DO WANT TO SAY TO Ron Mackey,
You may not support Enrique Rick TORRES, BUT HE BOLDLY addressed the community and did not sugarcoat it. HE DID GET A LOT OF AMENS!
I DID LIKE MAYOR FINCH’S TAKE ON ADDRESSING THE WHOLE CHILD IN SUPPORT PF GIVING OUR YOUTH parks, playgrounds and ballfields. It did resonate with the crowd.
Schools have been an issue for decades. Ganim was not the darling of the Teachers.
So Bill Finch thinks building water parks and playgrounds and pre-K programs are going to make all the difference? I have to think the mayor and his allies have given up on every elementary school student over the age of 5. What the adolescents and teenagers need is mentoring, career-focused education, after-school employment and problem-solving skills. The young men recently arrested for the Trumbull Gardens shooting are products of Bridgeport public schools. They both are members of a drug-dealing street gang and learned to solve problems with indiscriminate violence.
The people of the city of Bridgeport and their children have seen enough hardship and marginalization for this lifetime and a good portion of the next one. Enough with the mediocrity, enough with the condescension and self-interest of the occupants of City Hall. The corrupt machine that has been running the show through absentee ballot fraud, dead people voting and other forms of electoral rigging must be stopped, dismantled and left on the scrap heap of history and past failure.
Bill Finch is fond of pointing out Joe Ganim served seven years in prison and his corruption cost individual taxpayers $1200 each, Ganim’s “pay to play” scheme set back the city’s progress. That is mostly bullshit. Finch has been mayor for more than seven years. Before that we had Johnny Fabs and his vacuum-like snout for five. It is impossible to believe during those twelve years they couldn’t move the city forward. Fabrizi has a legitimate excuse: he was preoccupied with snorting cocaine and drinking like a fish. He wasn’t responsible for his behavior but he is still accountable. Finch is just a dumbass. That’s no excuse, no justification. The power of incumbency is not enough to impress the people of the city of Bridgeport.
Our city is beset by a multitude of ills; they will not go away if they are ignored. If an interested party made a donation to Finch’s campaign warchest, the problems of a mediocre school system, high crime, high unemployment and socioeconomic oppression would be addressed. But Finch cannot offer tax abatements for social services programs, so he and his cronies just said “Fuck it, let those people eat cake.”
OMG! The Cougar is back on the prowl. Who knows what this may foreshadow?