Do the people of Newark matter?

Christie to Newark: You don't matter
Christie to Newark: You don’t matter

What the residents of Newark and other cities understandably do not wish to accept is a harsh, basic fact of political life in New Jersey: They do not matter. While Cami Anderson, the much-hated, state-appointed superintendent of city schools, insists her plans to close neighborhood schools and open new charters are supported by all but a vocal minority, that is clearly an artifice she has promoted as a public relations strategy.  Slothful, clueless, and, in the case of The Star-Ledger and NJTV, fawning, media representatives go along with the lie and make it seem real.

The truth, of course, is that the voters of the city of Newark held a referendum on Cami Anderson last May and she lost badly. Despite the expenditure of $5 million by Anderson supporters, despite the candidacy of an articulate and non-threatening Shavar Jeffries, despite a libelous campaign directed against Ras Baraka, the people of the city loudly said “No!” to Anderson and her “One Newark” plan to eliminate, not just neighborhood schools, but viable neighborhoods.

The people spoke but the voice of the people didn’t matter because the people of Newark do not matter politically to the rest of the state.

The expectation was that, after Baraka’s victory, Anderson’s political cred was so worthless that she had to resign. This would be true, certainly, in suburban New Jersey. Indeed, it probably would be true in any place on earth where democracy is treated as a serious form of government. Countlessly over the course of my career, I have seen severely repudiated public officials  step down after such a humiliation with comments like, “I can no longer serve without the support and confidence of the people.”

That’s what happens in the white world. The world outside New Jersey’s cities.

Baraka himself was fooled  by such a reasonable expectation. So were the leaders of the Newark Teachers Union and the New Jersey Education Association, all of whom were convinced Anderson could not withstand such an obvious repudiation. They frittered away the crucially important last weeks of May, during which they could have taken to the streets, because they believed Anderson would leave.

They were conned, gamed, and yes, humiliated.  Shamefully so.

Anderson stayed. Anderson got a new contract. “One Newark,” chaotic as it continues to be, has been implemented and the opportunity to stop it has been lost. The people of Newark lost; their referendum was meaningless. It would have made no difference if the Wall Streeters won and bought the election for Jeffries.

For those with eyes to see, the humiliation represented by Anderson’s success starkly illustrates a reality in the state that few are willing to admit exists and it is this: Most people in the state are perfectly happy with a New Jersey that is made up of relatively affluent and white suburbs surrounding impoverished and predominantly black and brown cities. New Jersey is happy with apartheid in a velvet glove.

It’s a sort of Walt Disney version of apartheid because general beliefs are spouted about how racial isolation and race-based poverty are bad things, but the state is more or less happily led by a governor like Chris Christie, a demagogue in a pin-stripe suit, who embodies the values that ensure the poor stay poor and the people of color remain isolated.

This doesn’t mean that the predominantly white middle class is pleased with their lives but Christie has cleverly diverted their fears, frustrations and insecurities into a resentment of urban residents and of another class of people closely associated with urban life—public employees. Teachers are selfish. Public employee unions are bad for New Jersey.  Public employee pensions—not the failure to tax equitably—are bankrupting the state.

Simple ideas. Simple hatred. Simple resentment.

Newark and other cities are easy targets for demagoguery. No, there won’t be pogroms. There won’t be mass arrests of trade union leaders. We’re so much more civilized than that. But what we have is isolation and disenfranchisement. What we have is deprivation, the cutting off of resources needed desperately by urban schools, urban police forces, urban health care providers. No, not because we openly want to ensure a permanent underclass, but because we simply cannot increase the tax burden, no matter how wealthy the wealthiest become.

So, when Christie announces, “I am a decider”—when he publicly humiliates Ras Baraka by coyly calling this black elected official  “hostile”—he is playing to the resentful audience he helped create. When he wags his finger at the face of a teacher and says he is tired of “you people,” he is channeling the very resentment he incited.

And he is encouraging the maintenance of a state—and state institutions—that are politically tone deaf to the needs and aspirations of the residents of its cities.  The Legislature will not help. The courts are intimidated.  The executive is wholly owned by Christie. The feds—at least on the issue of education—are schizophrenic. The media don’t get it and dismiss such thoughts as “conspiracy theories” although the reality is right there in front of them.

So, specifically, special education children are denied their rights—and no one is there to vindicate those rights. Newark children are fed moldy food and no one in the state outside the city cares.  Kids are made to walk through dangerous neighborhoods and across dangerous streets without crossing guards—and no one in a position to act does anything.  Students do not have books or desks or schedules—and Cami Anderson is praised by the media for her “reforms.”

Would this happen in Pottersville or Evesham or Bernardsville or Oxford or Andover or Green Village? Of course, those people matter.

I am sorry to say this but the people of Newark and their children have ceased to matter politically.

They will continue not to matter as long as they continue to play by the rules established for them by a demagogue like Christie, his allies in the Legislature, the courts and all the rest of those–inside and outside government—who have made the people of the city and their children invisible.

Who are indifferent to the suffering of children.

15 comments

    • booklady

      Called Dist 38 ofc Fri. The SOS link said the Assembly votes 9-29, but it’s NJ Senate vote 9-29 S2264. The Assembly version of bill is A3459; staff told me it doesn’t show on legis. schedule yet.

      • Another staffer

        Maybe it would still be beneficial to vote on the link(?). Although their timing may be off, it’s still sending a message to those representing us and the more who send it, the more power it might have. What do you think?

        • booklady

          AS, if you want to…
          My preference was to call, engage a live person at district office. And I urged him to read Bob BL, Jersey Jazzman, & School Finance 101!

          • Save Our Schools NJ

            S2264 is the correct bill number. The legislation is scheduled for a vote by the full NJ Assembly this Monday. The session begins at 1 pm and S2264 is last on the list of bills to be considered, although the Speaker can change the order.

            Calling your Assembly members would be great but, if you don’t have time to do that, please do click through and at least send an email. More than 1,300 people have done so since Thursday!

            This legislation is awful and the legislators know it. But sometimes they vote their political ambitions and not their conscience. We need to remind them that we are watching and that there are consequences for this vote.

            This legislation would hand responsibility for the education of more than 6,000 Black and Brown children and more than a billion of our tax dollars to two out-of-state charter school chains, with draconian discipline practices.

            S2264 would enable the charter chains – Mastery and Uncommon – to immediately operate renaissance charter schools in Camden, growing to 11 such schools over the next few years that would serve 6,194 of Camden’s publicly-funded students. This would result in large-scale public school closures.

            Yet the people of Camden have had no say in approving these privately-managed schools. In fact, Camden parents filed a lawsuit to stop Mastery and Uncommon.

            Mastery and Uncommon have no experience educating children like those attending Camden public schools.

            The charter schools that Mastery and Uncommon manage in Philadelphia and Newark have many fewer students living in poverty.

            Uncommon’s Newark charter schools also have many fewer students with special needs than Newark or Camden District schools and zero students with limited English proficiency.

            Uncommon’s Newark charter schools have extremely high attrition rates, losing up to 74% of their Black male students and up to 69% of all their male students between 5th and 12th grades. What will that mean for the male students currently attending Camden public schools?

            The Urban Hope legislation, under which Mastery and Uncommon would open 11 renaissance charter schools, is shockingly lacking in financial and educational accountability. It relegates the State-operated Camden district solely to transferring enormous amounts of school funding to these charter chains.

            Aside from a cursory review by the Commissioner of Education every two years, the charter chains also would be exempt from the State accountability and oversight requirements applicable to district and regular charter schools. Instead, responsibility for the education of Camden’s children and the effective and efficient use of hundreds of millions in New Jersey tax dollars would shift to the boards of trustees of the private charter chains. The Urban Hope legislation does not indicate how these organizations would be held accountable for providing a “thorough and efficient” education for Camden’s schoolchildren.

            Please use this link to contact your legislators today!
            http://action.saveourschoolsnj.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=14869

  1. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – this a a brilliant analysis – a concrete illustration of the work of political theorist Sheldon Wolin (Democracy Inc.) who writes about how our Democracy has been hollowed out and we are living in an Oligarchical society he calls “inverted totalitarianism”.

    Writer Chris Hedges calls this a “corporate coup d’etat” – entire communities and places have become “sacrifice zones”. Where incremental reforms are no longer possible because the system is totally broken and control by greedy elites advancing only their own power and privilege.

    But most importantrly, you show the extreme danger of Chris Christie, and how he operates so effectively as a modern demagogue who can do incredible damage.

    I don’t expect the national campaign press corps or the NJ Hometown cheerleaders with press passes writing about any of this, so, please, keep your laser beam focus and keep on writing about hard and painful truths!

    Bob Braun: I don’t know Wolin but I will look him up. I know Hedges personally and he has been a model for my work since I left The Star-Ledger and he, The New York Times. He is a brave and brilliant journalist and I am honored by seeing my name associated with his. Thanks.

  2. DeeplyConcerned

    Christie knows that his standing among his target audience is bolstered by keeping certain “undesirables” in their place, so I have no doubt that this is a deliberate strategy. Even when the NPS student asked him recently when he’d hold a town hall meeting in Newark (honest answer — when hell freezes over), he insulted her for asking such a “ridiculous” question and used it as an opportunity to get in a jab about all the money being poured into Newark. It’s despicable…it’s deeply offensive…and the children of Newark are relevant to him only as pawns in his obsessive quest for power.

  3. Blind Noise

    I must disagree. The people of Newark matter a whole lot politically to Christie and Cami, for all of the reasons you mention. Christie intends to ride on their backs, hearts, and spirits to a Presidential nomination and victory, and Cami wishes to use them to soar to new heights of . . . which adjective was it you used . . . oh yes, *fawning* admiration . . . a Person of the Year in Time is small blighted potatoes. Her “success” in New York did not garner nearly the accolades, position, and pedestal of which she believes herself worthy. Oh, No; Newark residents matter a great deal: as pawns. As political currency. As cogs in the political machinery. As dispensable lives and efforts.
    The most fabulous part of this deal is that you have the shine of “bipartisan” cooperation and collaboration. The liberal savior and the no-nonsense Jersey bully working together to reform those unwilling and unable to reform themselves. Isn’t it just precious? Eventually, fool’s gold slips through one’s fingers, though, and one is left with a pile of dirt . . .

  4. Pingback: Cami Anderson and Chris Christie: Hands Across the Aisle to Destroy Newark | Blind Noise
  5. booklady

    Dear Mr. Braun,
    Wow, the photos of you as a new hire & your colleague in the ghost town SL office in the same week. Many Happy Returns for your Journalist Anniversary! Your dedication and writing inspire us.
    Bob Braun: Thank you. You are kind. When I began with the Ledger, we were competing to take over from The Evening News as the top paper in New Jersey. We succeeded in 1972 and, for 35 years, were one of the largest papers in the nation–ahead even of the Boston Globe. Then a new generation took control of the family operations and we began the spiral downward.

  6. booklady

    1. Do you mean The Paterson Evening News? I remember their paper boys–and only boys had routes then. You must have been gratified to contribute to Star Ledger’s success.
    “Up north,” most families read The Bergen Record as years went by. When I traveled on business in the 80s, it was a treat to read other cities’ newspapers; realized north Jerseyans were less informed because NYC overshadowed our media.
    2. Bob, you address many pressing issues now–but when One Newark is deservedly laid to rest, please write “Where Are They Now?” articles on Star Ledger Scholars. Their accomplishments/impact must be profound. They could fill the vacant Star Ledger building for a reunion.
    Bob Braun: No, The Evening News of Newark. Good idea about the scholars.

  7. booklady

    Oct 2 League of Women Voters is co-sponsoring panel discussion re Common Core Standards, 7PM at Ridgewood Public Library 125 Maple Av. Panelists include President NJ State Board Educ Mark Biedron (& co-Founder The Willow School) and Dr. Sandra Stotsky, reviewer who declined to sign off CCSS ELA.

  8. Unsettled

    Hi Bob, this is on the wrong blog entry, but I wanted to let you know that teachers, aides, child study team members, etc. from a few high schools, including West Side HS, in order to fulfill the deficit in employees at Barringer. Davis Hespe arrived at Barringer HS yesterday, and he might think that he walked into a nicely staffed school, but many of those there are not permanent employees of Barringer. The scamming continues…

  9. mike

    Bob,
    You have to also acknowledge other participants that are to blame for all this besides and as well as Christie: The Democrat Party, the Obama Administration and Arne Duncan and even the people of Newark themselves who are for most part disengaged.

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