Christie humiliates Baraka in a Newark school filled with African-American students. Christie’s appointees who run the schools preside over the lead poisoning of Newark school children. A letter to Christie from Baraka begging for money for the public schools results in a paltry $2 million for public school children—but $24 million going to mostly white-operated charters. The response? An embarrassing silence. What the hell has happened to the people of Newark?
Some supporters of Donald Trump in Cleveland yell, “Go back to Africa!” at black protesters at a Trump rally. In New Jersey, another supporter of this candidate of white supremacists had his own way of expressing what he feels about African-Americans. In a Newark charter school, North Star Alexander, filled with black children and television cameras, that supporter, Gov. Chris Christie, threatens to “run over” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and calls him a man with an “attitude.”
Christie did everything but say the “N” word aloud–but many here and elsewhere could hear it anyway. What Christie, New Jersey’s Great White B’wana, did in Newark that day was a symbolic lynching, an attempted political castration, of the most prominent black elected official in the state.
And Christie did it in front, not just of television cameras, but in front of black children.
Why did the governor insult and threaten Baraka? Because the mayor warned that Christie’s continued expansion of charter schools in Newark would be “irresponsible” because the money for that expansion–public, taxpayer money–would have to be taken from traditional public schools. The district already is up to $75 million in the hole.
Apparently, Christie thought Baraka did not know his place–and, to Christie, a supporter of a white supremacist-based presidential candidate, a black mayor’s place is not to speak up and criticize a white governor trying to destroy the public schools for his friends in the white-operated charter movement.
No one has said it better than Jonathan Alston, a gifted Newark teacher and talented writer, who noted all Baraka had done to reach an accommodation with Christie, only to be publicly belittled. Alston published this on his Facebook page:
“It’s not over yet. It is very clear that the Mayor really reached out to Christie and acted in good faith. He risked alienating many who supported him by working closely with people he disagreed with. He compromised on the unity ticket, he purchased school property for Newark. It is also now very clear that the governor – home from a failed presidential run and off an even more humiliating endorsement of Trump – is taking extra care to clear all the thick, yellow phlegm from his throat before spitting in our Mayor’s face. I really don’t see Ras Baraka being okay with wiping Chris Christie’s snot off of his face, especially because Baraka is correct on the substance of the fight. The expansion of charter schools is destroying even the best of Newark’s Public Schools. I believe that there will be a series of responses and maybe – because he reached out so hard – he will have a few more people listening.”
And consider this. When Christie was stripping away at Baraka’s dignity in front of black children at North Star Alexander, the white leaders of the charter school chain, said and did nothing. They let it happen. So did state and political leaders like state Education Commissioner David Hespe, state Sen. Teresa Ruiz and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.
What cowards. What sycophants. They let it happen. They were part of the political lynch mob.
Oh, but there is so much more to Christie’s racist rant in a city that should be the center of black resistance to such paternalistic and racist behavior from outsiders who live in places like Montclair, Mendham, and Montgomery.
Christie assaulted Baraka’s dignity on Monday. Just a few days earlier, on Thursday, Christie’s agent running the Newark schools, Christopher Cerf, already knew lead-tainted water had been found in a number of traditional public schools. Cerf didn’t reveal it until after the contamination was exposed on this site Wednesday, a week later.
Better to let black and brown and poor children drink tainted water for a few more days than to embarrass Christie at North Star.
Baraka and Cerf held a joint press conference and the mayor, despite his treatment by Christie, was restrained about the crisis facing the public schools. He tried to assure Newark residents that city water was not tainted. Somehow, the water became contaminated inside the schools.
Then the Newark Teachers Union unearthed a 2014 memorandum that showed Cerf’s predecessor, protégé and hiree, Cami Anderson, knew of possible lead contamination as early as August, 2014. It called on schools to “flush” their water fountains and sinks–but it gave no real advice as to how badly the water was tainted.
But Christie didn’t just spit on Baraka. He just didn’t preside over the contamination of the water in the public schools. The governor insulted all the people in Newark by dismissing their demands to have their voting franchise restored, trifling with their right to control even just a little bit of their destiny. For more than 20 years, serious men and women have sought to regain the franchise denied to them by the state takeover of their public schools in 1995.
Because Newark’s mayor said it was “irresponsible” for Christie to expand charter school in Newark, the governor said he would have to “rethink” his promise to return the district to local control.
Baraka has to shoulder some of the blame for what has happened. For whatever reason, the mayor thought he could make a deal with the governor. Baraka thought he could trust Christie. Whether that was naievete or hubris, no one knows.
The governor’s deal with Baraka dates back to the beginning of Christie’s presidential campaign last spring. Exactly what the deal was, exactly who promised what to whom, will probably never be known.
But we know the results. Cami Anderson, the state-appointed school superintendent, was replaced by Christopher Cerf. Christie made a vague promise that local control would be returned. The Baraka-backed demonstrations against the state ended. Leaders of the anti-state coalition–Mary Bennett of the Newark Alliance for Public Education; Grace Sergio, a parent leader who led the fight to save Hawthorne Avenue School, and Jose Leonardo, the charismatic leader of the Newark Students Union–were named to a board called the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB) that was supposed to find a “road map” to local control. The committee was dominated by Cerf and pro-charter appointees of the governor. The members are forbidden to speak publicly–and, since its creation last summer, have had only one public meeting. The NESB was the instrument needed to keep down criticism of Christie.
Baraka and Cerf started working together, appearing together, praising each other. Baraka built relationships with the charter supporters in the city, the very people who tried to defeat him in the 2014 election. Baraka endorsed a board slate with pro-charter members. But two more important events happened–Baraka and Cerf joined to establish community schools in the South Ward and the pair wrote a letter begging Christie for $36 million in “transitional aid” to help plug a whole in the district budget.
The Baraka/Cerf letter was extraordinary. The mayor pledged to support both the expansion of charter schools and the reduction of funds to traditional public schools. He wrote that “all agree that they”–charter schools–“are and will remain a significant part of the educational landscape in Newark.” More than that, he said charter schools “are on track for continued growth.” Baraka said the district will “evolve to one with an increasingly diverse array of magnet, traditional and charter public schools.”
Then Baraka, with Cerf, wrote: “As a result, at least in the short term, traditional public schools should bear a disproportionate share of fixed costs, significantly reducing the amount each school has available to spend.”
Yes, we know Baraka has never been against charter schools. Even during the campaign, he insisted he would support charter school parents. But this letter went way beyond that. In the midst of a public school budget crisis, Newark’s mayor, elected by supporters of public education, promises to support the expansion of charter schools at the expense of taking funds from public schools.
This site criticized the letter as a sellout. In a video, Baraka denounced me by name as a “supremacist.”
But the real white supremacist in New Jersey–a man with power because he is the governor–had his own plans for his new partner in Newark. First Christie gives the city, not $36 million, but $26.7 million, with all but $2 million going to charter schools.
Then, through state Education Commissioner David Hespe, Christie orders the creation of two new charter schools in Newark and the expansion of seven others. Within a few years, it is clear, Newark will be a predominantly charter school district–and local control of a few public schools, stripped of their resources, will be meaningless.
Baraka objected, despite the willingness he expressed in the letter to allow expansion of charter enrollment. The mayor clearly did not believe the governor would move so quickly to expand the charter schools–and to expand them so much. That’s when Baraka called the move “irresponsible”–and that’s when Christie spit on Baraka. Humiliated him in front of black children. Christie wanted to tell Newark who the boss-man really is.
Christie’s behavior is simply revolting–racist, paternalistic, castrating. But Baraka’s is puzzling. Some say the mayor is putting aside his own feelings for the good of the city–forcing himself to work with people like the charter operators, Shavar Jeffries, even Cerf himself because, in the end, they have the money and the influence and he does not. But he must know that, while they will accept Baraka’s help in the short term, the money behind charters–people like billionaire hedge-fund manager and school privatizer David Tepper–will abandon Baraka as soon as they have a chance.
A slightly different version of that says Baraka’s early ally, Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, has persuaded Baraka to play nice with Tepper and other money men at least until after Fulop runs next year for governor. If Fulop wins, this version goes, Newark gets local control, Baraka has a friend in the Statehouse, Fulop keeps a billionaire backer in Tepper–and it’s all good.
All good, that is, except for the public schools.
And, if there is any question about the future of what will be left of the Newark public schools, the poisoning of its children’s water under state supervision should have answered that. What is left of the Newark school district will be a collection of magnet schools on their way to becoming charters, joined with a collection of “community” schools, also on their way to charter status–like Brick Academy. Privatized, outsourced schooling for some.
And, for the rest? A collection of under-resourced, neglected public schools serving the neediest of children. Eventually, even that will probably disappear, just as the New Orleans public schools all disappeared. All.
And, in response to this, exactly what has happened? Has Baraka angrily denounced the real white supremacists destroying his city’s school system? No. He won’t even defend himself against the crude kinds of insults that were once hurled at black men in the Jim Crow south and in South Africa under apartheid. The kind of insults now thrown at Black Lives Matter activists by Trump supporters.
Trump supporters. Don’t forget–Christie is the biggest Trump supporter.
And where are the others who should be speaking out? The alleged supporters of traditional public education? Who knows.
Newark–where is the pride? Where is the anger? Where is the outrage? Your children are being poisoned–isn’t that enough to make you act?