Citizens and community leaders in Bridgeport rallied on Stratford Avenue to defeat a city ballot question that will remove Bridgeport residents’ right to vote for members of the Board of Education. Crowding the modest campaign office on Stratford Avenue, supporters, including members of Protect our Voting Rights Coalition, cheered under a large “VOTE NO” window sign as community leaders spoke to the crowd.
Protect Our Voting Rights Coalition, consisting of local citizens and activists, is urging city residents to vote “no” on the ballot question. Voters’ approval or rejection of the ballot questions will determine their future right to elect members of the Board of Education. The group asserts that the right to vote on city matters should not be taken away from voters under any circumstance.
The headquarters, located at 1242 Stratford Ave., will be used to engage voters one-on-one over the next month until Election Day. The group will be making phone calls and knocking doors to family, friends and neighbors to defeat the ballot question on Nov. 6.
At the rally, Jehan Abduraheem spokesperson for the organization EMPOWER, said: “This nation was built on the basis that we the people decide with our vote. If we allow this to happen, what is going to stop them from taking over the City Council?”
The crowd gathered in a congested room. One by one, community leaders, elected officials and former candidates expressed their discontent with the question that will be on the ballot. Bob Walsh, a former City Council member, said: “Shame on us if we let anybody to turn the clock back.”
Scott Hught a city library employee, spoke about his experience a few years ago when a group of residents unified to get a question on the ballot to get funding for the library.
Former state legislator and candidate for the state Senate, Ernie Newton showed a lot of emotion telling the crowd how hard in the past people fought to get the right to vote. Incumbent Sen. Ed Gomes, who recently lost the Democrat primary to Andrés Ayala to represent the 23rd Senate District in the next election, said he is opposed completely to the question. He encouraged the crowd to join together visiting friends and relatives and tell them to vote “no” on the question.
In his remarks, Max Medina, chairman of the movement, said: “I know people from Greenwich who hold hedge funds that are interested in education reforms in Bridgeport. I would advise them to take over the Board of Education in Greenwich. If we lose this, they will be coming back for more,” he ended.”
Andres Ayala, who will be in the ballot in November, was not at the rally, nor did he return calls from the Independent to express his position on the matter. Historically Ayala has always aligned with the city’s political establishment. The consensus is that he will side with the administration because Mayor Finch supported him in his campaign for the state Senate.
Sauda E. Baraka and John Bagley, members of the Board of Education and Working Families Party, were at the rally and oppose the question.
Many people at the rally said the matter has nothing to do with improving education in Bridgeport. They said the idea is to get control of the approximately $250 million allocated to the city’s Education Department. Ralph Ford, a Town Committee district leader said to the crowd that normally in this country there are two ways to get things done — with money or with people. He said: “They have the money; we have to get the people”. Councilmen Andre Baker and James Holloway also were present at the rally.
Recently Mayor Finch appointed a five-member commission to review the City Charter. At the end, the commission recommended placing the question that will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. The City Council as well approved the question.
John Gomes, a candidate for mayor in last year’s mayoral election, said in an interview with the Fairfield County Independent that if the mayor wants real reform, he would appoint an impartial commission to review the City Charter-and would ask the citizens whether they think the City Council should include people from other parties. Jeff Kohut, candidate for mayor in the 2011 election, also supports the “no” movement.