In Payne flap, Cami proves stupidity is no bar to working as Christie’s agent in Newark

Payne, far right, hosts meeting of Newark leaders cpmplaining about Cami Anderson.
Payne, far right, hosts meeting of Newark leaders cpmplaining about Cami Anderson.

Newark’s public schools face a “crisis,” says the congressman representing New Jersey’s largest city, but its leadership “lacks the ability” to improve them and, instead, has imposed a “critically flawed” plan that, in fact, limits student performance. “I am deeply concerned about the state of education in Newark and its children, who are seeing their educational opportunities eroded under the guise of school reform,” wrote U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr., in a letter to state-appointed Newark school superintendent Cami Anderson. Payne had once been Anderson’s ally.

The letter, dated Friday, is the latest and, in some ways, most egregious political gaffe committed by the tone-deaf Anderson, once a  political operative for former mayor—now US Sen.—Cory Booker.  It’s an extraordinary example of how just plain stupid Anderson can be.

Power couple Paul and Brittany Parmley--their mission impossible is to make Cami Anderson and Chris Christie look smart.
Power couple Paul and Brittany Parmley–their mission impossible is to make Cami Anderson and Chris Christie look smart.

By hiring a woman who served as publicist for both former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michelle Rhee, the disgraced former Washington, DC, superintendent, Anderson has tried to mount a charm offensive showing just how successful and, well, human, she is. The latest efforts by flack Brittany Chord Parmley, however, have exploded in Anderson’s face like trick cigars—most notably an effort to woo a positive story from the Washington Post that ended up as an embarrassment to the man who might be Anderson’s only supporter—Gov. Chris Christie.

Parmley gave the Washington Post reporter the names of prominent people who would support her—and a number of them told the journalist the opposite of what Anderson thought they would say.

For example, Rev. Edwin Leahy, for more than 40 years the headmaster of St. Benedict’s Prep School in Newark, was long considered an ally of both Booker and Anderson. But Leahy described her “reform” efforts as “a bunch of white people who have a lot of money from outside the city who are imposing their view on what should be going on for people of color in the city. It’s a bad model.”

The Post headline was “Christie’s bold plan to remake public schools is running into trouble.”

Not exactly what Christie wanted to see as he campaigned for president. Ironically, Chord Parmley’s husband Paul works for Michael DuHaime, Christie’s chief political strategist.

What role Parmley played in another Anderson boo-boo–her falling out with Payne– is unclear. What is clear is that Anderson and her people handled it like bungling amateurs.

Payne, in his first term after taking over his late father’s seat in New Jersey’s 10th Congressional district, had initially written Anderson a letter Feb. 27, 2014, posing a number of softball questions that  a candidate for student council president could have knocked out of the park. Instead, Anderson ignored the letter.

A "miscommunication of systems": Cami having a sip at Tiff's on school time--just no time available to answer a congressman's letter.
A “miscommunication of systems”: Cami having a sip at Tiff’s on school time–just no time available to answer a congressman’s letter.

At that time, Payne was under pressure from local pols to make a decision on the Newark mayoral race—a contest he was expected to enter, and win, if he had not gone to Washington to replace his father.  An old friend and supporter, Ras Baraka, a city councilman, was running against a candidate of New Jersey machine politics—and an Anderson supporter—Shavar Jeffries.  If friendship counted, Payne should have backed Baraka, the principal of Central High School and son of the iconic poet and playwright Amiri Baraka.

But Payne, doing the right thing politically—most people expected Baraka to lose badly because Jeffries had all manner of “reform” money—meant endorsing Jeffries, just 19 days after he wrote the letter to Anderson. If Anderson had even a clue about politics, she would have answered Payne’s letter immediately to help him.

Instead, the $300,000-a-year klutz never answered the letter at all. Baraka, exploiting the animosity so many residents felt about the interloping Anderson, won a surprise victory although he was outspent 10 to one by Jeffries and his pro-charter oligarch supporters.

So, after waiting 14 months, Payne wrote the second letter and this one wasn’t nearly so friendly as the first.

“Your failure to respond and to engage in a meaningful dialogue on behalf of all Newark students is very disappointing to my constituents and me,” Payne wrote. He demanded a “detailed and thorough” response.

“There is a crisis situation going on in Newark,” he wrote.

Cami meets with supporter and mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries--who was backed by Payne.
Cami meets with supporter and mayoral candidate Shavar Jeffries–who was backed by Payne.

Anderson’s response only made things worse. She responded, not in a matter of days or months, but hours, and she opened her letter with:

“Thank you for bringing to my attention that you have experienced some difficulty in reaching my office. Your experience is by no means intentional, and must be the result of miscommunication between systems. I’m very sorry for the frustration this caused and wanted to make sure you know how to reach my office directly in the future.”

What does that mean? Especially the part about whether Payne’s experience—rather than Anderson’s arrogance—was “intentional” or not.

Of course, it was intentional.

Although she is the Newark school superintendent and required by law to attend school board meetings, she has refused for the last 14 months to attend the monthly sessions. She stopped going to meetings just as Payne was drafting his first letter. She also refused four invitations to appear before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools—despite the committee’s statutory role in monitoring her tenure. After three years of sticking it to the Legislature, she finally agreed to appear under the threat of a subpoena—and gave the committee virtually no useful information.

That committee, by the way, is run by another prominent African-American politician, state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex). She has a habit of kicking dirt in the faces of the most prominent black leaders in the state. Rice, after trying to get her to answer his questions, accused Anderson of “taking the Fifth”—avoiding answers because of possible incrimination.

But that’s not the only problem with Anderson’s hastily-written and all but incomprehensible letter to Payne. Instead of answering the questions posed in the two letters, she resorts to the wonkishly obscure and patronizing—“I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with you around public education for our children in Newark and across New Jersey.”

Then she throws some stale—and disputed—talking points at the congressman. For example, she says the district “added 1,000 pre-K seats  and the majority of families eligible for free pre-K are now enrolled.”

But Payne hadn’t asked about that. He wanted to know about her so-called “One Newark” plan that closed public schools, expanded charters, and dispersed children all over the city without proper transportation. The Newark schools got the pre-K enrollment only because the feds cut off a community-based pre-school program and sent the money to Anderson. And, of course, she doesn’t mention that many preschool children have been placed in inappropriate buildings, built for much older kids.

Although the statewide school report card showed performance scores falling for Newark students under her tenure, she insisted in the letter that scores went up–because she has decided that, despite their use against teachers, using test scores to judge her performance, is like” comparing appeals and rocks.” She also included bizarre findings that only a flack could love—that, for example, “The Brookings Institute recently named NPA the #3 district in the country for the quality and the diversity of school choices.”

So much for unthinking think tanks. Like everyone is rushing to enroll their children in Newark because the Brookings Institute naively crunches some numbers and comes up with that ridiculous judgment.

Payne hadn’t asked about any of that. He wanted to know why she was giving so much money and other resources to city’s privately-operated charter schools. He wanted to know why the charter schools skimmed the top of the Newark student pool. He wanted to know “what arrangements will be made to ensure the safe and affordable transportation of students who are forced to travel across town to school due to closing of their local school.” He wanted to know why she continued to expand charter enrollments when that was clearly weakening public schools by taking away students–and thereby increasing costs in the public schools while decreasing per student state aid payments.

Good questions all—and they go to the heart of her “One Newark” plan.

And she didn’t answer one. Not one.

Ok, so let’s recap. The Congressman representing the people of Newark sends a letter on Feb. 27, 2014 to Cami Anderson asking for a little love and a little help so he has political cover for endorsing Shavar Jeffries.  She ignores him, embarrassing him in front of a lot of local pols.

Then, more than a year later, he asks the same questions again—and she responds with gobbledygook that all but dismisses him as someone unworthy of a thoughtful response. She blames “miscommunication between systems” for her own rudeness and says his experience was “by no means intentional,” a phrase that is like an axe taken to the English language.

Nothing will happen to Anderson because of this blatant act of disrespect and stupidity. She is protected by the only politician who–for now, at least– matters in New Jersey, Chris Christie, the only New Jersey governor ever to remove an African-American from the state Supreme Court. And, because she is protected by a bully-buffoon like Christie, she can get away with showing disrespect to anyone, including–and, maybe, most especially–elected leaders of color.

Whatever else is going on inside her head, it’s impossible not to conclude she gets her kicks from putting down people like Payne, Rice, and Baraka.

But does anyone out there think about how her befuddlement with easy concepts plays in the administration of Newark schools?

If she doesn’t get what she should have done in response to Payne’s letter, an easy call, how can anyone expect her to run the schools well?

Well, no one does. But that doesn’t matter. Not if you’re one of Christie’s own.

12 comments

  1. Mr. Outside

    She’s not stupid, Bob. Her actions maybe stupid. But she is intelligent. You have to look at her actions from a point of rationale. Base rationale, but rationale nonetheless. Cami is a very easily intimidated person who projects the appearance of power through intimidation. She’s a bully. Bullies seldom exercise their intelligence; not because they lack any, but because, they seldom have obstacles that require them to think critically and creatively. As big fish in small ponds, they get complacent quickly, forgetting that when rising tides recede, the big fish are the first to get beached.

    So what appears to be her arrogance is her cowardice. Her natural cowardice. The same cowardice that compelled her to leave school board meetings and vow never to return again. The same cowardice that compelled her designate separate entrances for herself, and the other employees at Cedar Street. The same cowardice that makes her bite her nails while sitting in her chauffeured transport every morning outside said entrance.

    It’s her own overwhelming cowardice that has lead to her anxiety. Anxiety such that would allow her to develop the rationale that compelled her to interpret requests from onetime supporters like Payne, asking for talking points by which to support her as political attacks. A guilty conscience?

    We can explore Cami’s fears. There are so many:
    – Fear of living in Newark (Moved to Glen Ridge)
    – Fear of disappointing her boss (Any boss; past or present. See her brown nosing of Joel Klein at Google Zeitgeist here on YouTube
    – Fear of the citizens of Newark (Absence from School Board Meetings)
    – Fear of tarnishing her career (“This is about integrity” remark at JCPS hearing in January)
    – Fear of the students of Newark (Refusal to meet with students protesting in her own office for nearly a week)
    – Fear of investigation (Refusal to be transparent and share information with her own staff, the public, or the greater news media)
    – Fear of subpoena and prosecution (Refusal to open or receive correspondence directly)
    – Fear of poverty (Refusal to resign and relinquish income even amid growing scandal; No job prospects on the horizon)
    -Fear of self-actualization (Unwillingness to acknowledge that she has failed.)

    I could be wrong, although I don’t believe I am, but these are many– not all, but many of the mechanisms that are the scaffolding supporting the decisions she is making. As an intelligent person plagued with anxiety, she is making irrational decisions. Comparably speaking, one could question whether or not, her credentials withstanding, she is still fit emotionally to fulfill her duties as superintendent. Perhaps the JCPS should subpoena her administration and ask them whether or not they fully understand much of her rationale. Again, I’m not a psychologist. I’m certainly no psychiatrist. I could be absolutely wrong in my analysis. However, having observed this superintendent’s actions, having listened to her speak, having read her previous works, statements, memorandums, editorial opinions and the like, I don’t believe I’m wrong.

    The thing about anxiety is that it compels people to perform the same routine, compulsively, in pursuit of what the anxious believe is a safe and predictable outcome. What is unsettling is when someone like Cami’s routine includes ignoring scores of people, and ignoring scores of warnings, leading to irreparable damages for many. Further, when we deride people like her as stupid, we overlook that there is a person in crisis. Forgive me for getting on my soapbox. I’m not criticizing you, Bob. I’m trying to draw attention to what we all already know to be true. The Newark Public Schools is in crisis.

    The Newark Public Schools is in crisis because Cami is in crisis. Readers may do with that what they will. But that, at least as far as I’m concerned are the facts.

    • Urban Teacher

      Mr. Outside,

      I have anxiety too as a result of the despicable treatment I endure every day at my place of employment. Forgive me, but what are Cami Anderson’s credentials other than her skills as a political hack, charter school champion and TFA cheerleader?

  2. booklady

    I was mulling over ‘Your experience is by no means intentional,’ so it was reassuring to see “a phrase that is an axe taken to the English language.” Is it a pattern that hyperactive superintendents like Cami Anderson and Dr. Jerry Jellig (who have degrees from prestigious institutions) ramble and coin incomprehensible phrases?

    Hope Representative Payne takes up CA’s offer re dialogue and stipulates that she answer his questions.

  3. booklady

    Bob, When you have time for a “throwback Thursday”
    1. How is the 10-year-old boy who fell down the school staircase while in his wheelchair whom you reported on last November? Are safety issues settled at the school?
    2. Re the Newark School Report Cards that Len Pugliese reported show 100% attendance figures: who is responsible for correcting them, NPS or DoEd? Is there a deadline to do so? Will state aid be affected, if it’s based on average daily attendance?
    Thank you

    • Tom2

      booklady
      Joint Committee on the Public Schools Co-Chairpersons Senator Ronald Rice and Assemblywomen Mila Jasey sent a letter to Commissioner Hespe asking asking him to address the 100% Newark Student Attendance falsehood. Check back to this site later this week to see a copy of that letter.

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  6. Bill Wolfe

    Part of Cami’s ideological makeup is that she simply does not consider the community’s elected black leadership as legitimate. That is what explains her blatant disrespect. It’s not just Christie’s protection. Because if she really wanted her plan to succeed, intellectually she knows she needs local buy in. But, like George Bush bypassing the media a filter, Cami thinks she can engineer local buy it because she thinks she is legitimate and black leaders are not. It a blend of is supreme arrogance, disrespect, and racism.

  7. MarquinhoGaucho

    Cami is the worst kind of despot, a female who buys into a racist ideology , sees the people she is in charge of as subhuman and unworthy of any compassion , which in her mind rationalizes their mistreatment (which she derives pleasure from) and exploits them for profit (Pink Hulahoop). She is a modern day Newark version of Ilse Koch.

  8. TK 2015

    Re:

    https://www.bobbraunsledger.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/BLOGPARMLEYCOUPLE.jpg

    Bob, I apologize in advance, because I know you do not tend toward caricature–at least not on a regular basis—and this is not a time for levity. Then again, there is nothing so desolate as a life devoid of humor, including the dark kind, because it keeps us whole and able to see the truth in even the most punishing tribulations.

    That said, I cannot believe I am the only one who feels a queasy resonance between the B&W photo you provide in this article:

    https://www.bobbraunsledger.com/in-payne-flap-cami-proves-stupidity-is-no-bar-to-working-as-christies-agent-in-newark/

    and a costume artist’s cheap illustration of the fashionable couple’s deeper motivation:

    http://www.knowandshop.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Vampires-costumes-for-couples.jpg

    Sadly, this is not a Halloween event. On the other hand, Van Helsing’s mission has found new life among the people of Newark, as this site, among others, continues to testify.

    Time to see if the bloodsuckers can take the heat.

    They shoulda stayed away from the kids. No one in their right mind will stand for that. Time’s gonna come for them to pay, with their “professional reputations,” because the said’s souls are already deep in hock. Time draws near. Can’t stop time.

    The power couple are going to find out that some things–surprised as they might be to find themselves on the slack-jawed end of a well-deserved (figurative) bitch slappin’–yes, some things are still sacred. Thou shalt not expect to fly in from California for the express purpose of making bank off of a proposition to screw with Newark’s youngest citizens.

    It doesn’t matter if Christopher James “I grew up in Noork ’til I was five” Christie himself issues the invitation. It doesn’t matter if little Cami “tryin’ hard to find herself” Anderson agrees to put her blood mark on the contract.

    Left coasters, take heed:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kcmwXUdDCE

    You need to dig hard for the full meaning of the word respect, and it is never this easy:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLEa9c0-C3Y

    Brick City can be hazardous to your California Dreamin’ yo. Same goes for the PARCC-pushing Pearson punks. Dreams of empire don’t wear as well as they “used to.” Memo to the “next” generation—those dreams of conquest never did fit. Wake the F up.

    http://cradrising.wordpress.com/2010/08/17/my-ego-has-a-pimp-slap/

    Any kid can feel the difference, whether or not they are destined to take the stage.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKgdfSnaRS0

    I regard as precious—precious beyond gold—every right and way we have, as vibrant and alert human beings, to pay very close attention—to resist and to not be duped–when the slick suggestion comes … that it is, like it or not, time to offer up our young.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weequahic,_Newark

  9. lola

    about three years ago, I saw a billboard add on Brookdale ave and central ave for “spirit” charter school. It had a girl holding a clarinet, but was only there two weeks. Newark vocational was easily closed because the community didn’t fight back and BAM, NOT EVEN A YEAR KATER, RIGHT BEHIND KIPP SCHOOL NEWARK COLLEGIATE ACADEMY IS A BRAND new charter school for arts and culninary, blatant , purposefully crafted destruction of public schools, unbelievable

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