Tuesday, June 17, 2008

But this is Newark

When schools open this fall, Newark will have a new Superintendent at the helm. Dr. Clifford Janey will take over for retiring Marion Bolden as head of the state’s largest public school district. Janey seems highly capable but will be tested early. He will need all of our support and he will need to craft working relationships within Newark’s many varied constituencies and interest centers.

Janey emerged the winner in a contest that began with the review of 26 candidates and winnowed down to three finalists, Clifford Janey, Donnie Evans and Ross Danis, for the superintendent post. Janey and Evans are both Black and Danis is White. In an informal ranking, the overwhelming majority of the Superintendent Search Committee had Janey at the top of their list followed by Evans and then Danis. Furthermore Janey was accorded top candidate status by a majority if not all of the members of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board. None of this was secret and clearly found its way to the ears of the Governor. Against this background, it seems reasonable that Janey won the superintendency. While the Governor certainly had the final call, he was not operating without practical constraint. And it would have been virtually impossible for the near inevitability of the Janey selection to fall outside Cory Booker’s intellectual grasp. And while Booker had an opportunity to meet with each finalist, he took no position in favor of any candidate.

But this is Newark. And already folks are jockeying to shape the new superintendent’s perceptions and reality in an effort to favorably position themselves on Dr. Janey’s radar. His, after all, is a powerful position with a large budget. Access is key to power players. And what better way to gain or deny access than to manipulate perceptions.

So it is no wonder that someone planted a story in the “Auditor” section of the Star Ledger last Sunday designed to diminish and sour any influence that Newark Mayor Cory Booker would have with Superintendent Janey. By suggesting publicly that Booker was against Janey, and with a bold stroke aimed at demeaning Booker’s role and point of view in the superintendent selection process, detractors hoped to tarnish the mayor’s reputation on several fronts. It is a flawed strategy destined to fail simply because it does not square with the facts. But this great lie has taken root in some quarters and its masters are doing everything they can to make it viral. We can only hope the truth will provide sufficient inoculation.

The idea of the story was to feed an ongoing strategy to isolate Booker. By pitting him in a struggle with Governor Corzine over the selection of Janey as superintendent, Booker was to be portrayed as against the best interests of Newark school children. It also sought to fan contention between Mayor Booker and Steve Adubato, with whom Booker has had a series of recent dust-ups. Adubato is quoted in the Ledger piece as making a statement that has not been verified and is not likely to be verifiable. Nonetheless, the planted Booker/Corzine/anti-Janey feud story is being peddled all over town and Steve Adubato is now being blamed for it.

According to the story, Booker favored Ross Danis for the job. Steve is quoted as saying of the mayor, “Everybody knows he was with Danis….I don’t think it’s right to have a position and keep it a secret.” Now analyze Steve’s comment. It states a falsehood, accuses the mayor of wrongful behavior and condemns him for harboring a secret. This is pretty powerful stuff. And were it accurate, it might be damning. But it’s just dead wrong.

Put the question of Steve aside for the moment. He did not generate this story. His comments merely capitalized on its existence. There was support for Dr. Danis on the search committee. There was also the idea that Danis could be manipulated to emerge as the ultimate choice while his principal supporters remained hidden. Once it was publicized that Danis was the number three preference of the search committee, this became more complicated. The only possibility of success required making Booker responsible for Danis. That way you get Danis and slam Booker at the same time—hence the “Booker supports Danis” rumors. It was just another “thought-to-be-clever” move among many that surfaced over the selection process.

The “Booker supports Danis” story was circulated for about 3 weeks and generated serious concern in the Governor’s circle. They were assured early on that the assertion lacked credibility. And they were satisfied with those assurances.

But as we know, these things are rarely as simple as they seem. Once mischief-makers had created an opening for destabilization they were emboldened. Their motivation is always “Wedge Driving.” They had a very simple two-step plan: (1) Make the public believe that Booker is for the “White” guy even though he was ranked at the bottom, hopefully driving a wedge between Booker and both the Black and Latino communities; and (2) Signal to Janey that Booker is against his appointment thereby undermining their essential alliance and its unique potential for substantive positive change.

These carefully crafted machinations are, unfortunately, the palliative dispensed by proper people seeking to maintain the status quo. They and their kind are at work all the time. They need the maintenance of a victim class to exist. Strong, independent leadership is not in their interest. The constant manufacture of distraction is a clear strategy to further dependency. We must maintain a proper focus on the goal of creating productive schools with liberating curriculum. Getting caught up in a manufactured Corzine/Booker/Adubato/Janey drama is succumbing to a trick. We have real adversaries and obstacles—and not each other. Sometimes we mistakenly focus on the foil instead of the fault. We are less concerned with what Corzine or Adubato do than what we fail to do. We know the culprits that own this divisive moment and in time so will you.

June 17, 2008

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