UPDATE: Complete unofficial Tuesday results here. Tuesday was an old-fashioned political ass kicking. It proved several things including the notion Democratic Town Committee endorsed candidates cannot be defeated is a fallacy. It’s also a fallacy they cannot be defeated in a low turnout. So, was Tuesday’s blowout of endorsed candidates really about the schools? Or was it more about a general voter anger over a variety of issues? No one has seen anything like this in a city primary in a long, long time. Maybe never.
In 2011 Mary-Jane Foster received 43 percent of the vote on the machines having been outspent by Mayor Bill Finch two-to-one in a Democratic primary. That’s a respectable number considering very few voters outside of Black Rock were familiar with her just months prior. There were pockets of the city where Finch had issues in the primary such as the South End, East Side, The Hollow and obviously Black Rock, the highest turnout area of the city where he’s never been popular as mayor. Things have happened in two years.
Since 2011 when Finch was elected to a second four-year term, residents have experienced two consecutive tax increases and constant controversy plaguing schools including Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas’ legal credentials to serve a school district. Last November in a presidential election driven by Barack Obama, voters who very rarely participate in local school board elections decided they did not want the mayor to appoint school board members as he had requested in a charter ballot question. Political opponents of the mayor as well as education advocates such as the Bridgeport Education Association coalesced with the Connecticut Working Families Party with three of its members on the school board to defeat the ballot question. They had a simple message. Vote no. Voting yes means your vote will be taken away. Black residents who understand the struggle to win the vote came out strong against the ballot question.
For a good portion of this summer, voters heard about a screwy land deal in which the city paid developer Manny Moutinho $400,000 to upgrade his own driveway as part of an airport improvement plan a state judge ruled taxpayers had no obligation to finance. Eek. City officials were asleep at the switch, at least that was the appearance.
Early this year a political action committee calling itself Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport was formed, with several of its members such as David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general, asking lots of questions about the city’s budget-making process, conflicts of interest on the City Council with lack of checks and balances from the city’s budget and legislative body. How can council members show independence when so many of them are on the public payroll?
What had appeared to be loose alliances against the city establishment coalesced into an organized opposition force Tuesday, tapping into voter anger over a variety of events: Education advocates, unions, Working Families Party, Connecticut Citizens Action Group, disaffected politicians, Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport, challenge candidates who put in their work. The Connecticut Education Association spent tens of thousands in independent expenditures to aid the cause.
And oh, several City Council incumbents took a spanking too. John Olson and Evette Brantley on the West Side, see ya; city employees Warren Blunt and Richard Bonney in the North End, sayonara; Angel DePara and Carlos Silva on the East Side and Hollow, so long. Not only will the makeup of the school board change, so too will the City Council as a result of Tuesday’s vote.
No operative on either side of the campaign aisle saw Tuesday’s shellacking coming. Yes, both sides thought they could win, but no one picked up on the anger that was spread throughout city voting precincts. In recent elections the mayor’s forces have generally had their way in low turnouts with the anti vote staying home. The voters the mayor’s people thought they had, stayed home. The anti vote showed up driven by organized opposition. (What’s their next move?) There’s still time for the mayor to fix this for his election in two years, but he has work to do.
And now we segue into the general election with Republicans fielding candidates for City Council and Board of Education including the high-profile race for City Council in Black Rock featuring GOP challengers Rick Torres and Phil Blagys against Democratic incumbents Sue Brannelly and Steve Stafstrom. Can the long-languishing city GOP find some election relevance? Stay tuned.