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The Power Of The Pulpit–Is Pastor Bennett Considering A Mayoral Run?

December 12th, 2012 · 49 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Politics, Education

Rev. Bennett

Rev. Anthony Bennett

The next mayoral election is 2015, but if you want to build coalitions, speak out on issues and poise yourself as mayoral timber, it’s not too soon to commence groundwork. That, at least, is the thinking of a number of political operatives and neighborhood leaders prevailing upon Anthony Bennett, pastor of Mount Aery Baptist Church with one of the largest congregations in the city, to consider a run for the city’s top spot.

Bennett has emerged an an articulate ministerial force in the city who was a vocal critic of Mayor Bill Finch’s campaign effort, defeated by voters, for a mayoral-appointed Board of Education. If Bennett decides to do it, he would be an intriguing candidate with strong oratory skills, a diplomat’s touch and a potential reach across all demographic groups. After the mayor’s effort was defeated, Bennett did not gloat. He penned a commentary piece that stressed cooperation.

Now that we have chosen to continue the process of electing our Board of Education members, where do we go from here? Do the Board of Education and the divided charter revision camps delve into a chaotic communicating process that ends in stalemate? Or do we engage in a process that moves us toward a more healthy sense of educational reform where a broader section of the community participates and shapes that reform?

Former State Senator Ernie Newton who churches at Mount Aery, says Bennett would be a “helluva candidate. His name is being mentioned. He’s well-liked and he cares about people.”

Bridgeport has not had a mighty African American candidate for mayor since Charlie Tisdale, the top political organizer in the city in the early and mid 1980s when Bridgeport’s voting populace was still predominantly white and some voters prone to ignorance and bigotry. In 1983 Tisdale became the first African American to be nominated by a major party for mayor, winning a Democratic primary in a large field of white opponents. He finished a close second to incumbent Republican Lenny Paoletta in a general election turnout of roughly 70 percent. (Yes, not a typo, 70 percent.)

Times have changed and so have the faces of the electorate, albeit much lower election turnouts that benefit incumbents. As Newton puts it: “The minority is controlling the majority.” African American and Hispanic voters now make up the majority, but Bennett has the ability to transcend race.

The November ballot question to determine the selection of school board members was largely defeated by African American voters, led by a number of city ministers who saw the effort as stripping voting rights. Finch put his prestige on the line and lost after urging voters to support his education-reform initiatives. The loss was like a punch to the mayor’s solar plexus. Still, if Finch seeks reelection, as he is expected to do, he will be well financed. He lacks a tangible high-profile development to call his own after five years on the job, but if the Steel Point redevelopment of the East Side becomes a reality and other development projects teed up advance he’ll be repositioned for another four years, barring a major tax increase and crime issues, easier said than done.

A lot can happen over the next two years that will sort out Finch’s eventual opponent. If Pastor Bennett gets in the game, it could be a game changer. Can he raise money?

Bennett’s bio here.

Bennett’s commentary piece following the defeat of the ballot question:

In the winter of 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began to put on paper what would become his final book entitled, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” This book articulated some of the tensions, complexities and challenges faced by the Civil Rights movement and American race relations in light of the emerging black power movement.

I believe this title, “Where do we go from here: Chaos or community?” best describes the dilemma we, the citizens of Bridgeport, face following our rejection of the charter revision committee’s education reform question. On this past Tuesday, the voting citizens of Bridgeport answered a resounding “no” to the effort seeking to establish a mayoral-appointed Board of Education. As one of the thousands of “no”-voting citizens, I thank every person, organization and supporter who stood up for our right to choose who will represent us in the policy and governance decisions of our school district. In spite of the confusing way in which the charter revision question was positioned and presented on the ballot, a sufficient number of voters understood what was at stake for them and the children of this school district. Subsequently, the majority of Tuesday’s voters chose not to give up their right and privilege to cast their vote in future Board of Education elections.

As much as I am tempted to savor the victory in our right to vote for Board of Education members being preserved, I hear Dr. King’s question being asked among the various stakeholders of our Bridgeport community. Now that we have chosen to continue the process of electing our Board of Education members, where do we go from here? Do the Board of Education and the divided charter revision camps delve into a chaotic communicating process that ends in stalemate? Or do we engage in a process that moves us toward a more healthy sense of educational reform where a broader section of the community participates and shapes that reform?

While I certainly am not seeking to suggest that I or this essay can provide a comprehensive blueprint for this movement toward a healthy educational community, I seek to offer some reflections from the many conversations I have engaged in with members of the Bridgeport community.

The first insight in moving forward is for our mayor, Excel Bridgeport, A Better Bridgeport and members of Bridgeport Regional Business Council to realize that many of us who voted no to the charter revision question actually very deeply desire education reform. We indeed desire the students of Bridgeport learn in state-of-the-art schools with optimal classroom size, a curriculum that is relevant and meets the highest of standards, appropriate resources and teachers and administrators who are compassionate, competent and qualified. We also understand members of the Board of Education need to be competent in their ability to govern such a complex and dynamic system as our educational system. Those of us who voted no to the charter proposal care no less for the children of this district than those who voted yes. We are a broad group of parents, guardians, business persons, community leaders and citizens who believe education reform is possible without silencing the voting voice of the people.

Secondly, accountability can only be achieved in an environment of transparency and public trust. The vote on this past Tuesday was also a statement to the lack of transparency of this entire process. Much of the rhetoric in speech and print spoke of our need to care for the future of our children by holding the mayor accountable in giving him/her authority to appoint Board of Education members. To be clear, the primary role of the Board of Education is to govern contracts worth millions of dollars, which really means jobs and services. Unfortunately, our children are often an indirect consequence of this power grab. A more transparent process would have helped all of our community stakeholders to weigh the pros and cons of such a shift in authority. Giving the public more information regarding this kind of a major issue can actually be a good and positive gesture toward accountability and public trust.

It appears that the mayor, Excel Bridgeport and members of the business community did not expect the citizens of Bridgeport to defend their right to elect their own representatives. However, whether you agreed with his effectiveness or not, remember that former superintendent Dr. John Ramos would constantly remind the students, parents and personnel of the district to “Expect Great Things!” I am praying that those who voted yes on the charter question will still expect great things–-like a citizenry who value their right to choose those who represent their children’s interest. I want to expect that those who backed the yes vote will now put some of their financial resources into the facilitation of a process that ensures a transparent way for all of Bridgeport stakeholders to be informed of and participate in comprehensive educational reform. I am sure there are those who voted no to the charter question who might be willing to participate in such a process. Provided, however, it’s more than a photo op or a mirage of meetings to conceal clandestine gatherings making deals and decisions without broad public discussion. Moving forward, it is my prayer, and will be my effort to do my part in working through our chaos so that the children of Bridgeport might learn in the high-quality, world-class educational community that they deserve.

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49 Comments so far ↓

  • Jim Callahan

    This could be an intriguing development. Lots go into it. It is a speculation story.

    I think the following will come up again and again on this webzine: Ernie Newton is mentioned first on this matter. (He was asked.) So without taking a whack at Ernie–none intended and none meant–there is no ‘majority’ nor ‘minority’ bloc of voters in Bridgeport citywide anymore, nearest I can tell.

    There’s an interesting puzzle of neighborhood interest groups that may or may not line up by ethnicity (black, white or brown).

    • Sonny

      I agree with you Callahan, there isn’t a majority or minority bloc of voters in Bridgeport anymore. Black, Brown and White come close to being 1/3 each. Heck, you can’t assume Blacks and Latinos make for a combined bloc of voters. There is no such faction or voter bloc called People of Color or is there? Nah, I don’t think there is such a bloc and maybe there shouldn’t be.

  • Ron Mackey

    Mario Testa, John Stafstrom and Mayor Finch WILL NOT allow the DTC to even think about voting for Rev. Bennett if they want to keep their job, position and those of their family and friends.

  • BptPorter

    This is an interesting story/development. I don’t think it is likely for the DTC to vote him in. However, the other possibility is for him to run under the Working Families party. Either way, whether through DTC or another party, his running will create factions within the current political base. Regardless of Bennett being or not being elected the big picture is the manner in which the political base becomes fractured by providing viable alternatives. Regardless of the end result, more viable competition of this type will be healthy given the current oligarchy.

  • donj

    Pastors should stick to preaching not politics. Too much politics in black churches nowadays and the church is the last place for that … I would not consider voting for him.

    • BptPorter

      As one person stated to me once, religion that is not concerned about human affairs (politics, justice) is simply
      magic at best. The civic concern among many African American churches is unique and should not be disdained simply because it unites the abstract with corporeal matters. Sure, how this is handled may be open to criticism, yet your statement is simplistic because it fails to ignore the vision and history of these institutions.

      Secondly, the link between religion and politics is not limited to African American churches and can be witnessed across a wide range of denominations. Your comment coveys a message this is limited to “Black churches.” The issues of concern may be different, and it may seem uncomfortable to some, but at the end of the day such phenomena is not limited to Black churches.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      If he were a Jamaican Voodoo priest, you’d have not problem with him running.

    • Andrew C Fardy

      donj: What would America look like today if the Rev. Martin Luther King followed your advice?

  • Ernie Newton

    Jim my friend, I disagree with you. Blacks voted in record numbers for President Obama. Gov. Malloy, Sen-elect Chris Murphy and Congressman Jim Himes won because of the large turnouts in black communities. Not to mention defeating the YES vote on the board of education issue. Lennie, remember the Yes vote people outspent us. Pastor Bennett brings a lot to the table. I personally don’t think he would be interested in running.

    • Bob

      Ernie … you are still detached from reality. What has President Obama done to improve the condition of the Black community in the United States? NOTHING!!! NADA!!! All he has done is to feather his own nest and kowtowed to the unions and donors like Solyndra because they got him elected. He has no agenda to improve the poverty problem in the US and has no agenda to stimulate businesses except to create more government jobs. And government jobs are not productive to the good of the economy.

  • Zena Lu

    The eloquence with which this man writes and speaks is a testament to the quality of person he is. He just radiates integrity and if I can go out on a limb here, I would deduce he is “of the Light” and not “of the Darkness” like so many Bridgeport activist and political leaders. Sadly, there are many ways to have one’s light dimmed or extinguished in Bridgeport, and there is a plethora of fiends poised with hoses waiting to be told where to aim them. We can just hope this gentleman’s light is waterproof.

    I find his attitude regarding education reform as depicted by this submission remarkably similar to MJF’s. That would make sense though, as he was a supporter of hers. Should he consider a run? Maybe. Does he have the support of the game-changing demographic in the fine City of Bridgeport? Possibly. Can he beat Finch? That may depend on Finch’s arms being too short to box with God or MJF’s intentions. Would I like to see Bennett and MJF team up? Um, Duh!

  • Mojo

    *** Can’t recall any other incoming freshman state legislators being reviewed by state minority or majority state leaders in the past concerning the district they will be representing. Is it “the buck stops here” new type of state interest or does being a “brown-skinned Latino woman” from Bpt generate much more interest from the media, state legislation and folks in general? *** JUST SAYIN’, NO? ***

    • Andrew C Fardy

      Mojo: Ayala is not the only state rep or senator who did not live in the district at the time they were elected. It does seem strange it is now an issue. I would think her two brushes with the law in a short period of time was the factor in this latest move by the leaders in Hartford and not the color of her skin.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Thanks, Lennie.

  • yahooy

    I am sensing a change in Bridgeport politics. Too many years have gone by during which eminently qualified residents chose not ‘to get involved.’ Why bother? The machine is too strong. Calamarian rule makes it near impossible. Well, MJF bucked that tide and made a good showing. Now The Rev wants in. Both could topple the current power base. But not without a significant increase in voter participation.

    • Ron Mackey

      yahooy, you are wrong. Rev. Bennett does NOT want in. If you notice it is others who put the subject out there. He has made it known to those who attend Mt. Aery Baptist Church what his position is and it is NOT about running for mayor.

  • Ernie Newton

    Wow, for once I agree with yahooy. The tide is changing. We saw it with the NO Vote! People win elections. Not money!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    While it is almost three years away it is not too early to think about a mayoral challenge. It is obvious to me we cannot take back our city by trying to unseat enough council people to gain control of the council. We need to start at the top and beat the mayor in a primary election. I don’t know the plans of MJF or the Rev. Bennett but I do know we need to start NOW.
    During the campaign to defeat the charter changes a number of blacks, Hispanics and whites worked in unison to defeat the charter. It was a very diverse group with no infighting and no power struggles.
    I feel if we can maintain that type of group through a primary we can win the mayoral race. One of the important things that needs to be done is to engage the minority communities. They need to know there is really a place for them at the head of the table.
    I feel if we can beat the mayor and his machine we will see people wanting to run against the people on the council. People need to know they can run against an incumbent and win and with a new mayor that would be proof positive they too can run and win.

  • John Marshall Lee

    A fact that has not been reported above is Reverend Bennett is a Co-Chair of an important regional grassroots justice group, CONECT, that has gathered people and finances from urban CT cities and suburbs, to work towards multiple issues (including immigration, housing and foreclosures, health care availability, etc.) both at State and local levels.

    Many merciful activities of government are on the front burner these days for cutting when money gets tight, but perhaps does not need long-term funding if justice prevailed in our community structures. CONECT has engaged politically at State level and come away with some initial successes. It has representation from churches, congregations and other religious communities from East Haven to Norwalk, the last time I looked.

    It is not about the personal agendas of any one religion or religious leader. It has a democratic dynamic that expects and respects its grassroots. Keep an eye on its activities. Time will tell.

    • Ron Mackey

      John Marshall Lee, I agree with your “Reader’s Digest” reply. Short but right on point, as you wrote: “CONECT has engaged politically at State level and come away with some initial successes. It has representation from churches, congregations and other religious communities from East Haven to Norwalk, the last time I looked.

      “It is not about the personal agendas of any one religion or religious leader. It has a democratic dynamic that expects and respects its grassroots. Keep an eye on its activities. Time will tell.” There are bigger issues that need answers that Rev. Bennett and CONECT are trying to correct and answer. Thanks JML.

  • Ernie Newton

    No Bob, you don’t get it. Healthcare is one thing President Obama has done. But you sound like a member of the TEA Party!

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Ernie, get your $63 for the initial fee ready. I wonder what would happen if a person is too poor to pay the $63 Obamacare initial fee? Will there be a waiver? Yes, liberals always include some kind of waiver.

  • Joel Gonzalez

    Lennie, what you think would happen in a three-way primary between Pastor Bennett, Mary-Jane Foster and Bill Finch?

  • Ron Mackey

    Joel, I know your question is addressed to Lennie but trust me Rev. Bennett will NOT be in any primary.

  • Ernie Newton

    Brother Ron, I agree with you. Our pastor is not interested in running for Mayor, but he would be a great candidate!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    It is time for the black and Hispanic leaders to step up to the plate. It is easy to complain about Finch and past mayors.
    How much longer would it have taken to gain rights for blacks and other minorities if Martin Luther King had stayed home and tended to his parishioners?
    The NO vote group showed every facet of Bridgeport’s population could band together and beat the Democratic machine despite being mightily outspent.
    There are many, many intelligent caring people in this city but no one has stepped up other than MJF who did not have the overall support of the minority community. The Reverend Bennett has spoken out about the injustices in the city.
    It is time for the black community to step up and stop believing in the false promises of inclusion in the Bridgeport political arena.

  • Ernie Newton

    Andy know we are going to support people who support us. You can’t serve two masters. If you work for the City you can’t serve OUR community as a leader! But as a servant, OUR COMMUNITY is not for sale, just because YOU HAVE A JOB!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Look Ernie, the black community has been supporting the Democratic party in Bridgeport for years. they have done so by voting and/or staying away from the polls.
    There are certain black leaders who have been fostering the perception the Dems in Bridgeport will include the black community in the operation of city government. That has not really happened. There is one black on the mayor’s inner circle. His previous claim to fame was he was in charge of turning off the lights at campaign headquarters. There is a very nice black women in charge of the health dept and they have tried to get rid of her for months.
    Did the black community get some menial city jobs? Yes they did, but not many.
    This city needs someone like the Rev. Bennett to step forward and lead this city via a coalition of all races. Name me someone else who can do that.

  • Ernie Newton

    So the white and Hispanic communities each have supported the Democratic Party. What we need are people who can’t be bought with a JOB!

  • Ernie Newton

    Andy, there were many African Americans who led the fight against the YES vote in Bridgeport. Just look at the numbers around the CITY. So WE did step up to the PLATE.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Come on Ernie, read the posts. No one is saying the black community is responsible for the mess this city is in.
    The problem in the black community is their supposed leaders get up and dish out bullshit. If anyone is guilty of anything it is these so-called leaders who think the blacks in Bridgeport are gullible and are buying what they say. Just look at any general election here in Bridgeport and the blacks and the voting public in general stay home.
    Show me one black leader who has come in on city issues with the intelligence the Rev. Bennett has and please don’t point to yourself or Ralph Ford. I am sorry to say you guys are part of the past, not the future.

  • Mojo

    *** Just because you have the gift of public gab and can recite verses from the good book doesn’t make you qualified to be Mayor of Bpt. But then again, what real qualifications did Finch have other than being an experienced politician and good storyteller, no? Should this Rev. decide to run, he’ll have to reach out and touch many denominations’ hands, no? *** WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE ***

  • Ron Mackey

    Mojo, here is some information to bring you up to date. A non-partisan organization CONECT endorses no candidates. Just Google: CONECT–Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut

  • Ernie Newton

    Andy, I’m not going to get into a debate with you. Rev. Ginyard President of the (IMA) Interdenominational Ministers alliance worked with Dr. Ford and myself to fight against the YES vote. Remember you are also a part of the past. You are in no position to tell the black community what it should do. I wish you showed this concern when you where on the Bridgeport Fire Dept, maybe it would not have taken a lawsuit for blacks and Latinos to get on the fire dept.

  • Ernie Newton

    Oh by the way I was President on the City council when we settled the Fire Birds lawsuit.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Ernie you are taking credit for defeating the Yes vote in the last election, what bullshit. You showed up at a few meetings and maybe went and stood outside a polling place for a few hours but it wasn’t you or any individual who beat the Yes vote, it was a GROUP of ordinary citizens from all backgrounds that beat the Yes vote. It’s typical of you and all politicians to take credit for what little you did.
    Ernie, the difference between you and I is I know I am part of the past. I am not telling the black community what to do but I have the right to express my opinion and I earned that right.
    My position on the Fire Department and the subsequent lawsuit is well known and I have never backed away from it. It took 20-plus years but the last supreme court decision backed up what I and others were fighting for.
    Ernie, does it upset you that a white man speaks out in favor of a black man running for higher office? Just so you know, I started this trial balloon to get the Rev. Bennett to run for mayor.

  • Ernie Newton

    First of all no one is taking credit, you asked me to name a leader which I did. Leaders did step up to fight the YES vote and I’ve earned the right also. I also brought Rev. Al Sharpton to Bridgeport to motivate our community to get out and vote.
    Numbers don’t lie. You look at the turnout!
    I bet you one thing, if I were on the other side it would have been different. Remember I supported MJF because I had the balls to do so. If I had supported Finch he would have given me his support!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    ERNIE, YOU ARE FULL OF IT. IF YOU WERE ON THE OTHER SIDE THEY STILL WOULD HAVE LOST. You see, this post is what I was talking about. You are taking credit for the No vote winning. Bullshit. BTW who pays attention to Sharpton?

    • Valkyrie

      Andrew C Fardy–
      Apparently, quite a few hundred thousand people pay attention to Rev. Al Sharpton, many of whom pay attention to what he has to say on Mon – Fri at 6 pm on NBCNews cable station.

      Ernie Newton–
      Please shut the *uck up! You haven’t done anything except embarrass yourself. Oh–that’s right … you got yourself convicted so now you’re an ex-con. Take credit for that!

  • Local Eyes

    Before the first Charter Revision vote was cast, serious educational reforms were underway and remain in place.

    If you shout NO and upon victory, your first words are “where do we go from here?” maybe leadership was unaware, confused or devoid of direction.

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