Don’t assume all three Democrats running for school board seats will be elected in the September 4 special election ordered by the Connecticut Supreme Court after it invalidated state control of city schools. The citywide turnout could be just 10 percent and some political operatives say it will be lower because the special election falls the day after Labor Day. This provides an opening for supporters of candidates in higher turnout areas opposed to Mayor Bill Finch’s greater influence on city schools.
There are nine candidates for four open school board seats. Electors can vote for up to any three candidates. The top three vote pullers win, with a fourth seat reserved for minority-party representation so the most seats the Dems can claim is three, but in this type of race nothing is assured if the anti-administration vote rears its head. Connecticut’s Working Families Party that already has elected two of its members to the school board is offering two candidates September 4, legendary basketball player John Bagley and Barbara Pouchet active in school issues for years. The Republicans have three candidates, husband and wife finance team Wayne and Evelyn Hayes and former Republican Registrar Joe Borges. This is a chance for the GOP to get back in play after it was embarrassed by the WFP candidates three years ago. Karen Jackson, who is opposed to a mayoral-appointed school board, has qualified for the ballot as a petitioning candidate.
The Democratic candidates are current members of the state-appointed board, Ken Moales, Hernan Illingworth and Jacqueline Kelleher.
The western portion of the city that includes Black Rock and the West Side as well as the North End provide the highest turnout areas of the city, dramatically outperforming the lowest turnout voting sections. Black Rock by percentage is the highest performing voter area. Finch lost this precinct last year in both the Democratic primary to Mary-Jane Foster and in the general election to Republican Rick Torres. This neighborhood, with 3000 registered voters, is Foster territory as well as home to a number of activists such as retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez who vehemently opposed the state takeover of city schools and the mayor’s pursuit of a mayoral-appointed school board. City voters will decide that issue in a charter revision ballot question in November. Black Rock is also the political base of the Republican Party.
The highest turnout areas are also the highest assessed residential areas, thus the highest taxed areas. The mayor is asking voters to give him more power (to appoint school board members) after raising taxes. The Central High School precinct on the West Side and the Winthrop and Blackham voting areas in the North End are all monster-in-size precincts. The western and northern areas of the city represent about one-third of the total registration but could account for more than 50 percent of the turnout in this race.
What’s on the line for the mayor? If two Working Families candidates win, that means its members will likely control the school board with a 5-4 majority assuming they all stay together for key votes. WFP school board members Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka had been voting in a bloc with Democrat Bobby Simmons prior to the school board asking for state intervention in July of last year. The irony in all of this, if the WFP controls the board, is the mayor’s mantra to take politics out of the elected board through his appointment power. The tiny WFP, and not the mayor’s party, would control. In a race like this, party allegiance is trumped by passionate voices. In addition, Bridgeport has roughly 20,000 unaffiliated voters. How will they vote?
A number of African American electors active in city voting are opposed to the state takeover as well as a mayoral-appointed body, even some who say progress has been made under the state-appointed board. Preserving their right to elect school board members takes precedence. The key for the three Democrats urging support for September 4 is highlighting progress that has taken place in the year they’ve been in charge. They can talk about successes: balancing the budget, implementing a five-year budget plan, progress for a new Longfellow School in the West End and Harding High School on the East Side, a new school security program, partnerships with area universities, upgraded technology and textbook program, bringing in many experienced principals and administrators to share a new vision with a record of success, and working together as a collective unit to get things done.
This campaign will be driven largely by the personal touch of phone calls and door knocking. Resources are limited on all sides. If just 10 percent of the city’s electorate votes that means just over 3000 votes in a close race could decide the top four vote producers.
Finch is putting his prestige on the line both in this special election and in the charter question in November. The mayor’s mantra: the system was dysfunctional with too much school board fighting, something had to be done and now there’s peace and harmony and results for the betterment of the students.
The Dems also have something the opposition forces do not have. An absentee ballot operation that places votes in the bank. With just two weeks until the primary it won’t be as mighty at the recent effort on behalf of State Senate nominee Andres Ayala, but for sure the opposition cannot wage an absentee ballot campaign to compete. The good news for the opposition, that won’t matter if their peeps vote.
Check out backgrounds of the various candidates in a story written by Linda Conner Lambeck of the CT Post here.