POISONED CHILDREN: Hey, Newark–why are you letting Cerf game you?

Cerf and friends
Cerf and friends

Newark, a city with a reputation for grit and defiance, has allowed a white, effete fop from Montclair–Christopher Cerf–to both fool its political leaders and cover up his own culpability in the negligent poisoning of the city’s school children with lead.  It doesn’t surprise me he can con the mainstream media, which loves to  give him consoling hugs in print–but it’s nothing short of art how he can game so many in a city that has suffered so much at his hands.

The latest example–his “release” to friendly media outlets, never here, of course–of new “evidence” of lead contamination in facilities owned by the city school district. Just as he has tried–successfully with most media–to portray himself as the Great White Hope to the city’s people, Cerf designed his publicity stunt to show his concern and willingness to act.

Consider The New York Times story on the  new statistics. After three paragraphs portraying Cerf as acting quickly to protect students by shutting off water and providing alternate sources of drinking water, the reporter, Patrick McGeehan, writes this:

“Mr. Cerf said he did not know why his predecessors had not responded as forcefully as he did. But he said the water crisis in Flint, Mich., had focused national attention on the peril posed by lead in drinking water.”

A water filter with a date on it. Cerf can't say what the date means and says that's "good news"
A water filter with a date on it. Cerf can’t say what the date means and says that’s “good news”

No one has to be a 50-year veteran of journalism to see through this: Here’s an assignment for all English classes in Newark’s high schools–and I’m sure teachers will help: Analyze this sentence as an example of how the language can be manipulated by a master who is interviewed by an amateur.

First, the reporter clearly asked why Cerf’s predecessors did not act as he had done–“forcefully.” To which, Cerf humbly demurred–like the murderous prime minister in the first “House of Cards” series: Well, he could not possibly say but, of course, he will take the compliment. Then McGeehan allows Cerf to place himself in the heavens above the nation–acting where the people in Flint had not.

Utter complete, rot. Most of the “new findings” were meaningless, discovered in facilities not used by children–or by anyone. Even the experts taking the samples wondered why the city was going through the exercise.

The reporter’s question showed he did not know that Cerf himself, as the very much involved state education commissioner, knew damn well his predecessor and protege, Cami Anderson, had cut back on maintenance expenditures and had hired people without the  necessary backgrounds to supervise facilities, amateurs who then allowed filters to go unchecked and unreplaced.  Cerf approved Anderson’s budgets. He approved her hiring of unqualified assistants.

Cerf knew.

The story also showed the reporter did not know that, before Cerf became Gov. Chris Christie’s education stooge, the lead levels in the water were in single digits and spiked under the Cerf/Anderson regime.

The story also neglected to say that the city had to go begging for private water donations because Cerf’s stealth effort to bring in emergency water rations in the middle of the night to hide the crisis was a bust–and the school district, thanks to Cerf’s own budget cuts (to save charter schools from financial embarrassment) couldn’t afford to buy water. The emergency rations were five years old, some contained in moldy cardboard boxes, and tasted like donkey urine–let’s be grateful it was in short supply.

But how shameful isit for a city to go begging its poor residents to donate water–when the state owes the Newark public schools hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid?

Face it: The Times story is a lie, just as most of the mainstream media stories on lead contamination in Newark have been lies.

Don’t take it from me. Here’s a note to me from David Bloomfield, a professor at a  New York  university, who has demanded that the Times print a correction of its story:

“Just sent to the Times newsroom requesting correction. -DCB To the Newsroom: The above-referenced story by Patrick McGeehan should include that Christopher Cerf, currently Newark Schools Superintendent, was New Jersey’s Commissioner of Education during much of the period of period under review when Newark Public Schools were under direct state oversight, as remains the case. He is therefore culpable in this negligence rather than, as the story allows him to revise history, someone who is is ignorant of why “his predecessors had not responded as forcefully as he did”. Please correct your story to indicate Mr. Cerf’s past oversight of the Newark Schools. Sincerely, David C. Bloomfield Professor of Education Leadership, Law & Policy Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center.”

Bloomfield saw right through the lie. Reporters–and not just from the Times–did not. Newark Mayor Ras Baraka did not, although he expressed mild disappointment that Cerf was not more forthcoming. Board members allowed Cerf to pitch his lies.

It’s all part of the state’s successful plan to pacify the city for Christie–and, got to hand it to him, Cerf has done one hell of a job, starting with the Newark Educational Success Board (NESB). He can lie and manipulate with the best of them.

The Newark Teachers Union exposed Cerf’s lies early on, with their photographs of expired filters. Cerf simply denied the obvious truth that the filters were expired–and ignored the facts because they were inconvenient. Cerf also told the school board he could not possibly untangle the relationship between work orders and actions taken to mitigate the crisis. He also tried to blame the last locally-endorsed (and African-American) school superintendents for a crisis he said went back to 2004–said  but can’t prove it.

Here’s the truth: Lead levels were down until Christie brought in Cerf and Cerf brought in Anderson and the state, to save money and prop up its racist regime with unqualified appointees, allowed the lead to rise. It’s only black and brown and poor children, anyway.  The children of Barbara Buono voters.

That’s the truth, people of Newark. You can believe Cerf and his toady supporters if you wish, but that won’t get the lead out. Or the truth.





  1. What is the State of New Jersey doing to remedy the situation? The city and the district are clearly focused on pontification.

  2. 1. Another instance that demonstrates it is not smart to name superintendents who never had building-level experience (e.g., Anderson, Cerf). Was Cami thinking about filters when she traveled to speak at AEI (to a very small, very select audience–Rick Hess & videographer) & other conferences?
    2. The emergency supply of water raises questions re general emergency water preparedness in NJ. If that’s the best they could do for 17,000 youngsters in 30 schools, what if there was a problem in a city with a good-sized population? Doesn’t Fort Dix or NJ National Guard have supplies?

  3. On April 7 First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to visit Philip’s Academy Charter School in conjunction with their garden program & healthy lunch service.
    You recently had photos of NPS lunches on Twitter. Wouldn’t it be great if Newark faculty & staff sent photos of their 4/7 federal school lunches to The White House? to Cory Booker, too.

  4. As a retired Newark teacher none of these lies surprise me. The bottom line here is that our governor is committed to ending public education in Newark and replacing it with charter schools. Cerf and his cronies are helping him do that; so they can manipulate data any way they want to. Cerf will not go away till the governor’s agenda is complete. Somehow mainstream media has bought into the delusion that charters are better than public schools even though the facts DO NOT support this… Not in New Orleans, not in Detroit, and certainly not in Newark. Therefore the media will support these businessmen, suddenly turned educators. Reformers just don’t want to believe that these charters,for profit schools run with public funding, ARE NOT achieving the high levels of success they claim!!! To them I say: follow the money!!! AND THE LIES WILL CONTINUE TILL THE MONEY DRIES UP!!

  5. Nobody wanted to talk about lead in Newark because Booker and Christie wanted Zuckerberg money for Charters, not maintenance of public schools.

    Nobody wanted to talk about lead in Newark because Booker bragged about his “deal” with Joe D. on the garbage incinerator – 40 more years of pollution – which is a major emission source of lead in Newark. (and half the garbage it burns comes from NYC, a old dirty Port Authority deal that goes back to Mario Cuomo and Tom Kean).

    Nobody wanted to talk about lead in Newark’s water because the Watershed Corp was engaged in some major graft.

    Nobody in Newark wanted to talk about lead because the Environmental Justice” advices were co-opted puppets o the Dem Machine.

    Nobody in Newark wanted to talk about lead because the so called EJ advocacy organization ENDORSED Christie, who was rolling back drinking water protections. he same organization’s staffer worked for Booker’s Environmental Commission.

    Nobody in Newark wanted to talk about lead because it would shed light on disproportionate impacts on poor and minority districts – and the EJ advocates were co-opted by EPA grants and told not to make waves and back EPA corporate sellouts like the Passaic River half dredge.

  6. Will somebody ask the Chris Daggett at the Dodge foundation why they fund environmental groups who ignore Gov. Christie’s dismantling of the DEP Environmental justice program; do not work to educate and organize the community about critical EJ and public health issues; and support billion dollar boondoggles like CSO controls and the EPA Passaic River sellout and the Newark incinerator deal?

    I really want to know.

    Bob, why don’t you give Mr. Daggett a call? He did run for Gov. not so long ago.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.