School Board Member Bobby Simmons’ “Plantation Mentality” Claim–Real Or Imagined?

Bobby Simmons
Bobby Simmons

Bobby Simmons, a member of the Board of Education who’s not seeking reelection this year, claims in a commentary published in the Connecticut Post that Bridgeport’s city government “exhibits a plantation mentality.” He submitted the editorial, he writes, to place in context his recent “provocative” remarks quoted in a Post story “so their true meaning can be properly understood.” Simmons, a Democrat, is part of an outnumbered voting bloc on the school board with members of the Connecticut Working Families Party opposed to Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas. Democrats control a thin 5-4 majority on most contentious issues. Several school board members on both sides of the Vallas battle haven’t exactly displayed diplomacy in their respective talking points, be it Simmons or school board President Ken Moales, both African Americans.

Early this year Simmons was suspended as a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, accused of an unauthorized attempt to remove the names of two officers as signatories of the local Bridgeport branch account at People’s United Bank, according to a letter issued by Benjamin Todd Jealous, the national president of the civil rights organization. Simmons has denied the allegations. For background, see here. Was that decision, as well, part of a plantation mentality?

Simmons, echoing a recent editorial by retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez who brought the lawsuit challenging Vallas’ certification, is outraged Vallas is not covering his own legal fees in connection with the case. If Simmons is so outraged why not file another lawsuit challenging that issue?

Is Simmons’ “plantation mentality” remarks regarding city government demagoguery? Or are they on target? His commentary follows:

I wish to thank the Connecticut Post editorial board for its recent editorial highlighting the outrageous allegations leveled against your newspaper and a highly regarded reporter, Daniel Tepfer, by the chairman of the Bridgeport Board of Education and former campaign treasurer of Mayor Bill Finch.

However, I am compelled to place my remarks, which were accurately quoted in the editorial, in context, so their true meaning can be properly understood.

I concede that any reference to “slavery” and “plantations” will evoke strong emotions, particularly among African Americans, and may be viewed as provocative. However, although the terms may be unpleasant, they are all too accurate when describing the attitude of our city officials towards those who serve as members of the Board of Education and the people who elected us.

At the July 23, 2013, meeting, board member Tom Mulligan made a motion to approve the payment of Paul Vallas’ legal fees. Within moments of making the motion, Mulligan asked to substitute his motion for a resolution prepared by Bridgeport City Attorney Mark Anastasi.

Anastasi’s resolution, a 62-page package of documents in support of approving legal expenses incurred by Vallas, was then distributed to members of the board. Of course, we had never seen this document, let alone had an opportunity to read and digest it.

Included in the 62-page resolution was a retainer letter signed by Anastasi and attorney Steven Ecker on July 19, 2013. This letter was signed three days before the board was asked to rubber-stamp the decision and nine days after Ecker had already appeared in Superior Court on behalf of Vallas.

It is also significant that this letter was signed after Ecker had already filed papers with the state Supreme Court seeking an expedited appeal of Judge Barbara Bellis’ ruling.

Clearly, Ecker relied on the fact that “the fix was in” and that the five-member majority of the board would do what they were ordered to do.

I am outraged that the schoolchildren of Bridgeport will be denied resources because we have been forced to pay the legal expenses for Vallas in a lawsuit brought against him in his individual capacity. Neither the Bridgeport Board of Education nor the city of Bridgeport is a party to this case, and no money damages are being sought in the lawsuit.

The fact that Paul Vallas was unable to secure the proper credentials to serve as Bridgeport superintendent of schools is his problem, and he should not be permitted to foist it on the taxpayers.

I was raised in the pre-Civil Rights South and attended segregated schools. The education that I received permitted me to go on to college and later to earn professional certification as a certified public accountant. I earned my CPA through hard work and study, not through political connections.

Is it unreasonable to ask why Paul Vallas should not do likewise?

I was taught in the Jim Crow South that democracy demands that we ask questions of those in authority, and insist upon answers. Before making a decision, I know that it is fashionable today, from the Congress to the City Council, to believe that you have to pass a law before reading it. But that is not how I was raised, and it is not how representative democracy is supposed to work.

Bridgeport’s city government, unfortunately, exhibits a plantation mentality, as hard as it may be to hear that truth.

Legitimate questions and sincere dissent are confused with obstructionism and subversion. Those who dare speak out are punished with the rhetorical lash of disapproval administered by the mayor and his compliant Board of Education chairman, who has made it clear he will not tolerate any dissent or disagreement.

On a plantation, order was imposed from the top down.

This superintendent of schools was imposed on the city of Bridgeport by the state power structure. Abraham Lincoln once famously said that whenever he heard a man arguing for slavery, he had a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

Would the members of the state Board of Education who live in Trumbull or Shelton ever employ Paul Vallas as their superintendent of schools, or agree to pay his legal fees if he could not meet the qualifications?

I think we all know the answer to that question.

When legitimate questions and public input are stifled, we all lose.

The race of the overseer does not alter the reality of plantation life in Bridgeport.

I still believe that through perseverance and dedication, and a belief that our young people are as capable of learning as those of any other town in Connecticut, we the people of Bridgeport shall one day overcome this plantation mentality.



  1. Bobby Simmons may have past issues with the NAACP, but his recent editorial was most eloquent and thought provoking. The “plantation mentality” was actually a very real picture of the politics in this city on so many levels. The role Moales plays in this plantation mentality is not a very complimentary position in the black community. The term for him I dare not say, but in the movie Django his caricature was performed by Samuel Jackson. Samuel Jackson’s performance was excellent, but the role he played was an insult to African Americans. Back to Mr. Simmons, excellent, eloquent and an interesting insight to the sad reality of our Gov’t and the gross disrespect to city taxpayers as well as the sad ambivalence of the voters of this once great and prosperous city.

    1. Instead of being slaves to Johnny Reb, you are slaves to Entitlements. You told yourselves it’s OK to live in filth, small sacrifice, and you told your children it’s OK too, hence the >70% dropout rate. You want someone to blame, look in the mirror.

  2. Let’s move beyond emotional rhetoric and face the facts. Mayor Finch and the political machine in Bridgeport is operating as if their proposed City Charter revision were ratified by the voters. News flash, it FAILED and so is this Administration. It’s time to take on the political machine if you want to create a better future in Bridgeport.

    1. No Administration can do anything. First you only pay 15% of your own bills. Second you don’t have a strong community if any. No Administration can help you.

    2. The great Oz has spoken. What is interesting is you support Finch’s education policy. I wonder if you also support the gentrification of Bridgeport’s poorer neighborhoods instead of improving life and opportunities for the residents.

      1. BRG,
        You have no idea what I believe! Anyone who can read this blog knows I am not a Finch or machine supporter. I don’t claim to speak for you or others. I think and speak for myself. You should do the same.

  3. Looking at the comments, they overwhelming support Mr. Simmons, giving the impression most readers find the situation to be real. The title for this post reveals your bias. This is his experience, not yours.

  4. His argument is circular. Bobby thinks Vallas should not be defended because he is not certified. The court case is about if Vallas is certified. We cannot know if he is certified until the case is ruled on. I would bet if Trumbull or Shelton had a 70% dropout rate they would hire Hitler if they believed he could turn things around and they would pay his legal fees to defend him against those pesky holocaust things. If Bellis did not make a ruling so odd it was overturned to try to force Vallas to leave immediately the attorneys involved would not have needed to act this quickly and the BOE would have had time to react appropriately. Bobby was permitted to go to college even in the ‘Jim Crow’ south. Why does he want to hold onto a failing educational model and deny BPT kids the same opportunity? Do Finch et al.’s efforts to repair education make BPT a plantation mentality or did the failing of the educational system impose that on the people? Denying the people economic opportunity and forcing a dependance on the state (city) as an overlord who demands allegiance in exchange for economic support.

    1. Sure … Vallas and Moales want economic opportunity for all. And I have swamp land for sale for you. Come and get it.

      And you talk about demanding allegiance in the land of Finch, Vallas and Moales. You should really try stand-up. Good one.

      1. I do stand up. I like Vallas. At this point, any change is for the better. Short of nuclear war, I do not see any choice that could make the schools worse.

        1. That is because you have ties to the Machine and parrot back their sewage. As someone who attended schools in the suburbs if anyone ever tried to impose someone with the lack of credentials as Vallas there would be hell to pay.

  5. David Walker, you cannot change things and take on the political machine unless you understand how the system works from the inside. Mr. Simmons gave you facts and the mentality of how it functions, that is not emotional rhetoric.

    1. Bobby did not really give any facts. This entire article is just his opinions, observations and allegations. Even the allegation his school was segregated could be just his impression. He could have lived in a heavily minority area and all the kids in that school just happened to be black. Bobby should be the last guy to vilify people who overstep boundaries when they see injustice. BTW–how did his actions change the BPT NAACP? Were they stealing the money?

      1. BOE SPY,
        I guess you are right. Simmons did not give facts. The 62-page resolution Anastasi presented was something he made up. And he also made up the story about never having seen it before that night. In fact, Bobby Simmons is NOT a black man from the south. He’s really a white French Canadian spy who lives in Montreal.

        1. See Pelto:
          Yesterday, Bridgeport Board of Education Bobby Simmons had an incredibly powerful commentary piece published in the Connecticut Post.

          I re-posted it here at Wait, What under the title “Here is what a real Democrat says in the face of injustice.” The piece generated dozens of comments about Simmons’ courage, commitment and dedication.

          Bobby Simmons is the only Democrat on the Bridgeport Board of Education who has been willing to speak out against the abuses of Paul Vallas, Mayor Bill Finch and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

          Of course, to the establishment, such courage is an anathema and worthy of verbal assault. Nowhere was that clearer than on Bridgeport’s local blog “Only in Bridgeport,” where the blog’s author and some of his readers spent the day verbally assaulting Simmons.

          A number of Wait, What? readers took great offense to the outrageous comments posted on that site and wrote in asking that the truth behind their lies be revealed.

        2. Since no one is admitting to being at that meeting, I offer my two cents. I was there. Pains were taken to provide that of the 62 pages, the bulk of it was background material familiar to the Board members. Actually perhaps four pages was new. Our resourceful BOE took a few moments to agree to read those pages and the time was extended for the most careful readers.
          I do not like things sprung on me at meetings either. I have recommended to the City Council and to subcommittees decisions not be made at such occasions, the decision can wait for another day. (Of course my real motivation is to get the machinery of government to be out ahead of itself, provide info to the public and to the decision makers, and especially let the financial content of such decision-making clear. Unfortunately that does not often happen in Bridgeport but I shall keep repeating a better process. We do not have to go as far as Sunshine’s satire to understand Simmons has his own reasons to spin or “tell” the story in his own way.
          And perhaps the saddest addendum to that meeting were some comments from Chairman Moales about the subjects that have not been discussed this year by this Board of Education, that are critically material to the kids in the classroom, and those who will soon be of age for a school career. Time will tell.

      2. BOE, that comment is completely ignorant and trivializes what went on in the south. And since you brought up the holocaust you also seem to trivialize that and are very offensive and to say your comments about segregation being “allegations” must be to any black people reading this.

  6. Ron,
    I’ve been to several Council and BOE meetings and studied the related issues. It’s pretty apparent what the problems are. CW4BB is trying to do something about them. How about you and others who are active in posting on this blog. We need actions not just words.

      1. beware,
        I’ll just name a few actions. We have attended City Council and BOE meetings, testified on several occasions, and made budget and other recommendations. We supported HB 5724. We have formed a PAC, recruited several City Council and BOE candidates, and will support a number of candidates irrespective of their party affiliation, if any. We have filed several FOIA requests and ethics complaints. We have contacted national and local media to generate additional coverage over time. In addition, we are considering filing a class-action lawsuit. What have others on this blog who aren’t involved in CW4BB done?

    1. Jim,
      Please enlighten everyone as to where CW4BB stands on the Vallas issue? You haven’t been involved in CW4BB so you can’t possibly know if the group has a position and what it is. From a personal perspective, I have posted on this blog the Vallas issue (e.g., contract, appeals, costs) are BOE matters and not City of Bridgeport matters. CW4BB cares about both and is focused on the types of systemic reforms that are needed to achieve real and lasting transformational change in Bridgeport.

      1. Then you might want to take an hour or so to read this. They are trying to repair their schools after twenty failed years of “reforms” started by Vallas, continued by Arne Duncan and now once again re-reforming under Emanuel. This IS the future of BPS under Vallas regime:
        It’s all here for all of you to see. There is no quick fix, get in, get out … you need long term solutions and V isn’t here for that.

        Please read when you have time and pass along to your group.

    1. anna,
      Apparently you and BOE SPY should get together. Simmons is not “fanning racial flames;” he is stating his view of how the city administration, in general, conducts business. The “plantation mentality” he describes is real; and you don’t have to be black to fall into it. The administration uses fear and manipulation to reach “their” goals. Pretty much the same way slave owners kept their slaves in line.

      1. Sunshine96,
        As you know, “words matter.” As a person who was raised in the South but who did not share the prejudices many others held, using the words “plantation mentality” can inject a racial overtone whether intended or not. I would say the Finch Administration and the DTC political machine in Bridgeport treat people like mushrooms. They keep them in the dark and shovel manure on them. I think that’s an accurate assessment and it’s race neutral.

      2. My dear anna. Come out from under that blanket and get some Sunshine96. Stay tuned for a commentary I submitted to Lennie today. The Bridgeport Plantation owners have “mastered” the process. There are Puerto Rican/Hispanics, Whites and Blacks working for the Plantation owners and their administrators. They are planting the wrong seeds in Bridgeport. If one doesn’t plant the seeds they are given to plant, they’ll pay the price and be replaced. I’m a free slave and I’m not going back to the Plantation.

  7. Finch or anyone else can’t help. Bridgeport has no money to pay all its bills. Finch has to wait for Momma Entitlement up in Hartford to do anything.

    1. JMart,
      As a CPA and a recognized expert on government finances, I can state with confidence CT is the worst state in the nation in total liabilities and unfunded promises per taxpayer. In addition, Bridgeport is over three time worse off than Stockton, CA based on this measure and Stockton is already in bankruptcy. Both the CT and Bridgeport governments have grown too big, promised too much and need to restructure soon. That takes leadership and it starts at the top!

  8. At the top, do you mean Momma Entitlement in Hartford, if so I agree. The State is spending too much in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport. All the other districts in Connecticut are suffering Teacher Layoffs and Cut Programs.

  9. WOWSER … right between the eyes:
    What does it say about the character of this man, about the character of the Bridgeport Democratic Machine, about the state of politics in “Corrupticut,” that a man like Bobby Simmons, a man who does have the strength, the integrity and the courage to say “no” to a mayor with “a tremendous amount of economic power,” must endure orchestrated attacks on his character because he is trying to get to the truth a healthy democracy requires, and fight for the children of Bridgeport when it’s obvious “the fix was in?”

    If Connecticut is ever going to shed the moniker “Corrupticut” we need fewer cowards like Lennie Grimaldi and more brave stand-up folks like Bobby Simmons.

    1. The article from Pelto seems confusing. It is not odd Pelto supports Simmons. Pelto is not a fan of Vallas and I would guess he feels ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ He attacks Lennie for not standing up to Ganim. Lennie said Ganim had a great deal of economic power over him. Pelto then defends Simmons for standing up to the Finch who is a mayor who has a great deal of economic power. What economic power does Finch have over Simmons?
      It would seem Lennie is now the mouthpiece for the DTC. I do not think the way to become the mouthpiece for the DTC is to flip on your DTC boss and put him in jail. One could even think this is the kind of thing that would get you frozen out of city business for embarrassing the machine. Assuming you believe the DTC has any shame. In reading ‘the words from the horse’s mouth,’ the only comments about Lennie are he bribed Ganim, testified against him and cheated on his taxes.
      Simmons is accused of bank fraud. i.e. Lying in order to effect who can access a bank account. Whether justified or not, this is not how someone should solve these problems. If Simmons had gone straight to the police, none of this would have ever happened. Is bringing up Simmons’ alleged past poor choices or ethical dilemmas better or worse that bringing up the same for Vallas? Does it depend on who you support or are some things always right and some always wrong? The idea everyone on the BOE who supports Vallas is doing so because Finch is making them is so dismissive. They were elected to a volunteer position, lots of work, lots of criticism, lots of negativity and no pay. The idea being if you do not do as Finch orders you will not be re-elected. I do not understand why they do not quit. Who wants that job?
      I have read many of Lennie’s articles that show unwavering support and true dedication to the DTC (sarcasm). I could post links but I don’t feel like it.
      Pelto attempts to show the validity of Simmons’ incredibly powerful commentary piece published in the Connecticut Post by attacking Lennie’s objectivity instead of concentrating on facts. After reading Pelto’s blatant attack on Lennie’s objectivity I could not help but be reminded of a quote from Margaret ‘The Iron Lady’ Thatcher.
      “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
      What do we all think about this?
      Jonathan Pelto is President of Impact Strategies Inc., a public relations company that specializes in issue advocacy. In June, 1999 the city of Hartford hired Jonathan Pelto, president of Impact Strategies Inc., a strategic communications firm in Willington to conduct an $87,600 customer satisfaction survey designed to critique residents’ opinions of city hall. The phone survey of 800 randomly selected residents or ~$110 per phone call. What did Pelto have to say about Hartford that year? Paul Vallas did not hire Impact Strategies Inc. Since Pelto left politics, or was forced out, he has not been a friend to CT Democrats. His only rival for best critic of CT Democrats has been CT Republicans. From the New York Times ‘Now, in political retirement, if not exile, at the ripe age of 32, Mr. Pelto sits in the wooded silence of his family’s hilltop home here in sandals and torn jeans, nursing a handful of grudges.’
      How funny would it be if Manny Moutinho were paying for Norm Pattis to prosecute Vallas so he does not lose the BOE contracts?
      Lennie please post my check to the address provided.

        1. Pinocchio Pelto advises the education union (against Paul Vallas) financing Connecticut Working Families Party school board races in Bridgeport. He advises Carmen Lopez, WFP, the education union and by extension that coalition seeking to win control of the school board. On numerous occasions he has sought the assistance of OIB to drive traffic to his site. Often times, however, there is no fairness to his editorial edge. He castigates–and blindsides–folks who have helped him, obviously selling out to his interests. He writes by hatred, not fairness. He scolds a variety of folks for conflicts while marinating in his own conflicts of interest. Coward is a word he often uses in venting his editorial frustration. He should look in the mirror.

  10. *** Mr. Simmons has been on the BOE for some time now, good or bad he’s entitled to his personal views on city government and the overall state of the Bpt school system. Plantation Mentality is meant to keep the lower class and its associates, etc. down; yet to provide just enough to wet the beak but keep them thirsty just the same. You can point fingers at any group, white or black, rich or poor, city workers or city politicians! Fact is the city residents who vote or don’t choose to vote are the ones who pick or don’t pick our BOE, city government pols, state legislators, etc. and are a big part of this city’s problems! *** ZOMBIELAND ***

  11. But seriously, whatever you want to call it, the city of Bridgeport has a mindset that all elected/appointed officials who disagree with them are both ignorant and lazy.
    That is the only explanation for dropping a 60-page legal document on an elected board and then ask them to vote on it immediately.


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