With a one-to-one, in-your-face letter, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told state-appointed schools superintendent Cami Anderson to get out of town. Although Baraka has publicly called for Anderson’s resignation before, he’s done it only in conversations, and this letter, written like a criminal indictment, openly pitted his prestige and power against Gov. Chris Christie’s handmaiden in the city. He may not be anymore successful than he was with his gentler pushes in the past, but he’s ratcheting up the pressure. The letter–see it at BARAKALETTER.JPG–didn’t even start with a polite “Dear Ms. Anderson” or even “Yo, Cami!” It just went right into a list of the laws she’s broken and the policies she’s used to disrupt the lives of tens of thousands of Newark residents and employees.
Laws protecting special education students. Laws guaranteeing help to non-English speakers. Laws covering the closing of schools and the commissioning of charter schools. Laws the state’s education commissioner simply won’t insist be enforced because he works in a lawless state run by a lawless governor who tells bearers of bad news to “sit down and shut up.”
Baraka’s entire letter–spread over two pages of mayor’s office stationery– is just one long sentence that begins with all the reasons Anderson should go and ends with Baraka invoking the status of the decisively elected first magistrate of the state’s largest city. This is not just Ras Baraka’s personal opinion, he is saying; this is what amounts to an edict of the official representative of 275,000-plus people:
“As the Mayor of the City of Newark, I demand your immediate resignation as the State Appointed Superintedent of Newark Public Schools.”
The letter strongly suggests Baraka is sensing new strength in his struggle to rid Newark of Cami Anderson. He gave a hint of why in an interview with PolitickerNJ’s Mark Bonamo a week ago. He told Bonamo that Anderson’s dismal, even amateurish, performance before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Schools was a turning point in her long run of successfully ducking accountability.
“It’s not just the angry guy down at City Hall. It shows that there are many different people in the city, from all neighborhoods, all walks of life and all philosophical viewpoints when it comes to education, who want the superintendent to change and don’t agree with what’s going on with One Newark,” Baraka told Bonamo. “What our whole (legislative) delegation did was admirable. They stood up for Newark residents and for families.”
The anti-Anderson campaign–finally–is gaining traction beyond the loose but relatively weak coalition of earnest community groups, militant students, and unions that have carried the fight against state control of Newark schools into the streets. The coalition that made Baraka mayor against almost impossible odds (and money from school privatizers and Cory Booker supporters). Baraka knows that.
Anderson found no defenders at her four-hour session before the legislative committee, not even among Republicans who chided her for not appearing in public to defend her plans. More importantly, the committee session was packed with Essex County legislators who are divided by many things–but no longer, apparently, by just how unwelcome Anderson has become. She is a Jonah they would all like to see tossed into the ocean.
For that reason, a few words from state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) may have been the most important of the day–“I am so angry.” And it was clear with whom she was angry–Cami Anderson.
Ruiz is tied to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. DiVincenzo, a Democrat of sorts when it suits him, is tied to Chris Christie–bound by chains of cowardice and opportunism, forged when he stabbed Democrat gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono in the back in 2013 and campaigned for Christie.
Ruiz’s anger wasn’t impulsive; it was planned. Anderson knew she was about to be fried as soon as Ruiz spoke. Joe D wouldn’t save her from embarrassment, no matter how much he sucks up to Christie–no matter how much he owes the governor for getting his little boy junior a $92k job at Hespe’s state education department and job auction.
That doesn’t mean Anderson is out. She’s not going anywhere unless Christie says she’s got
to go–and that won’t happen until she becomes a liability for his delusional presidential candidacy. If there were any doubt, it was dispelled by Anderson’s hiring of Brittany Parmley as her new public relations chief–or, in the inflated lingo of her empire, the “executive director of communication.”
Parmley was deputy press secretary to former Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and more recently a flack for Michelle Rhee, the queen mother of urban school privatization–and champion of integrity in testing (a joke, of course).
Brittany’s husband Paul, once a member of a public relations group started by former Republican White House flacks–their motto is “The White House Writers Group is unapologetically pro-business and pro- markets” –now works for Mike DuHaime, Christie’s chief political strategist. Pro-market, as in selling public schools–or just giving them away–to friends in the private charter management business
What that suggests is Anderson has now become part of Christie’s campaign for the Republican presidential nomination–giving her some strength but also greater visibility and vulnerability. Fewer and fewer New Jersey Democratic leaders–even schleps like DiVincenzo–will likely want to defend her.
It might seem odd that a woman who began her foray into Jersey as a political hack for Cory Booker–now a Democratic senator–will now do auditions as the educational muse of Chris Christie’s national president campaign. It might–but shouldn’t be. Booker is a closet Republican anyway. He wouldn’t even be in the Senate if it were not for his friend Christie’s corrupt manipulation of the 2013 elections.
So it won’t just be the “angry guy” at City Hall who wants to run Anderson out of Newark. It may be an increasing number of Democrats who no longer feel much loyalty to the Republican Big Man.
Baraka seems to sense that he’s got a shot at getting rid of Anderson while, at the same time, strengthening his position in the Essex County and the state Democratic Party. Unlike Booker, Baraka didn’t come out of nowhere (or Bergen County, close enough). He wasn’t touted as Newark’s Ivy League savior because it seemed both to him and to invisible hands belonging to people like Ray Chambers that this would be Booker’s best way to the top.
But that doesn’t mean Baraka himself doesn’t have his own ambitions beyond City Hall. And it can’t hurt for him to be the one who finally buried Cami Anderson. He’d be keeping his promise to get rid of her.