A diverse coalition of operatives including politicians, clergy, labor unions, civil and voting rights groups are forging an effort to defeat the Nov. 6 ballot question that if approved by voters would give Mayor Bill Finch the power to appoint members to the Board of Education.
The ballot question has taken center stage locally with less than four weeks to election day in a presidential cycle. On one side is the mayor’s well-funded campaign organization beseeching voters to reform city schools by allowing him to select board members to bring schools to a new level of progress after decades of despair. The mayor is aided by an education reform group formed last year in the aftermath of state control of schools–overturned by the Connecticut Supreme Court–calling itself Excel Bridgeport, comprised of local business concerns, education professionals and lower Fairfield County money interests staffed by city school graduates, claiming the old way of doing things doesn’t work, citing cities such as Hartford and New Haven as mayoral-appointed models that work better than an elected body in the state’s largest city.
The mayor’s organization and Excel Bridgeport have begun an outreach of public events, phone calls, mail pieces and more on the horizon to make their case.
On the opposing side is a coalition force coming together in an effort to defeat the ballot question, arguing the most efficient school board is selected by the people not a mayor interested in a power grab to control schools, contracts and jobs for his political peeps.
In recent days meetings and discussions have taken place between representatives of the teachers union Bridgeport Education Association, Connecticut’s Working Families Party that has three of its members on the elected school board, the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group–a statewide organization that fights for social and economic justice–several city pastors and a whole bunch of political operatives experienced in city races.
The political mix is intriguing because of its eclectic blend that hasn’t always worked together. For instance, both former State Senator Ernie Newton and outgoing State Senator Ed Gomes, who finished second and third respectively in an August primary, are working against the question. They were defeated in the primary by State Rep. Andres Ayala who was backed by the Finch forces. East End District Leader Ralph Ford is also weighing in against the question. When Ford and Newton work together they are a formidable force for influencing votes in the East End. Ford has had a falling out with Finch after backing him for mayor last year. (That’s another story.) Ford has his own political action committee–coined the Ford Dealership by OIB friend Tom Kelly–whose money has greased a variety of political causes throughout the years.
Former City Councilman Bob Walsh and former President of the Board of Education Max Medina are also in the mix working against the ballot question. And then there’s the liberal lioness from Black Rock, retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez sharpening arguments against the vote on behalf of her Working Families Party advocates.
Strap in for a good fight.
“I don’t question the mayor’s sincerity toward the kids,” says Newton, “but when you start messing around with people’s right to vote that’s a serious issue.”
In the African American community, irrespective of recently low elector turnouts, decisions by the people have emotional impact. Newton, Ford and company who know how to hammer home that message will not be bashful reminding African American voters about the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the world of city politics you leverage every advantage possible.
The ballot question may come down to which side is best financed. The Finch forces, backed largely by business community money, will have plenty of dough to make their case. What will the opposition spend in this larger turnout presidential election?
The following question will appear at the top of the ballot in both English and Spanish above the candidates for various federal and state offices.
“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.”