The Day Finch’s Dubious 2012 Ballot Question Was Defeated

Lee Black Rock school
Government watchdog John Marshall Lee was a human sign in front of Black Rock School urging voters against the ballot question.

In the 2012 general election for president a municipal ballot question appeared that broke records for money spent to influence a city vote: “Shall the City of Bridgeport approve and adopt the Charter changes as recommended by the Charter Revision Commission and approved by the City Council, including education governance reforms.” Translation: Mayor Bill Finch wants the power to appoint school board members. The measure was defeated handily.

Why? During a special meeting on July 5, 2011, a majority of the elected Bridgeport Board of Education members pushed by Finch with the blessing of Governor Dan Malloy surreptitiously threw in the towel, declaring the city was no longer competent to run city schools and required state oversight. By a 6-3 vote the board asked the state Board of Education to dissolve the local elected board in favor of an appointed body. The State Board of Education agreed. New members were appointed by politicians rather than the people. National education reformer Paul Vallas was brought in as school chief.

The state takeover decision came as a major surprise to the electorate. In his first three years as mayor Finch provided little public declaration about the sad state of city schools. In fact, he announced things were just ducky and then one day Finch announced the schools were a disaster requiring public intervention.

Three school board members voted against the state takeover, Maria Pereira, Bobby Simmons and Sauda Baraka. Attorney Norm Pattis filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pereira and Simmons challenging the legality of the state takeover. The Connecticut Supreme Court sided with local-control advocates.

This set the stage for a Charter Revision Commission appointed by Finch to craft a ballot question that if approved would authorize the mayor to appoint all nine members to the school board. The question was approved by the City Council for ballot placement.

The ballot question came under fire for being misleading in its intent. Opponents came down on one single easy message to understand: voting yes to the measures means taking away your right to vote for school board members.

The ballot question was historic for spending purposes in city elections with both sides of the issue investing close to $1 million combined to make their case.

The mayoral coalition received the backing of independent expenditures from StudentsFirst and Excel Bridgeport. The no coalition was backed by the Bridgeport Education Association, Connecticut’s Working Families Party, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group and numerous city political figures.

The mayoral coalition framed its message as a school reform movement while the opposition explained that it was simply a movement to strip voting rights.

Just about every voting precinct featured a show of force from both sides of the issue. Vote Yes signs and Vote No signs greeted voters as they approached the polls.

Ironically many city voters who don’t bother to vote in low-turnout school board elections decided the matter in a higher-turnout general election for president in which Barack Obama won a second term.

For many Finch opponents, his extended intrusion into the school system was the beginning of the end of his mayoralty. After winning a second four-year term in 2011, he’d lose the September 2015 Democratic primary to Joe Ganim, becoming the first mayor in city history lanced in a primary.



  1. Where are they now, those BOE appointees, and the political operatives who tried to advance the case for City Hall control of BOE? And where are the Charter appointees when they look at the variety of changes that might have been made by such a body, and had traction in the year’s since? Especially about spending intiatives? And Capital funding plans?

    By the way, heard a rumor about City Hall looking at a snow blower. Not one to clean my sidewalk. I heard about a big piece of snow blowing equipment. Maybe one that would attach to another piece of equipment (or not) and really throw snow. Is there a rush on this? Is this a situation John Ricci has been deciding about for a long time, but has not taken to the CC in any capital budget plan? Has it been bid out? Or what? Will there just be a photo op when a new toy shows up? Will it be paid for with bond money or operating if it is a lease? Is it a snow job? Or for the airport that is losing money regularly? Is there a snow emergency? Time will tell.

    1. “Where are they now, those BOE appointees, and the political operatives who tried to advance the case for City Hall control of BOE?”

      It’s a shame that five (5) years later John Marshall Lee is discovered to be behind this shamefully and secretly organized effort with a few other friends. The only comparison that can be made here is the fact that at least Bill Finch didn’t cover up the existence of a referendum question. Bill Finch didn’ rape democracy like he and his friends.

      1. Joel,
        It is on the ballot. What more do you want? You accuse me of shameful and secret behavior? You are wrong and your accusations are are so pitiful that “rape of democracy” sets a new standard of hyperbole on OIB. We are still living with the output of Finch, Adam Wood, Tom Sherwood and others who left things in a shambles in more than one location. Did Ganim put a spotlight on those items that hurt taxpayers and citizens? Not yet, and it’s two years and counting? Illegal moves of money? Secret financial accounts and City accounting with no fiscal report for eight years? Money transfers, from capital to operating without Council approval, etc. No answers for these which the voter has not had a chance to vote on, ever. Who is raping democracy and providing FAKE COMMENTARY, Joel? Time will tell.

  2. JML, you are not going to be a Moderator at any school during this election/referendum are you? Conflict of Interest I’d say considering you participation in covering up the existence of a qualifying petition for BPL referendum. Rapists of Democracy in our schools working the pols?

    1. This City has a poor understanding of conflicts of interest for starters. They continue to be rampant on the City Council relative to the pressure that can be exerted on a relative who holds a City job, for instance.

      I signed a petition, the right of a citizen, and now you are terming me a “rapist of Democracy” for a fictional notion. I shall be at the polls tomorrow as a Smith Spain representative doing “soft sheeting”, unpaid by the City, unpaid by the campaign because you just have to get off your butt and do something when:
      *the continuing district town committee ignores candidate selection in favor of candidate control
      *the City Council has failed miserably for years in understanding the way City finances work and new brains and new blood, unrelated to family ties, are required. The response to the lower taxable grand list and the excessive increase in property taxes are two recent examples of “dead” or at least “deficient” watchdogs.
      *the City train is close to running off its tracks when Joel Gonzalez starts making so many things up and no one can figure his motivation, which he does not address.
      * The Mayor is not happy as Mayor. He wants to be Governor. His record in City Hall I and City Hall II (second chance) provide no major support for his going to Hartford, except for those who want him anywhere but in the City? Time will tell.

  3. Joel,
    There is a force that is squeezing you to continue your false rap. You are wrong. The Mayor makes plans, controls their release, never shares all of the facts, frequently leaving out major expenses while leaving the impression that his concept covers the entire price tag.
    Later when the actual bill comes home, he has no comment. Has he raised the issue of the “extra funding” for the Plan A Pension that provides retirement benefits to more than 700 beneficiaries of the Plan A concept he set in motion in 2000. The latest investment report indicates that taxpayers are funding an added $15 Million annually after actuaries calculate the liability necessary for funding. Who’s being secret, Joel? And you have not mentioned the operation of the latest MERS transfer from Plan B. Will bonding cover the entire cost? Or will there be another liability like Plan A facing taxpayers in a decade or two? Because Mayors are too afraid to tell you about the real expenses they set in motion? Perhaps there should be a referendum there too? Time will tell.

      1. Hahaha, Ron. You have a point. The best way to deal with the intellectually challenged is to counter with articulate, informed and well reasoned arguments.


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