What? No Political Hacks! These School Board Candidates Ruining Our Campaign Fun

Dem BOE ballot
September 10 Dem BOE ballot. Vote for any three.

Monday night Gabrielle Parisi, an organizer for the community action group Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport that hosted a candidates forum at the Bridgeport Public Library Downtown, observed all the school board candidates addressing the public featured solid credentials. She’s right. The six Democrats running in a September 10 primary for Board of Education aren’t exactly political hacks. There was no drama at the Monday night forum. The candidates presented strong professional backgrounds with extensive involvement in neighborhoods and schools. Over the course of the next few weeks campaign operatives of the respective camps will beg to differ, but that’s the nature of the political beast.

The Democratic Town Committee throughout the years has endorsed–and elected–some dubious candidates for school board, but the notion it cannot select independent-minded school board candidates is a fallacy. Max Medina, who served selflessly on the school board for years, is one example of a Democratic-endorsed school board member unencumbered by the wishes of the party apparatus. So too Bobby Simmons, who has decided not to seek reelection this year. Last year Jacqui Kelleher, a professor at Sacred Heart University, won a school board seat endorsed by the DTC. What’s her connection to the political establishment? She’s a new face not connected to the party organization.

It’s also a fallacy endorsed Democrats for school board cannot be defeated in a primary. In 2007, Democratic-endorsed incumbent Auden Grogins was defeated in a primary by Dolores Fuller. Grogins, by the way, one year later defeated Democratic-endorsed incumbent Bob Keeley, the longest-serving legislator in city history, in a State House primary. In 1999, a school board challenge slate called Education First won a majority on the machine count against the endorsed candidates that survived by absentee ballots.

One year prior in 1998, Paul Ganim defeated the Democratic-endorsed candidate Kevin Boyle in citywide primary for judge of probate. In recent years other endorsed Democrats were not ballot successful in several races. Tom McCarthy, today City Council president, was the endorsed candidate in his primary loss several years ago to State Rep. Jack Hennessy. Last August Andres Ayala defeated Democratic-endorsed Ernie Newton and incumbent Ed Gomes in a primary for State Senate.

On September 10 endorsed Democrats for school board Katie Bukovsky, Simon Castillo and Brandon Clark will be challenged by Andre Baker, Dave Hennessey and Howard Gardner. Both slates will be well financed to make their case to electors, identify friends and drag them to the polls. The three top vote-producers from the two lines will go on to the general election.

By the way, Republicans and Connecticut Working Families Party have endorsed their own candidates who are also credentialed for the November general election. Republican and WFP candidates will duke it out to claim two state-required minority-party seats among the five open slots.

Good candidates don’t always make effective public officials and mediocre candidates can sometimes surprise when they get into office. There’s a growing sense in political circles, however, too much is on the line with the future of city schools to allow party hacks to control the day.

If the group of Democrats running for school board from both slates have any baggage it’s not readily apparent. In time we’ll see.



  1. Lennie–Plenty of hacks in this race and especially those behind the slick banner ad for the endorsed Democratic slate! Same people who heavily backed the failed charter change and wanted to take away our right to vote!!! Click through the banner and really see what these candidates are about.

  2. DTC-endorsed BOE candidate Mr. Brandon Clark was a featured spokesperson for Mayor Finch’s failed takeover of the BOE.

    Here’s the link to that deceptive “I’m voting ‘Yes'” postcard:
    www .residentsforabetterbridgeport.com/mail/mail2.pdf

    Mr. Clark’s words on the mailer:

    “As a teacher, I have seen true progress in Bridgeport Public Schools in the last 10 months since we started changing the school system and building new schools. There’s still more work to be done, but we are making a real difference in improving Bridgeport Public Schools.” [On other side of flyer]: “I’m voting YES on Question 1 because I believe in continuing the progress that has begun under Mayor Finch.”–Brandon Clark.

    First, why didn’t Clark clearly disclose his professional position? He’s been employed by a Bridgeport charter school since 2010, according to his speech at the Citizens Working for a Better Bridgeport public forum on Monday, Aug 19. It’s like being a Pepsi executive trying to get on the board of Coca-Cola.

    Second, why did Clark go out and promote the mayor’s takeover of the school board last year? And now that that folly failed, Clark would like to join us down here in our democracy to get our votes to elect him to the Board of Ed. Really?

    Mayor Finch used every trick in the book to try to take over the BOE … selling the vote as “Yes” for continuing educational progress (a vast majority of us would be for that, right?) … and Brandon Clark appears to have gone right along. No surprise then he gets the DTC endorsement.

    Thank goodness, the voters said “No” … to a bureaucratic top-down takeover then … and now the voters need to stand up again and say “No” to Mr. Clark.

    Final thought on CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Mr. Clark’s statements and background make him already better than the worst of the worst elements on the BOE now. However, like Kenneth Moales–the BOE chair and treasurer of the Re-Elect Finch campaign–Mr. Clark, if elected to the BOE, would be very hard pressed if not completely unable to separate his official duties as a member of the BOE–including his fiduciary responsibility to Bridgeport taxpayers–from the political meddling of Mayor Finch. And then add to that his needing to separate his employment at a Bridgeport charter school from helping oversee a public school system charter schools compete with. That’s plainly unacceptable. It’s a shame Brandon Clark can’t see this and do what’s right.

    1. Where are all the people who complain about conflicts of interest on the City Council? Mr. Clark works for a charter school. Yet no would think of running someone who is currently employed by the Board of Ed. This seems to put the claim that Charter schools are really public schools into the realm of fantasy. And considering these schools despite their organization as essentially private institutions take public funding be it federal state or local, Mr. Clark certainly has a very personal financial stake in this beyond that of a taxpayer or parent.

  3. Lennie, your contention Bob Keeley lost to Auden despite being endorsed by the Democrats is a little misleading because yes they endorsed him but then they supported Auden behind the scenes.

    1. Why would Democratic Town Chair Mario Testa vote to break a tie to endorse Keeley and then turn around and help Grogins? Mario campaigned for Keeley because he thought Keeley would win. Elements of the party (Finch et al.) did back Grogins, but she defeated the endorsed candidate, proving it can be done.

      1. Elements of the party? Please Lennie, most of the people in BR I know who are with the party establishment were backing Auden over Bob so she was hardly an underdog candidate going against the machine. She was running against an endorsed candidate, yes, but one who no longer had the support of the very people who endorsed him. Does it make sense? Except for the fact Bob was the incumbent … no … but when did anything in Bridgeport politics make sense?
        That is what makes it more fun than trying to figure out Russian politics … so mysterious … LOL

        1. BRG, how was Auden Grogins able to defeat the longest-serving legislator in city history? Because she put her name on the ballot? No. She put the work in. Keeley had no problem accepting the town committee endorsement. Why did he accept it?

          1. I am not saying she didn’t campaign hard. She was supported heavily by party regulars in Black Rock. And why shouldn’t Keeley have accepted the endorsement, he was the incumbent. The town committee doesn’t speak for all Democrats, and not all members of the Town Committee are with the machine. As you are well aware, occasionally there are primaries for Town Committee and sometimes dissidents get elected. That doesn’t make them part of the machine.

          2. Keeley had 20 years in the State House to build up prestige with voters. Party regulars did not elect Grogins. Voters elected Grogins. She ran well in Black Rock, the West End and the West Side. She ran well in Keeley’s back yard. Why did Keeley lose?

          3. Party regulars certainly made a difference. They went out and asked people to vote for Auden. They had the shoe leather out and in Bridgeport that makes a big difference.
            And all too frequently it is the machine.

        2. What is amazing to me is the idea the DTC is a group that is united. As I understand it, there is and has been for years a real internal power struggle. I have worked with Auden on more than one piece of legislation over the last few years and I have found her to be focused on her voters’ requests and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead if she knows her voters have expressed needs or wants that are in the best interest of the community. If she were so favored and in lockstep with Finch and the “machine” I doubt she would have co-sponsored or lobbied so hard for HB-5724 conflict of interest bill. On a side note, the statewide votes were there to pass this but our two Senators and representative Santiago (a city employee) got it stopped in committee. Voters in Black Rock and Brooklawn seem to understand the importance of getting to know the candidate and vote according to the qualifications, regardless of the DTC endorsement. What makes Black Rock so special and effective, we vote and we talk to our elected officials on a regular basis. Auden is available by phone, text and email, is responsive and thoughtful in her responses. So if the local citizens supported her, including the members of the local DTC, it is and was with good reason. I was new to Black Rock when she ran and had a Keeley sign on my door (at the request of a school carpool parent and Black Rock DTC pol)–thank goodness that sign did not tip the vote! As a registered Republican, Auden’s sign was the only sign in my yard the last election cycle.

  4. Lennie, I believe your parents misnamed you because whenever I read one of these Blog Spots (BS for short), I find myself shouting JESUS Grimaldi rather than Lennie Grimaldi.
    Don’t Bogart that joint my friend. Pass it around so we can all look at the Bridgeport political point of view from the same angle you are seeing it.
    You point about Max Medina and Bobby Simmons as proof the DTC encourages independence among their elected officials, I am sure Mario would point to them as examples of DTC mistakes that were not worth the fight to undo the mistake as long as they nominate water boys for the other spots.
    Show me some real examples of where the three endorsed candidates have stood up to the powers that be and fought for something they believe in that runs contrary to what the mayor or Mario want.

    1. Bob, I almost spit out my coffee I was laughing so hard.
      You are absolutely right. Whenever an endorsed candidate goes against what they want they get the knives out, and then bring in supposed challenge candidates.
      The machine cares less about the Democratic Party or any ideology as much as they care about their own personal interests. They like to talk about loyally supporting the endorsed candidate but then stick the knife in when a primary winner is not who they endorsed. Expect the same behavior with a victory by some or all of the challenge candidates, which is a huge possibility this time.

  5. Oh, horsefeathers!

    Let’s just mangle our web padrone’s essay a little bit to state the real facts of the matter:

    The Democratic Town Committee got away with endorsing the flavor-of-the-month for decades to satisfy one interest group or another that had little to do with public education of children. The leaders figured enough Republicans would get elected for a sane majority that would still be flexible enough to manage the school system in their self-styled real world.

    This was upset by the Working Peoples Party, and in particular by those individuals who were not going to take plantation-style management of the schools no matter how impolite they sounded or what kind of ruckus it caused.

    Everyone has been scared straight.

    For now.


    1. Long-tooth sage, did you not read this part of my electronic-graffiti essay? “There’s a growing sense in political circles, however, too much is on the line with the future of city schools to allow party hacks to control the day.” Party chief Mario Testa, generally loathe to pols who don’t see things his way, has even come around on selection of school board candidates. It was Mario, ironically, who wanted Bobby Simmons–not exactly a party toe-the-liner–to become president of the school board following Simmons’ 2009 reelection. Mario’s maneuverings failed. Why? Because he doesn’t control the school board votes as he did in the old days. Why? Not as many hacks.

      1. Moales, who is also Finch’s campaign treasurer, certainly fits the term nicely and given the fact he is Board Chairman, not an insignificant one either.

  6. These guys aren’t worried about too much being on the line, they are worried about too short a rope.

    The Bridgeport way is never to do it the right way until all else has failed. Just to be sure, they do it the wrong way a dozen times over.

  7. I heard the three candidates this morning on WPKN as I was zooming southbound on 15 to visit my mother (I’m a good girl). One of them mentioned Vallas intends to do benchmark testing every six weeks for every subject. I almost creamed into a tree.

    Who said that, and is it true?

    1. Yes, it is true there will be benchmark testing every six weeks. This testing will no doubt disrupt the academic process, just like when CMT prep starts. Teachers stop everything to get test practice in. Thankfully you didn’t hit the tree.

    2. I am a bit confused as to why this is bad; please help me understand. In the old days we had a weekly quiz, chapter tests, midterm tests, a final test and usually a semester lab or essay report, which is what our grades were based on, so why is testing every six weeks on every subject a shocking or bad thing? I need to update my education, and appreciate your help and guidance. Also, if we have core curriculum set by the Federal Government (or State) then would not practice tests be a good thing to measure comprehension and be able to supplement any shortage in teaching the subjects?

  8. *** Just my observation, but in general all these BOE primary candidates are “not bad picks” at all! Careful consideration to personal detail and party loyalties must be given to all, young and old for the positive changes in education interested voters seek. *** POLITICAL AND EDUCATIONAL HOMEWORK A MUST ***


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