What must Republicans do to win seats on the Board of Education? Judging by the GOP strategy so far running as a team is not on the list. The three candidates for Board of Education Joe Larcheveque, Steve Best and John Weldon are presenting themselves as individual alternative choices to the status quo rather than as a viable slate. Dubious campaigning? Or smart strategy?
Democratic school board candidates Andre Baker, Howard Gardner and Dave Hennessey continue to run as a team after upsetting the Democratic primary endorsed candidates with their B.E.S.T.-slate slogan Better Education Starts Today. The Connecticut Working Families Party that currently fields three of the nine members on the school board is also running candidates as a team that include Baker (he’ll appear on two lines), Eric Stewart-Alicea and incumbent Sauda Baraka. So what gives with the Republicans?
The school board operates under state-mandated minority-party representation. That means two of the five seats on the ballot November 5th will go to the highest vote producers among the Republicans and WFP. Theoretically Republicans can win up to three seats but in pragmatic political terms two is the best they can grab. Will they really run ahead of the three Democrats who enjoy a 10 to 1 voter registration advantage? If they fundamentally run as individuals they’re saying we’re really running against each other because only two of us can win. But in running as individuals do they dilute Republican enthusiasm? They don’t have to run as a “Republican” team publicly, but they must run as a team directly to 4500 GOP voters through mail pieces, phone calls and door knocks. You transcend party label in a public message to reach unaffiliated voters and disaffected Democrats, while appealing directly to GOP voters. When you run as a team you also pool resources. Running as individuals spreads money thin.
The beleaguered GOP, shut out of seats on the school board and City Council for years, have an opportunity to rebuild relevance on Nov. 5th. They must do three primary things to win:
1. Enthuse Republican voters with an inspiring message to turn out.
2. Tap into voter anger that found its way to the polls for the September Democratic primary.
3. Frame themselves to unaffiliated and disaffected Democrats as the alternative to the Working Families Party.
Based on recent city elections the voter turnout Nov. 5 will be similar to the percentage four years ago when WFP candidates Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka did a nice job appealing to Democratic and unaffiliated voters to win seats. They were also aided by Democratic Party regulars who wanted to stick it to the Republican candidates just for the sport of vanquishing the GOP. Turns out Pereira and Baraka did not support the Democratic school board agenda of state control of city schools (overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court) as well as reform initiatives of Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas. As a result, school board sessions have sometimes been a lesson in hostility.
In 2009, the last off-year cycle that featured school board and City Council races, the turnout was 10 percent. Nate Snow received the most votes among the GOP school board candidates with 1234 votes. Baraka, in winning a school board seat with Pereira on the WFP line, received 1846 votes. Snow and Baraka were the closest among the minority-party slots. The three Democrats on the ballot, Bobby Simmons, Leticia Colon and Pat Crossin, averaged roughly 2800 votes. Elections are about dear ol’ MOM–money, organization and message; they’re also about matchups and vote swings. Had 325 electors who cast a vote for Baraka voted for Snow, he would be seeking reelection today.
The Democrats are prohibitive favorites to win three seats. Barring Republicans winning the two available minority-party slots, the WFP will have coalition control of the school board. And that’s part of the competitive argument Republicans must make to voters suspicious of the current state of affairs in the city. Whom do you want deciding the future of the school board and the single largest piece of the city budget?
It’s more difficult to present a winning message as individuals than as a team pooling resources.