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