Four years ago Democratic political operatives were feeling cheeky toward city Republicans. The Connecticut Working Families, a party split off from Democrats financed largely by labor unions, featured two candidates for Board of Education, Sauda Baraka, a Republican who had a falling-out with local GOP leadership, and newcomer to politics Maria Pereira, a city school parent. The mighty local Dems were going to stick it to the Republicans with a clandestine effort to help elect the WFP candidates to the two state-mandated minority-party slots. Why? All in the name of political extinction. Just about everyone associated with the local Democratic Party apparatus was in on the action. With a wink, a nod and a few absentee ballots too from the Democratic establishment, Baraka and Pereira, who worked hard on the campaign trail, won election. Baraka and Pereira did not wink back, not once they were elected to the school board, anyway.
The decision came back to kick Democratic operatives in their collective cashews. Every now and then if the political atmosphere is angry and the timing is right, insurgents can turn a toehold into a groundswell. That happened last Tuesday, across the city, in every corner–black, white and brown voters alike sent a mighty message to political and government leadership: we don’t like the direction of the city. All the endorsed school board and City Council candidates were defeated.
Would the rancor on the school board the past two years been the same without the election of Baraka and Pereira fanning flames of discontent? Who would have been there to challenge the state takeover of city schools? Who would have built alliances with the insurgent political operatives opposed to the Finch administration and political leadership? Who would have attracted additional support from the Bridgeport Education Association that aided the field operation and the independent expenditure of the Connecticut Education Association that helped finance the case to elect the challengers over the party-endorsed Democrats?
Other groups aided the insurgent cause. For instance, Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport was part of the Tuesday night victory party as well. It was formed early this year to serve as a watchdog over government taxation and spending.
In politics strength builds strength, and for this moment in time at least, a coalition has come together in ways many of its insurgents didn’t comprehend Tuesday night. There wasn’t a lot of gloating Tuesday night. Winners were too stunned by the size of the victory.
State Rep. Jack Hennessy, part of the anti-establishment coalition, was at Winthrop School in the North End for the results when the polls closed at 8 p.m. He was delightfully stunned by the news. The three school board challengers averaged 70 percent of the vote at Winthrop. To quote the late great sports announcer Jack Buck, “I don’t believe what I just saw.”
The results were particularly satisfying for the City Council’s former resident curmudgeon Bob “Troll” Walsh who for years must have felt like a lonely voice in the political night raising questions under his bridge in the West Side 132nd District. Days after the victory Walsh was not gloating, however. He was more interested in keeping the coalition together and looking down the road for its next move. And this raises a question. After supporting the Working Families Party candidates for school board in 2009 what’s the Democratic political establishment’s next move?
The school board challenge slate that won the primary, Andre Baker, Howard Gardner and Dave Hennessey, will be elected to the school board in November. That would make it four anti-Paul Vallas/anti-Finch administration members on the Board of Education. If the Working Families Party wins just one of the two minority-party slots in November it will have coalition control of the school board.
Gee, wonder if the Republican candidates for school board–Joe Larcheveque, John Weldon and Steve Best–are looking pretty good now to the Democratic political establishment?