Connecticut’s most populous city rarely disappoints for the entertainment of it politics and perhaps never before in the history of the city has a race for school board placed more on the line for the political establishment in charge and interlopers who want to seize control. What is normally a sleepy election cycle for five Board of Education seats will have the full attention of political operatives for both a possible Democratic primary in September and general election in November.
A coalition of campaign operatives for the Connecticut Working Families Party, Bridgeport Education Association that represents city teachers and politicians opposed to Mayor Bill Finch have fanned across the city trying to secure enough certified signatures from registered Democrats to place their three candidates on the primary ballot to challenge party-endorsed candidates.
Last Monday night the 90-member Democratic Town Committee endorsed for school board the Rev. Simon Castillo, a city police commissioner, Katie Roach Bukovsky, an education marketing professional, and Brandon Clark, a counselor with Achievement First Bridgeport Academy Elementary School. The next day an opposition slate took to the streets to seek the more than 2000 certified signatures from Democratic electors to wage a primary: East End City Councilman Andre Baker, former City Councilman Dave Hennessey, a retired school teacher and Howard Gardner, ex-candidate for City Council.
Hennessey, who served on the council in the mid 1980s representing Black Rock, has been disengaged from city politics for a long time. His contacts in the Bridgeport Education Association persuaded him to reengage. Gardner, from the West Side, is trying his hand at a citywide race after waging runs for City Council. Baker, with a strong base of support in the East End, is the key member of the opposition ticket. He has waged the noble, sometimes lonely, fight on the council questioning initiatives of the Finch administration, especially since the retirement of Bob “Troll” Walsh a few years ago. Baker also has pockets of political support outside of his East End base to help drive a vote in a low-turnout primary.
The messaging of this primary will be intriguing to watch, assuming the opposition slate qualifies for the ballot. The Working Families Party and Bridgeport Education Association are not strangers to local races, nor to joining forces. They worked together to defeat last year’s ballot question that proposed a mayoral-appointed school board. They will help finance the opposition against the party-endorsed candidates. Working Families, a Democratic spinoff group, has recruited operatives in this potential primary because they believe it will help sway the balance of power on the school board. Working Families has a decent opposition footprint in the city having elected three of its candidates to the school board since 2009. They will try to build up the opposition candidates as independent alternatives to the party-endorsed candidates they will claim as slaves to the political establishment. But the party-endorsed candidates are largely unknown except for Castillo who has served Good Shepherd Christian Church on the West Side for nearly 50 years. They may be party endorsed but they certainly don’t have the baggage of party hacks. All of them have credible backgrounds to bring to the table.
Political operatives in support of the endorsed candidates will have some fire to return against the opposition, for instance, do you really want to elect the school board candidates whose campaigns are financed by unions whose leadership will expect a big fat pay raise for union workers in return for aiding their election? Instant tax increase.
So get ready for a pretty good throw-down for school board this summer. There will be charges and counter charges and loads of campaign activity for control of the school board.
And then it’s onward to the general election. And that’s another story.