Campaign Operatives Gear Up For School Board Election Battle

If 2009 is a barometer for this year’s general election for Board of Education and City Council seats, the turnout will be death valley.

In 2009, the last non-mayoral municipal cycle, just 6394 electors out of 67,687 registered voters cast a vote, according to the official results provided by elections officials, representing about a 9.5 percent turnout. The three Democrats elected to the school board, Bobby Simmons, Pat Crossin and Leticia Colon averaged roughly 2,800 votes, with Simmons the highest vote-getter. Maria Pereira and Sauda Baraka, elected on the Connecticut Working Families Party line, received 1909 and 1846 votes respectively. The closest Republican Nate Snow received 1233 votes. The WFP upset the Republicans to claim the state-required minority-party representation seats. The WFP also won another minority-party seat on the school board last year with John Bagley’s election.

But before the general election takes place in November, a potential September Democratic primary for school board is shaping up against endorsed candidates Simon Castillo, Katie Roach Bukovsky and Brandon Clark. Supporters of a challenge slate led by East End City Councilman Andre Baker, former councilman Dave Hennessey and ex council candidate Howard Gardner have fanned out across the city trying to secure more than 2000 signatures of registered Democrats to qualify for the ballot. Bridgeport Education Association Vice President Rob Traber, a seasoned campaign operative, is among those leading the signature drive effort. He’s part of a coalition that includes the BEA, supporters of Connecticut’s Working Families Party opposed to Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas and several political operatives such as  former state senators Ed Gomes and Ernie Newton backing the challenge slate.

By mid/late this week election officials will begin the process of reviewing the petition sheets for approval. Primary petitions must be filed by 4 p.m. this Wednesday. Certified signatures from five percent of registered Dems are required. If the challenge slate qualifies for the primary–and it should–it’s game on. They should have bodies and money for the task to put their candidates in play.

Campaigns require support from dear old MOM–money, organization and message. In primaries a premium is place on identifying friends and dragging them to the polls.

Two years ago when Bill Finch defeated Mary-Jane Foster in a Democratic primary for mayor, the turnout was 22 percent with the campaigns spending more than a half million dollars combined. The mayor is not up for reelection this cycle.

In recent history ticket-leading school board races have not inspired voters. The special election for school board last September ordered by the Connecticut Supreme Court that overturned state takeover of city schools, was a miniscule 5.5 percent, albeit the day after Labor Day.

Political operatives are assessing the potential primary turnout to help them identify the number they need to deliver their candidates; for instance if the turnout for a higher-profile mayoral primary was 22 percent two years ago, when roughly 9,200 Dems voted, is it reasonable to project a turnout of 12 to 15 percent, or 5000 to 6000 voters?

Some of this depends on how hard the Democratic establishment works its absentee ballot operation on behalf of the endorsed candidates. This is a key election for Mayor Bill Finch who last November saw his charter revision proposal for a mayoral appointed school board defeated by voters. If the challenge slate, assuming ballot approval, wins the primary the Working Families Party will likely achieve its goal of coalition control of the school board.

If ticket diversity matters to some voters, the endorsed candidate slate features a Hispanic male, African American male and a white women, the challenge slate two African American males and a white male.

Mark your calendar September 10. If the challenge slate qualifies for the ballot it should be a compelling race.



  1. 6,394 votes and oh remember in 2009 I was the 622 voter who cast a ballot at Black Rock School that day around 5. Sounds like this race will be won or lost in Black Rock if 622 votes are being cast at one polling site.

  2. It’s a pity all of the brain-dead apathetic registered voters in Bridgeport who do not vote in primaries or general elections don’t read OIB. This posting frightens me because once again the primary will determine those who are elected in November. The Calamarians depend on the fact voter turnout is so low. Actually, the vast majority of people who vote, vote as they are told. Plus La Diabla Lydia Martinez further skews election results with controversial absentee barrages.

    The true pity of it is OIB is the absolute only venue where voter turnout is addressed. Jim Buchanan never mentions it and the Connecticut Post ignores it completely.

    Unless the challenge candidates can figure out a way to get the apathetic to the polls, we are condemned to what appears to be perpetual Calamarian control. This will certainly lead to Detroit-like conditions with Detroit-like results.

    1. I might remind you the people working for the challenge slate are the same people who defeated Mayor Finch’s attempt to get rid of the elected Board of Ed. And really Lennie … “operatives” and what does that make all the people from Excel who shout down anyone with whom they disagree.
      My bet is the challenge slate will do very well and may very well knock off one or maybe all of the endorsed candidates.

  3. The Challenge slate really dropped the ball by not putting any Puerto Ricans on their ticket. It seems this is a test to see how Mr. Baker would fair in a citywide election.

      1. What is Baker and Company’s reason for running for the BOE? Doesn’t seem like any of them have any useful school-related experience or expertise to offer. Just a bunch of men who don’t like Finch. This is supposed to be about the kids, not about settling political scores!

        1. Andre Baker is running because he has a young son for whom he wants a quality education. He has been a voice for Bridgeport taxpayers (who are parents of schoolchildren in Bridgeport). David Hennessey has taught in the Bridgeport schools for more than three decades and in his spare time coached Bridgeport kids in sports. Howard Gardner is an entrepreneur who has been actively involved in the community for decades.
          Good idea to take your tsk, tsks and go back to the Mayor’s office. Now there is a guy who has a problem with women …

        2. What is Castillo and Company’s reason for running for BOE? Doesn’t seem like any of them have any useful school-related experience or expertise to offer. Just a hand-picked bunch of Finch lovers. This is supposed to be about the kids, not about MONEY or School Construction Contracts, Flat-funding the BOE for four years, Controlling School Jobs.

    1. Maybe that is because Finch is dishonest, Finch has been a poor mayor, Finch instead of trying to fix public education is trying to disband it in favor of for-profit education that has been a failure for any city where it has been applied. It is no accident you see charter schools in distressed urban areas and not affluent suburbs, the affluent suburbs would never stand for it.

    2. anna,
      I agree, Finch doesn’t have a problem with women. He has a problem with people with brains and courage no matter what their gender, race or ethnicity might be.

        1. BRG,
          As you are a disembodied voice from afar, you seem more of a match for a “great Oz” characterization than others commenting on OIB, no? 🙂

          Seriously BRG, if you feel strongly about something this election and going forward, e-mail your thoughts to members of the Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport (CW4BB) group, including David Walker, at

          As a member of CW4BB who is a registered Democrat, I want you to know I share your disgust in the abysmal status quo of the Finch administration and its ever-expanding catalog of gross incompetence and willful ignorance of the standards of good governance, including integrity, transparency and accountability.

  4. *** If not enough political advertisement and info concerning the status quo and the change that’s needed to help turn things around is put out to the voters, it will be a dark outcome! ***


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