Monday, April 19, 2010

BOE Elections: Thoughts

I have been thinking about this year’s school board election all weekend. Some of you already know that I have resigned from my officer role on the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, as well as from my service in helping to prepare forums. I will remain a member, but I can no longer constrain myself from openly supporting the individuals whom I think will best work on the issues facing our district. My choices may not win, but they are my choices. 

I have shared my thoughts on this election with all the candidates collectively as well as individually, and I have told them that I look forward to working with everyone on the goal of making the schools and the city better. I figured, though, that I would pull everything together and do a little blog post for my tiny subscription base (I think there are 35 of you—lol). I will also make a personal phone call on behalf of those whom I support, as is the right of every citizen. Here are my thoughts, edited and modified from the correspondence and commentary from this weekend:

During this election, I served as a volunteer to fill in for the vacant "Voter Service" seat by taking the lead role in organizing and putting together the forum. I remained impartial throughout, in observance of league protocol. I am a private citizen again, and am happy to have my life back. I had hoped that the league forum would allow all interested voters to focus on the issues, not on the personalities.

The climate of this year's school board campaign is unprecedented--actually, I do remember that when one candidate was running a few years ago, a really nasty anonymous flyer appeared attacking him and another candidate—it was really ugly stuff. I thought I had seen it all.

This year, too, my character has been attacked--hate mail is ugly and frightening, and if any of you have ever received it, you know what I am talking about. One candidate did share with me that she had been verbally attacked and has also received hate mail. Another candidate said that this has been quite a learning process, but that she is committed to running again.

I don't know completely where all this anger is coming from, but we need to bring it all down a level. I know that candidates cannot control everything that their partisans do on their behalf and perhaps without their knowledge, but they all bear some responsibility for the overall tone of a campaign. Plainfield resident Alan Goldstein likened the invective to the "tea party" attacks on our president and his supporters.

In all my years on the league, I have only been publicly (verbally) attacked once, by someone for whom the words "New Democrat" are anathema. Aside from that, I have been able to just delete the vicious and anonymous commentary I have received for taking my positions.

I was not originally planning to publicly advocate on behalf of any candidates, but when I see people whom I respect (and with whom I have worked for years on other issues of dire importance to our city) smeared and dragged through the mud in a local school board election, I simply have to set the record straight. I refuse to be intimidated by vicious, anonymous individuals.

Some of the candidates who are running this year have never run for local office before, and I have a feeling that if they knew that they would be the subject of anonymous attacks on their character, they would not have filed petitions--and that is a sad commentary. It will be harder for folks to want to get involved next year.

I requested that the candidates let their supporters (some of whom may have been responsible for the comments directed at me) know that, as a private citizen, I can support and advocate for whomever I'd like. For those who win, I hope that civility and collaboration will reign. For those who don't prevail this year, I hope you will run again next time. I have met some candidates who should certainly consider running next year for one of the 3-year seats.

In the end, though, please know that my choices should not serve as an impetus to demonize me, nor should any of the choices of any of the voters in our city serve to demonize them. We all simply have our own ideas and opinions about which candidates we feel will best serve our children at this very critical juncture. That said, I fully expect to receive more commentary. I will simply delete it, as I have done before.

Many of the BOE candidates whom I have observed over the years don't agree on every issue, nor should they, in my opinion. However, on the core issues that make up their platform, they are able to find common ground and work together to bring their shared vision to the BOE table. 

Whatever happens, however, on Wednesday, I am willing to lend support in whatever way I can to the new board configuration. I will be focusing on my city council run after tomorrow, and if I am elected, I would like an opportunity to serve as the BOE liaison--as an educator, I think I can bring some perspective to the schools (even though I teach at the college level).

All that said, the only incumbent I am supporting for another three-year term this year is Christian Estevez, who has served on the school board for one term. He and I have worked together on a number of local community, labor, immigration, and political initiatives over the past number of years here in Plainfield and in Newark (with the Latino Action Network and the Urban Issues Institute, which operates out of Essex County College, where I teach). Having worked with Chris, I know that he is a good collaborator and that he can be effective. Therefore, I think he deserves an opportunity to serve again. I am also supporting BOE newcomers Mary Burgwinkle and Carmencita Pile—I have worked with them as well. My final vote goes to one of the newcomers to the process. There are other candidates running this year who certainly deserve consideration, and I hope that you will review their respective records and make your choice. Again, I feel that all candidates should be applauded for stepping forward to serve our city.

All best,


P.S. As far as my other affiliations, I am also a member of the New Democrats for Plainfield Democratic Club, the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey Education Association, the League of Women Voters of Plainfield, the Newark-based Urban Issues Institute Steering Committee, the Modern Language Association, and the American Studies, Africana Studies, and English Students Association at the Graduate Center of the City of New York. And now I am off to Elizabeth!

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