The September 10 Democratic primary for Board of Education is the battle royal of elections because so much is on the line for policy-setting control of the largest chunk of the municipal budget overseeing roughly 20,000 students. Absentee ballots may decide this primary between a slate of three endorsed Dems and three insurgent challengers with independent campaign expenditures flooding into the city.
The Town Clerk’s Office charged with processing absentee ballot applications and the actual ballots is in overdrive trying to accommodate a blizzard of requests from folks who claim they cannot make it to the polls. Such is life in the state’s largest city where absentee ballot activity is a product of pols seeking an edge. It’s likely at least 10 percent of electors casting a vote in the primary will come via absentee ballot. Yes, that percentage runs far ahead of most municipalities.
The primary features endorsed candidates backed by the city’s political establishment challenged by opponents supported by leadership from the Bridgeport Education Association representing unionized school workers and the Connecticut Working Families Party that has elected three of nine members to the school board. The opposition slate also has pockets of support from disaffected Democratic political operatives.
Come September 10 the party-endorsed names Kathryn Bukovsky, Simon Castillo and Brandon Clark will appear on the top line; challengers Andre Baker, David Hennessey and Howard Gardner on the second line. The candidates are knocking on doors, making phone calls and reviewing mail plans. But sometimes these local elections are decided outside the purview of the candidates by folks the candidates have never met. How could that be? Sometimes it’s better not to know who’s capable of processing a few hundred votes via absentee ballot. Paging Sergeant Schultz: “I know nothing! I see nothing! I hear nothing!”
We also now live in the world of the independent expenditure courtesy of the United States Supreme Court. This is where political operatives–and both sides have them–maneuver to put candidates they support over the top or sink the ones they oppose with a surge of outside money. It’s all legal, as long as what’s being communicated to the voter is not “coordinated” between supporters (or opponents) of the candidate committee and the outside organization. What does that mean? You can advocate and spend what you want on behalf of candidate(s) you support–or oppose–provided it’s not made in consultation with the candidate(s) or authorized committee.
Last November the money spent to influence how school board members are chosen broke records for a city general election. Voters decided, in a City Charter amendment question, they prefer to continue to elect Board of Education candidates rather than authorize the mayor to appoint them. Come September 10, this primary will also break records for the amount of money expended in a school board race.
And the number of absentee ballots (or not) processed by workers in the Town Clerk’s Office could very well decide the results of this primary.