NEWARK SCHOOL VOTE: Tricks, lies, and videotape

Where decisions are made for, but not by, the people of Newark

All you really need to know about the Newark school board election Tuesday can be found on some videotape clips.

The first was recorded at a cocktail reception at the North End Bar April 3, held to raise money for school board member–and candidate for reelection– Tave Padilla.

Padilla is running on a slate organized by, and beholden to, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. Baraka, of course, promised to support an independent elected school board once the district was freed from state control. Baraka also regularly complains about the growth of privately-operated charter schools that divert funds from the public schools.

But, now, Baraka–because of the money he can generate and the organization he can put into the streets–controls the “independent” school board–and he has backed pro-charter candidates in four straight elections.

An independent school board? How can a school board be independent if it’s controlled by a mayor and his machine? How can it be free of politics? How can it be cleansed of the same sort of nepotism and cronyism that led to the state takeover of Newark schools 24 years ago?

Nearly all you need to know about Tuesday’s school board election can be found in a brief videotape recorded at at meeting at the North Ward Bar. Here is the link to the tape so take a listen:

First, you hear the voice of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) already claiming victory for the Baraka-based slate–you know, the “independent” slate–weeks before the election.

Ruiz is, of course, the chair of the powerful state State Senate Education Committee and has all manner of power and authority over the Newark schools. She clearly shows she is not politically neutral. Her political career is enhanced by her membership in this machine–although the air around her is redolent with the stink of conflict of interest. She is part of the Baraka effort to keep the Newark school board “independent”. Which means under the mayor’s–and her– control.

Then we hear from North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos, who describes at some length how he and Baraka–former rivals–organized the effort to take over the school board through what is now the fourth school board election that has been overwhelmed by political power in the city. Ramos says he is proud to be a “founding member of the team” that has taken over the school board–and he congratulates his partner Baraka who is “leading the coalition.”

So we learn from the tape that the mayor and his political cronies, despite promises to respect the independence of the school board, have been working hard for four elections to sink the board into a political swamp.

We learn, too, that Baraka’s slate, despite the mayor’s lamentations about the growth of charter schools, supports the growth of charter schools–“We are together,” says Ramos, a long-time supporter of charter schools.

Then we hear from Sammy Gonzalez, the campaign manager for Baraka’s slate.

Who better to run Baraka’s effort to keep the school board “independent” and free of political taint than Gonzalez who was indicted for voter fraud and was required to relinquish his seat on the Essex County Freeholder board as part of a deal that led to the dropping of charges against him?

Gonzalez’s involvement keeps Baraka’s campaign to control public education in Newark a family affair. Gonzalez is married to Ruiz who, just to ratchet the togetherness up a notch, worked for Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo.

All parts of the machine working together–state (Ruiz), county (DiVincenzo), mayoral (Baraka) and ward (Ramos). With the grease provided by corporate charter supporters who have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into this and previous campaigns. 

Hundreds of thousands of dollars from outside Newark.

The Newark school board–bought and paid for with outside money. That sure will produce an independent school board–won’t it?

Gonzalez’s appearance on the tape provides yet another piece of information that should interest Newark voters. Apparently, the big political machine driving the new, state-free school board, is recruiting for the future–and they found a new political “rising star.”

“This is a rising star in Newark…and we are going to get behind this young lady,” says Gonzalez, “and we’d like to see great things happen beyond the school board!”

Newark voters just learned that the Newark school board–given back its power after nearly 25 years under state control–is going to be a political stepping stone for new, bright young politicians.

Oh, and that particular politician–A’Dorian Murray-Thomas–has an interesting background. She is 23, a graduate of Swarthmore College who attended a Newark charter school. Her mother, Dana Murray, is an advocate and sometime employee of a charter school chain.

What is not mentioned about Murray-Thomas–including by the so-called independent press–is her high school alma mater. Although she says she was born and raised in Newark, she is a graduate of the Northfield Mount Hermon school in Massachusetts–a boarding school with an annual cost for tuition, room and board of $63,500.

Part of the 1,300 acre campus of The Northfield Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts.

While there is nothing wrong with that– and Murray-Thomas should be congratulated for her achievements–one wonders what sort of perspective a tony New England boarding school might give to some who–thanks to her links to Baraka–will probably be on the city school board in a matter of weeks.

There is one more tape. It shows–beyond question–that the Newark school board has become a captive of local and county politics. At a debate just a few days ago, another Baraka candidate–Padilla, a long-term operator in North Ward politics–explained how he saw the Baraka slate. It would, of course, be promoting charter schools, and then he added:

“We have a North Ward candidate, we have a South Ward candidate and we have a charter candidate.”

Hear Padilla say it himself here:

To strengthen the hand of Anibal Ramos from the North Ward. To strengthen the political fortunes of Ras Baraka from the South Ward. And, of course, the interests of all those pro-charter people who are financing Baraka’s campaign.

Hey, Mr. Mayor, who represents the other wards–the Central, the West, and the East? What about the public school children–the dwindling number of increasingly needy students the charters won’t take?

Nearly 25 years ago, th state took over the Newark schools. Much was said then about the failure of the children to do well. But, in fact, the state was most concerned about the ward-based politicians like Louie Turco and Steve Adubato, the mayor, and some union leaders who had turned the school board into a political bazaar for exchanging favors and jobs. What a state judge called “nepotism and cronyism” that prevented the schools from improving.

Looks like deja vu all over again.

Baraka’s “Unity Slate”–now called “Moving Newark Forward Together”–isn’t the only option for those who want to prevent a continued political takeover of Newark schools by Baraka, Ramos, Ruiz, Gonzalez and DiVincenzo.

The other candidates are Leah Owens, Saafir Jenkins, and Denise Cole on the “Children Over Politicians” slate: independents Yolanda Johnson, Denise Crawford, Maggie Freeman, Priscilla Garces, and Arlene Ramsey. Their biographies can be read here.

Read them. Newark has a lot to offer beyond the same old names and the “rising stars” they are grooming for power by using the city school board as a training ground.

  1. Public Education and Alcohol don’t mix…

  2. One might have thought that Baraka’s professional background would have predisposed him to support public education and curtail the diversion of tax payer dollars into charter school coffers. Instead, he is increasing the burdens of Newark Public Schools teachers as the charter schools cherry pick their students.

  3. Bob – I’ve been away for a few years. Just checked in. So glad to see that you are staying on top of this stuff. Great work. Thanks!

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