What’s Your Story Of The Year? The Education Ballot Question Broke Spending Records

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The education ballot question featured respective campaign headquarters of yes and no supporters side-by-side on Stratford Avenue in the East End.

Sandy Hook in Newtown. It’s the horrific story of the year–nationally, locally and everything in between. The bloodiest gun massacre of school children in American history may be the story of a lifetime. Back in the Bridgeport-centric world of the state’s largest city one of the top stories of the year was the ballot question that kept election of school board members with the people over a mayoral-appointed body. The ballot question broke spending records for any kind of municipal election.

“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?”

The question pitted the mayor, his political operatives and independent expenditures from education reform groups Excel Bridgeport and Students First against a diverse coalition of politicians, clergy, labor unions, civil and voting rights groups working to defeat the Nov. 6 ballot question that if approved by voters would have empowered Mayor Bill Finch to appoint members to the Board of Education.

The mayor’s political organization pretty much has had its way delivering its candidates in lower-turnout elections. The ballot question was different, the mayor deciding to push the question, crafted by a Charter Revision Commission and approved by the City Council, in a higher-turnout presidential cycle more difficult to control votes.

The mayor’s well-funded campaign organization urged 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 was 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.

In addition yes question advocates were aided by Student First formed by the national education advocate Michelle Rhee.

The mayor’s organization, Excel Bridgeport and Students First blanketed the city with an outreach of public events, phone calls, mail pieces, door knocks, radio and television.

Organized opposition coalesced to defeat the ballot question, arguing the most efficient school board is selected by the people.

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, framed the question as a voting-rights issue.

The political mix was 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, worked 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 also weighed in against the  question. When Ford and Newton work together they are a formidable force for influencing votes in the heavily African American East End. Ford had a falling out with Finch after backing him for mayor last year.

Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez, former City Councilman Bob “Troll” Walsh, former President of the Board of Education Max Medina, former State Rep. and two-time mayoral candidate Chris Caruso, former Democratic Town Committee member Andy Fardy, government watchdog John Marshall Lee, 2011 mayoral candidate Mary-Jane Foster and many more, all were in the mix working against the ballot question.

In the African American community, irrespective of recently low elector turnouts, decisions by the people have emotional impact. The no vote coalition, including many city ministers, was 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.

In total roughly $1 million combined was spent to influence the ballot question.

About 52 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for president, with a solid majority responding to the question framed at the top of the paper ballot. The mayor’s ballot question was defeated by a 53 to 47 percent margin.

The no voters saw the defeat of the ballot question as a win for democracy while the mayor, although disappointed in defeat, vowing to make education improvement a legacy of his mayoralty.



  1. Lennie, you left out one of the most respected persons who was involved, Rev. Anthony L. Bennett. Remember it was Rev. Bennett who was writing op-ed pieces on his position against the charter change.

  2. Sandy Hook in Newtown. It’s the horrific story of the year–nationally but is NOT the bloodiest massacre of school children in American history. The deadliest school-related massacre in American history happened in 1927, at an elementary school in Bath, Mich. A school board member named Andrew Kehoe, upset over a burdensome property tax, wired the building with dynamite and set it off in the morning of May 18. Kehoe’s actions killed 45 people, 38 of whom were children.

    1. BOE,
      Thank you for the historical perspective. Kehoe’s actions also ended his own life, created a larger number of injured casualties, and may have been about more than a property tax according to a reading from Wikipedia.

      How do you get from anger over some personal issue that angers you or creates fear of failure to a position where it makes sense to kill the lives of innocents whom you do not know and then end your own life? There may be no answer to this one, but it comes to mind. Time will tell.

      1. I do not know why someone would do these things. I could only guess it is some kind of personal misguided fanaticism centered around a belief they have about religion, politics or public policy. When the article above was first posted the line “The bloodiest gun massacre of school children in American history may be the story of a lifetime.” read “The bloodiest massacre of school children in American history may be the story of a lifetime.” Notice the word ‘gun’ is missing in the original posting. I knew that was an errant statement and just wanted to post the Michigan story for factual clarification.

  3. I supported the no vote. But I am realistic enough to understand we ‘NO’ people would not have been successful if the vote were conducted in a non-presidential year. 52 percent went to the recent presidential polls. We would be lucky to see 15% if the vote were taken in an off year. Most of those 15%ers would be calamarians.

  4. I would add the stories of: the Remington Arms arsons that were a culmination of the Democratic Party’s lack of leadership and Thugocracy, putting DiNardo in ownership and eviction a thriving artist colony there.

    The General Electric Building was another significant event. The shoulders of our industrial might unceremoniously being torn down due to lack of an Economic Development competence and an inflexible tax structure. Both harrowing events. Very significant stories.

    The spectacular arson story of the former NEST Arts Factory, originally the Columbia Records Building historic of the 1880s, with a pathetic lack of intervention by our OPED Office and some nefarious property transfers.

    The other story is there is no story regarding all the vacant acreage on Steel Pointe, Bryant, Congress Plaza, Downtown North, the vacant harbor front, the Theaters, and the former Underwood Typewriter factory site.

  5. My stories are stories that received very little press:
    1. The TIPS program that was developed by local residents and pushed by JML. People can obtain the forms where they can report a crime, give information to a crime and such without giving their name. The form comes addressed to the PD and postage is prepaid. Chief Gaudett has had this information since June and will not publicly comment on the program.
    2. The Budget & Appropriations committee passing of a budget with approximately $4 million in salaries for ghost positions, money which is now being taken out of salary accounts but no one knows where the money is going.
    3. A story on the ineffectiveness of the council. A story where they pass everything put in front of them by the administration even if they don’t understand it.

  6. Perhaps the overall education story in Bridgeport is the BIG STORY.
    1) The State continues to pay about 80% of operating costs and with several capital projects included, 80% of renovation/rebuild and that represents big money to the City for some time to come. Do voters understand large % and increased funding brings greater oversight?
    2) The “interim” educational leader and his team have first talked significant and across the board changes and then have worked to implement within a 12-month period. There has been steady criticism throughout from different sides of the aisle, but day-to-day work continues. Change is difficult, and the amount of change required in Bridgeport makes it more difficult. (As a point of comparison, getting a two-year study completed with funding from State, BRBC and City/BOE took six years. And no one is embarrassed? And is the Gibson report from 2010 the final word, or is there something more recent to be posted as the FINAL WORD on the BRBC site?)
    3) Last spring after hearing him speak 3-4 times with the same energy on the same subject of changes necessary in the School System, I talked with Superintendent Paul Vallas, and shared my hope change would be accompanied (for the benefit of everyone) with Open, Accountable and Transparent governance practices. He indicated this was the way he worked. The numerical and narrative data being regularly offered is an excellent example to the City side of governance of how things can be done, if they desire OATS.
    4) The most public display of the school system is at the BOE meetings that are televised. It will soon become apparent whether challenging goals and objectives can be formulated to which each elected person can devote energy with room for others to contribute. A great deal of disinformation and past dysfunction occurred because of the lack of timely and accurate info, financial, employment, grants, etc. Practicing Open, Accountable and Transparent as a work in progress is helpful to the public. Let’s hope it assists the elected representatives to do their work. Time will tell.


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