Hey everyone, say hello to Barbara Bellinger, new president of the Board of Education.
Bellinger was elected BOE president by her peers Monday night. Who’s Barbara Bellinger? She’s a retired vice president of People’s Bank, a resident of Brooklawn, and a breast cancer survivor who was one of the driving forces behind the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center at Bridgeport Hospital. Barbara’s been active in city education issues for decades. She graduated from Howard University and received a master’s degree in education from Southern Connecticut State University. She is the widow of George Bellinger, a prince of a guy who owned the electronics firm Bar-Pat Manufacturing in the West End, and was a student of African-American history in Connecticut.
Barbara is smart, organized and not afraid to express an opinion. She’s the kind of person that will make business interests feel more comfortable about education standards in the city.
How will Barbara play politically? Too soon to say. Although a Democrat, she’s not a Bridgeport political player, but that’s not to suggest she cannot be sensitive to political realities in dealing with the largest department budget in the city. This is a crucial budget cycle for Mayor Bill Finch as wage increases for city police officers kick in starting the July 2010 budget year, while he must wait on all those revenue unknowns decided by state government.
Interesting that Finch and Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa couldn’t stitch together five votes between them. Or maybe they couldn’t reach a compromise? The nine-member BOE chooses its leader. Finch’s first choice for BOE president was Leticia Colon who left the City Council to run for BOE at the urging of her political godfather South End District Leader Mitch Robles. Mario’s choice was veteran BOE member Bobby Simmons who’s not enamored with Superintendent of Schools John Ramos. But Mario’s not best of buds with Robles. Yes votes from Colon and former City Councilman Pat Crossin would have been enough to make Simmons president.
Crossin, a Finch supporter, and Leticia ended up voting for Bellinger. Leticia was voted vice president and Pat got what he wanted, chair of the BOE finance committee. Crossin had that role for many years on the City Council.
Former Democratic Town Chair John Stafstrom, a neighbor of Bellinger, had a hand in lining up votes for Bellinger.
How does the mayor fit into all of this? The mayor isn’t crazy about Ramos, and he wants a larger say in how the BOE budget is built. That’s where Crossin can help. But most BOE members end up being advocates for school spending rather than spending reformers. The mayor will make an effort at working with Bellinger and she’ll do the same. In a few months, come nuts and bolts of budget time we’ll know a lot more.
A Bridge To Vote
From The Connecticut Post:
Maria Pereira, a newly elected member of the Board of Education and former William Street resident, said in the early 1990s she would walk across the span five days a week on her way to the train station to get to her job in Manhattan. “This is a disgrace,” Pereira, who now lives on Ezra Street, said of the broken bridge. “This would never be tolerated in Black Rock or the North End.”
I’ve met Maria who won a BOE seat on the Working Families Party line. She seems like a nice person and well intentioned. She raises an interesting point about the Congress Street Bridge that will cost a fortune to tear down and replace. But there’s a reason pols would be more receptive to issues facing Black Rock and the North End. Electors there vote in higher numbers. The power of the vote moves elected officials in strange ways. That stuck-open bridge will be taken down. The larger question: when will it be replaced to reconnect the East Side with downtown? Anyone got $40 or $50 million? But, taking it down is a good start. As for the East Side (not to be confused with the Upper East Side), the bigger the voter turnout the bigger the attention from pols.