Cami Anderson, the controversial state-appointed superintendent of Newark schools, has disappeared from the city for the last few weeks, fueling rumors she is planning on leaving. Her absence comes just as the mayoral race—in which she is issue number one—tightens up and her champion, Shavar Jeffries , receives huge amounts of campaign funds from pro-privatization sources to pay for attack ads against Ras Baraka.
Anderson, who makes nearly $300,000 a year in public funds, has been in Arizona and California the last few weeks and is planning another trip to Colorado—although she has n ot received permission from local officials for the trips. She has been attending private conferences sponsored by pro-charter groups despite growing tensions at home over her “One Newark” plan that closes neighborhood public schools and launches new privately-operated charter schools.
Anderson also has ignored demands she appear before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools to explain “One Newark” and her sale of public property to TEAM Academy charters, an especially favored brand of charter in the city one of whose founders is Jeffries. Her staff told one Republican legislator on the committee who called to talk to her to submit his questions in writing.
Some high-level sources in Trenton are convinced she is leaving—and soon. They say David Hespe, the acting state education commissioner who replaced her chief sponsor, Christopher Cerf, is looking for a way to ease her out of office before the “One Newark” plan slides into chaos. The Newark school administration already is almost a month behind in assigning schools to the thousands of families who filled out the so-called “Universal Application.” By her own admission, some children may not know what schools they are attending until days before the new year opens. She also admits she has not solved critical transportation and special education issues.
But others believe Anderson, who also won’t attend public school board metings, is just keeping a low profile until after the mayoral election in which she has become the major issue–and she is closely associated with Jeffries. That campaign has become increasingly ugly because of attack ads aimed at Baraka and paid for by Anderson supporters.
“Rumors of her leaving have been going on ever since she got here,’’ says Antoinette Baskerville-Richardson, a member of the Newark school board. “I think a lot of it is wishful thinking. She is just keeping quiet.”
Jeffries, who helped found TEAM Academy charter schools where Cerf also was a trustee, originally supported Anderson but has since changed his campaign rhetoric, especially when poll numbers initially predicted a landslide for Baraka.
Pro-privatization forces from throughout the nation are watching the race—and contributing to the Jeffries campaign—because it represents one of the few clear electoral contests between pro- and anti-privatization camps. A victory for Jeffries would be touted by pro-privatization groups that Newark’s residents want Anderson’s plan.
The race has tightened because of the infusion of millions of dollars in outside funds to the Jeffries camp, some of which went into a doctored video that portrays Baraka as critical of Latinos, a group that could make the difference in the election, especially in the city’s North and East wards. Baraka has called the Jeffries ads “slanderous” and “defamatory.”
Just how tense the campaign has become was demonstrated Tuesday when a Baraka press conference called to denounce the ads and demand the source of Jeffries money was disrupted by supporters of Newark First, an allegedly independent organization devoted to the Jeffries campaign.
Newark First has spent more than $2 million on ads critical of Baraka—ten times what Baraka himself has spent on advertising. The chief contributor to Newark First is Education Reform Now, described by Baraka as “a New York City group of Wall Street hedge fund operators behind Chris Christie and his appointed school superintendent, Cami Anderson.”
Jeffries himself, without Newark First, could spend only $82,000 on ads—showing that the strings behind the Jeffries campaign are pulled by people in the privatization movement from outside Newark. Newark First is the Jeffries campaign.
Newark First is backed by George Norcross, the South Jersey Democratic political boss who has supported Christie’s attacks on public employee unions and cuts in aid to cities. Norcross is a champion of vouchers and charters in Camden. Another political boss, Newark’s Steve Adubato, another charter school operator, is backing Jeffries.
But Newark First is supposed to be an “independent expenditure” organization that, by law, is not supposed to have any direct communication with the campaign. It is, however, running the Jeffries campaign.