I currently live in Sacramento. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me if I hang out with Kevin Johnson and Michelle Rhee— I’d be rich. Really!? Why would I? See Michelle Rhee vs. Julian Vasquez Heilig on Twitter. In our Twitter conversation, Rhee deflected deflected deflected my points about charters.
This week, the Rhee/Johnson charter interests have resurfaced in a new article by Deadspin entitled Secret Emails Show Kevin Johnson Spying On, Attempting To Bankrupt Enemies. The article focuses on the release of Kevin Johnson mayoral emails that he has fought long and hard in court to prevent releasing… and there is an interesting twist… charter schools.
The plot is essentially this. Rhee and Johnson via their previously well-funded non-profits (StudentsFirst and Stand Up— both of which are essentially defunct) have pressed incessantly for charter schools. How is this related to Johnson/Rhee, the litigated emails and also the National Conference of Black Mayors (NCBM)? Deadspin writes:
The latest batch of documents—totaling several hundred pages—shows that Johnson’s misuse of attorney/client privilege staved off potential political embarrassments, many of them NCBM-related. He was, to give one telling example, preventing the release of his schedule for Sept. 9, 2013, which included preparation for a trip to Birmingham, Ala. The listed rehearsals included a “Students First Session” followed by “NCBM Prep.”
StudentsFirst is the charter school advocacy group founded by Michelle Rhee. (Johnson is also a major player in the school privatization movement.) The email that Johnson tried so hard to hide provides a reminder that he and Rhee went to Birmingham together to exploit the attention being given the 50th anniversary of bombing of the 16th Street Church. Amid the solemn commemorations of that seminal moment in the American civil rights movement, they co-hosted a town hall meeting promoting charter schools.
One of the reasons Johnson would presumably want this played down is that the NCBM has historically opposed charter schools, and didn’t like Johnson using their group to further an education agenda that both membership and leadership vehemently opposed. Former NCBM president Robert Bowser told me in 2014 that the group had made their stance clear to Johnson after he proposed a resolution to get the NCBM to endorse charter schools. “We took a vote and said, ‘Hell no!’ to his resolution,” Bowser said. “The black mayors are not buying the charter schools, period.” Rhee, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly despised by Washington, D.C.’s black residents when she ran its public school system from 2007 to 2010; any hint that the NCBM was being used to serve her ends would likely be toxic to the group’s core constituency.
From the emails, it seems that Johnson attempted a hostile takeover of NCBM to press an agenda that includes charters. Deadspin writes:
Since Johnson was president of the NCBM at the time the bankruptcy was filed—with the attendant legal chores being taken care of pro bono by Ballard Spahr, a firm with a large charter school financing practice—he has been able to continue claiming that he represents the NCBM. Court filings in both the Sacramento emails case and in federal bankruptcy court indicate Johnson claims to be operating in the best interests of the NCBM, a claim that defies the facts and common sense. As founder and president of AAMA, an organization that right out of the gate was seeking to serve the same constituency as the NCBM, he has shown that his only interest is in having the older, more established competitor eliminated. That would give AAMA a monopoly on the black-mayors advocacy realm.
When NCBM resisted, emails show that Mayor Johnson spied on them in hotels and restaurants, sabotaged their fundraising efforts, and used free lawyers (who also have a charter connection) to embroil NCBM and local media in tens of thousands of dollars in litigation. Johnson also founded “a clone non-profit group, which he dubbed the African American Mayors Association (AAMA).” Deadspin writes:
As founder and president of AAMA, an organization that right out of the gate was seeking to serve the same constituency as the NCBM, he has shown that his only interest is in having the older, more established competitor eliminated. That would give AAMA a monopoly on the black-mayors advocacy realm.
Considering the backers of Johnson and Rhee, it makes sense why Johnson is trying to establish AAMA as an organization with clout… the destruction of NCBM and the rise of AAMA would be a coup as they would become a powerful voice on behalf of Black mayors… now in FAVOR of charter schools…
I won’t mention all of the other alleged bad sexual behavior. But there was this concluding money quote in the article.
He grabbed my butt. —Vanessa Williams
For more on what’s going wrong with charters click here.
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