Here’s a good rule. If you have political ambitions, don’t go to the Aspen Ideas Festival or the Aspen Institute, get comfortable among friends, get on a panel, and then make insulting remarks about the folks who are the key to your future.
Jonah Edelman disparaged school teachers. His organization, Stand for Children, has not yet recovered its reputation. In a new little book about the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike, Micah Uetricht tells the story: “In June 2011, Jonah Edelman, CEO of Stand for Children, gave an afternoon talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, an annual gathering of ‘thought leaders’…. During the talk, Edelman,whose organization initially came to Illinois at the invitation of billionaire former private equity manager Bruce Rauner, spoke with astonishing candor; he explained calmly the backroom politicking necessary to ‘jam the proposal down [teachers and their union’s’] throats.’ Soon after its beginnings in Illinois, his organization donated $600,000 to nine state legislative races in attempt to curry favor with State House Speaker Michael Madigan….” Edelman’s influence helped pass a bill restricting teachers unions by requiring 75 percent of all the members of any teachers union be required to vote to authorize a strike. Edelman bragged about this accomplishment at Aspen: “‘In effect, they wouldn’t have the ability to strike,’ Edelman says matter-of-factly in the tape. ‘They will never be able to muster the 75 percent threshold.'” (Strike for America, pp. 59-62)
Jonah Edelman forgot about youtube, where his speech went viral. You may remember that, partly inspired by Edelman’s challenge, just a year later in June of 2012, 90 percent of the entire membership of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to authorize teachers to strike in September of 2012.
Now, thanks to Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post column on Saturday, we all know, once again, that New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie disdains the people of Newark. This time he said it in a July 24, 2014 panel discussion at the Aspen Institute. We already knew, of course, that he isn’t concerned about the opinions of the people of New Jersey’s largest city from a speech he made earlier this year, the one in which he declared: “And I don’t care about the community criticism. We run the school district in Newark, not them.” Newark’s public schools have been under state control for two decades, and Christie is in charge through the leadership of the much despised overseer superintendent he has appointed, Cami Anderson. But at Aspen he emphasized his contempt.
It is easy to see how Christie could forget himself. Strauss quotes the description on the Aspen Institute’s website of the event at which Christie was speaking: “A panel of Republican governors will address the economy, how they are building skills for a 21st century workforce and share their ideas for improving their state’s education, tax and immigration policies. Featured special guests include Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. The event will be moderated by Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson.”
In the new youtube clip of his speech at Aspen, Christie describes meeting with the new mayor, Ras Baraka, soon after Newark’s May 2014 election. Baraka is a respected former high school principal and champion of keeping the schools in Newark public instead of turning them over to charter operators. Strauss quotes Christie describing his meeting with Baraka: “He came in to talk to me about his agenda and said he wanted to speak to me about the education system in Newark. And I said to him listen, I’ll listen to whatever you have to say but the state runs the school system. I am the decider, and you have nothing to do with it.” You can hear the Aspen Institute audience laugh at Christie’s description of the meeting.
Strauss provides an excellent summary of the what has become a governance crisis in Newark due to the arrogance and political ineptitude of Christie and his appointed superintendent, Cami Anderson:
“Anderson, a former Teach For America corps member has come under intense attack for her ‘One Newark’ district reorganization plan—which includes plans to close some traditional schools; lay off more than 1,000 teachers and hire Teach For America recruits to fill some open spots; and create a single enrollment system for Newark’s 21 charters and 71 traditional public schools. She has also been blasted for a management style that even reform supporters concede is dismissive, arrogant and ineffective. This past April, dozens of members of the Newark clergy sent a letter to Christie warning him that Anderson’s reform efforts were causing ‘unnecessary instability’ in the city and that they are ‘concerned about the level of public anger we see growing in the community’ over the issue.”
(This blog has extensively covered the privatization and mismanagement of Newark’s schools by Anderson and her mentor Chris Christie, and the rise of Ras Baraka, the new mayor, in a race where school governance became the pivotal campaign issue here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)