Special Election Result Provides Opening For Mayor To Win November Charter Question

If there’s opposition to how Mayor Bill Finch has engineered a shakeup of city schools it did not resonate organizationally at the polls in Tuesday’s special election. You can have opposition. You can have organized opposition. They are two different things. In November voters will decide if they want to continue with an elected school board or support the mayor’s charter revision proposal to appoint them. Most electors who voted on Tuesday like the shape of the new school system under turnaround specialist Paul Vallas and the school board that was in place.

The mayor says appointing school board members will help continue the progress that’s taken place in the year after state control of city schools. The Connecticut Supreme Court overturned that decision paving the way for a special election that seats the newly elected board starting Monday night. Opponents to an appointed board say it’s a power grab by the mayor. Still, all three Democrats appointed by the state and supported by the mayor as candidates won handily on Tuesday. They also won the machine totals, irrespective of the Dems’ absentee ballot operation.

They’re Democrats in a Democratic city. They’re supposed to win, right? Not with organized opposition. About 3750 voters citywide bothered to show up in a city that has 20,000 unaffiliated voters among nearly 70,000 registered voters. Organized opposition means stitching together all elements of an angry electorate. The turnout on Tuesday was pathetic, only about six percent of city voters showed up. Connecticut’s Working Families Party won the seat reserved for minority-party representation bringing to three the number of WFP on the school board. That result says more about the shrinking influence of city Republicans than any organized opposition. That’s because organized opposition doesn’t exist.

Black Rock, the city’s highest percentage voting area is a precinct where the mayor is not popular. He lost it in both the Democratic primary to Mary-Jane Foster and to Republican Rick Torres in the general election last year. This was an area the Working Families Party figured to do well in. They didn’t. Black Rock voters are choosy. The Democrats defeated the WFP candidates by more than two to one. At Winthrop School in the North End, another higher-turnout area, the results were similar.

One significant area of strength for WFP candidates John Bagley and Barbara Pouchet was the East End, territory of Ernie Newton who lost a hard-fought State Senate primary in August to State Rep. Andres Ayala. Newton and East End District Leader Ralph Ford ran a cut operation on behalf of WFP candidates and Democrat Ken Moales, a city minister. The WFP candidates also did well at the Wilbur Cross and Hallen School precincts where outgoing State Senator Ed Gomes, defeated in an August primary, has his strongest following.

Organized opposition doesn’t come easy. It takes lots of work and some money. The WFP had enough to defeat the GOP for the minority-party seat, but did not come realistically close to grabbing seats for both candidates.

Now the stage is set for the general election ballot question when presumably–based on turnout history–between 35,000 and 40,000 voters will vote inspired by a presidential cycle. In low-turnout primaries and special elections, a premium is placed on identifying friends and dragging them to vote. In a presidential cycle you know they’re voting which places a premium on message. The ballot question will come down to which side makes the strongest argument for the future of schools–an elected board or a body appointed by the mayor.

Official results of Tuesday’s special election:

Jacqueline Kelleher 2087

Kenneth Moales 1929

Hernan Illingworth 1842

John Bagley 1368

Barbara Pouchet 1203

Joe Borges 665

Evelyn Hayes 370

Wayne Hayes 313

Karen Jackson 309



  1. *** Let’s hope not, but anything is possible in Zombieland, no? An all-out measure to educate the voters is needed by those opposed to a yes vote! *** The sky is falling, yo! ***

  2. Once again Lennie is talking out of his ass. What about the money, Lennie? BRBC has fundraiser for Democratic candidates. How much did they spend for their votes???
    It was an out-of-town Republican-financed BOE election.

  3. Lennie, I’m still looking for your alleged cut campaign to tank a Democrat and elect Borges the Republican. I don’t see it in these numbers. Illingworth ran dead last among the Dems, down 240 votes from Kelleher. And Moales was down 160.
    I would give more credit than you appear willing to do to the BEA. It appears voters were jumping all over the place to vote for their three candidates; Kelleher Bagley and Pouchet.
    And we comment on the Ralph & Ernie show in the East End but Senator Gomes was out in front of Cross all day and delivered the school to the same African American candidates.
    What about ABs? Any apparent cut campaign in those results or did your analysis not even bother getting into that level of detail?

    1. Reap, any way you cut it there was no organized opposition in this race. If you eliminate the absentee ballot operation all three Democrats still win. As for the cut operation, that was something Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa wanted on behalf of Republican Joe Borges. The numbers show on average Borges’ vote doubled that of the other two Republicans, so there were cuts, just not enough. Credit goes to Senator Gomes for his work on behalf of WFP at Cross. WFP had pockets of support, but it wasn’t citywide. WFP got smoked at Black Rock and several other precincts. The WFP beat the GOP, they didn’t defeat the Dems.

      1. Lennie, why don’t you talk about the Machine drunk vote. There were a lot of people being driven to the polls who were pulled out of bars by Machine associates.

  4. Here is Lennie’s insightful prediction on the DNC based on snippets picked up from the CT Post:

    After a energetic speech by former President Bill Clinton in which he told Americans “You must vote for Barack Obama,” it appears the momentum has swung to the President’s side and it appears he will emerge as the party’s nominee.
    Rumors have it Mario Testa will not stage a floor fight to try to get former Mayor John Fabrizi’s name placed in nomination. This threatened to crack the right hold Obama claimed to have over the Northeastern states.
    In an OIB exclusive Testa admitted in the end you gotta count da votes and if you don’t got it, you don’t got it.
    Fabrizi told OIB he was honored the campaign had gotten this far. He said he is looking forward to returning to his obscenely paid do-nothing position with the BOE.

  5. Lennie,
    What happened to the machine?
    I know it has been shrinking some (from 7,000 to 6,000 to 5,000 to 4,500), but these numbers are beginning to make it non-existent.
    How do you explain that?
    The machine was not worth even 2,000 votes in this special election.

  6. *** Once again I received a phone call from a Zombie source inquiring about my interest on being on the BOE. A thankless commitment in my opinion which will need a pro-change attitude towards getting major concessions passed and enforced on the BOE! My thoughts conveyed to the Zombie source was,”be careful what you wish for ’cause you may just get it,” no? *** SIMON SAYS? ***

  7. Bob Walsh:
    Political machines play down to the opposition. Whether they did this by polling, anecdotal evidence or some combination, the organization got out what it needed.

    Perhaps the mayor and company weren’t that worried about the election of a couple opponents (although that allegedly led to this caper to throw out the school board in the first place).

    From observation, good machines do NOTHING to pull out a vote that is not their own. That is not their job. They only work as hard as they must.

    Lennie’s point about coordinated opposition is valid. You guys all know that.

    Looking to Round 3, the “old” Bridgeport would never, in my opinion, allow a charter reform giving mayoral control to board of ed appointees. I’m not so sure now. My guess is leaning toward the mayor winning this one too in November despite likely charges of a “power grab.” The record clearly shows the administration has been winning public support for its policies.

    Odd political machine. The personalities have set aside more differences than usual for Bridgeport politics. Too many potential centers of conflict over personality and power. Hey, doesn’t matter if they make it work.

    We had this conversation a year ago, Bob. You convinced me it quacked. I wasn’t sure it was a duck.

    Kudos to Mario, Stafstrom, Finch and the district leaders. They have a political machine rolling.

  8. *** Anything is possible in “Zombieland,” home of the “will nots” ’cause they “know not,” which leads to “wanting not” and in the end “getting not!” Whether it’s not caring nor needing to know or just satisfied with the present status quo, it appears the overall Bpt resident and voter is as gullible to local “pretend politics” as Ponce de León was to the Fountain of Youth, no? *** FORGETABOUTIT ***

  9. A big reason why the WF candidates did not do well in Black Rock was due to lies spread by the local machine, that was going around telling people the WFP wants to close Black Rock School, which is a bald-faced lie.

  10. Why isn’t anyone asking about the large number of intoxicated people who were driven to the polls all over this city by members of the machine? There is a reason why bars and liquor stores used to be closed while the polls were open on election day. It is time to bring that law back.


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