Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Fear and Loathing, 2008

(With great appreciation to the late Hunter S. Thompson and his book “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.”)

Reader, the conversion from blogger to politician is not easy. There are some important things to learn. Just this week I learned the important lesson that if you don’t want your posterior kicked real hard you’ve got to keep it covered.

This all started a few weeks back. It was that weekend in early June when the thermometer hit triple digits. The maveness and I were gathering signatures for my petitions at the farmers market at Forest Hill Park. At ten o’clock it was already over 90 degrees, the sun was beating down unbearably and this maven made the careless mistake of leaving home without it (a bottle of water, that is). I was hot; I was dizzy; I was grumpy (even grumpier than usual). A woman asked me for my opinion on charter schools.

Well, beloved reader, you know that I endorsed the Patrick Henry charter school on these very pages. What you might not know is that on that dastardly hot Saturday in the park, I knew that the Richmond school board had already approved the charter application of the Patrick Henry Initiative. I figured that the charter school issue was a fait accompli and I really wanted to talk about the 1200 or so elementary school students in the Fourth District of Richmond who would not benefit from the Patrick Henry School. So, I gave the woman a rather weak politician-like answer.

The next thing I know, a friend emailed me to say I had to address a posting on our local news blog, Hills and Heights. I went and read the thing. The woman in the park, who I now learned was named Common Sense Mom, challenged me to explain my views on charter schools and explain why I would oppose charter schools in general yet support the Patrick Henry charter. Now, if I had been acting as a politician rather than as the lawyer I was trained to be, I would have ducked this thing with some glib language and all would have been well. But no! I fired off a multi-paragraph treatise on charter schools and public schools in Richmond. (If you are interested, you can see my foolish prose on Hills and Heights as comment number 23). Well, Common Sense Mom and her friends Jennifer C. and S. Martin started kicking hard at my unprotected bottom. It has taken me almost a week to put out that fire.

So, I am learning.

Communicating as a politician is very difficult. As you know, trusted reader, I usually write a subject to death. If it takes me four typed pages to express myself, so be it. You can’t do that as a politician. You’ve got to condense everything down to about thirty seconds of writing. Believe me, for this maven to say anything in thirty seconds is darn near impossible. But the experts say that you can’t keep a voter’s attention for more than thirty seconds so you have to get your message across short and sweet. So, there’ll be no more analyzing issues for the maven. From now on it’s shoot from the hip.

If you haven’t been keeping track there are now five people running for the fourth district seat on the school board. It had been six, but two weren’t able to submit 125 valid signatures and their names were not put on the ballot. Yesterday, another candidate emerged. I assume that because his name is not on the ballot he will have to stage a write-in campaign.

Reader, this is insanity! Why would anyone invest their time, effort and money to get elected to a position that pays about one thousand dollars per week? I figure that if I am elected and spend about twenty five hours per week doing the job, I will be working at an hourly rate less than any job I’ve had since I was a junior in college.

But, nobody ever accused this maven of acting intelligently. Throughout this campaign, I’ve got to continually remind myself that I am doing this for the children.

I expect that I’ll be writing more soon to test out some new ideas. Reader, thank you for being tolerant of my spending so little of my time communicating with you.


gray said...

Maven, The last thing we need in the RPS system is a politician, so don't become one.

Anonymous said...

Maven, my local neighborhood association is promoting a new "alternative" to the local public school and will be hosting PHCI spokesperson(s) at an upcoming meeting. From what I gather, my school board rep encourages this (and it's not Keith West). It seems like the beginnings of a movement to divest from RPS. Is this what you are supporting?

If PHCI is going to be representative of the demographics of Richmond City (68% black), then this is a very bad move. Plus, PHCI cannot accommodate all of the interested families (nor can other sought after public elementary schools).

So, what's going to be the result? My guess is that we'll see more (predominately white) community orgs popping up, demanding charter schools and pressuring elected officials to roll over as they did for PCHI. Thoughts on this?

Jennifer said...

I'm not looking for a politician, either. I do want a school board rep that doesn't back down, and is neither scared of political pressure or easily offended.
I don't need to agree with you on everything by any means, but I will most definitely question you closely on the issues that matter most to me. In case you haven't noticed.
Incidentally, there are no strategic "Let's Get Bert" meetings going on between me and the other two moms you mentioned. I don't even know who one of them is, and I've only spoken to the other in passing (presuming she is who I think she is by the name). CSM in particular just happens to precisely express my views 99% of the time.

artipantz said...

Thanks, Maven for being honest and true to your beliefs. I too read the entire debate and thought that some of the debaters were going far beyond "questioning you closely". Please continue to defend the children in the RPS system who have no advocate on a message board. Like many of the other parents who contributed to the debate, I have two children who will do fine in RPS- they have two educated parents who have the means to care deeply about their children's education. Don't worry about us. Work for the children who do not have the chances that my children already have.

Dan said...

I figure that if I am elected and spend about twenty five hours per week doing the job, I will be working at an hourly rate less than any job I’ve had since I was a junior in college.

You're complaining about a $1,000 a week for 25 hours of work? Good thing you're not vying for a job as a teacher, Maven.

Bert Berlin said...

To Jennifer,

My friends and advisors will tell me I should not respond to you, but you said you were not looking for a politician.

You definitely have the right to question me or any other candidate on any issue relating to the race. (I won't answer a question asking me when I stopped beating my wife.)

For your qualifications of "doesn't back down" and "is neither scared of political pressure or easily offended," I think I qualify on at least two out of three and probably on the other too.

Anybody who knows me knows that I do not back down. When I know that I am right on an issue I will stick with my position until someone shows me I am wrong. That is what happened with PHI. As I have stated, I am generally opposed to charter schools. However, with the help of Richard Day, I changed my mind with respect to PHI. Some people may criticize this as "waffling" or "backing down." However, as I have stated before a person who will not change his mind even when shown he is wrong is a fool. I would rather be accused of being a "waffler" than to be a fool.

I am not afraid of political pressure. I will do and say what I think is best for the children of Richmond even if the mayor, the members of city council, or any interest group objects. (I have already lost the support of a major player in Richmond by publicly challenging the City Council and the mayor for withholding adequate funding from RPS).

As to being easily offended, you and CSM have insisted that I can't take the pressure because of my considering CSM's attack on me as harsh. As I said above, you, CSM, or anybody else can criticize me on any issue you want to. If I say something or do something that is wrong, I expect you to criticize me.

However, I do resent being blamed for something I did not do or say. CSM, in her comment #25 on H&H, in effect accused me of being racist. She accused me of being in the pocket of representatives of the Richmond NAACP who made hateful and divisive statements at the PHI hearings. Nothing I have ever done or said justified her attacking me that way.

In the big city where I cut my political teeth we considered such attacks as being "dirty tricks" or "smear tactics." It is the kind of politics made popular by Murray Chotner, who masterminded Richard Nixon's Senate election campaign in 1950. It is also the favorite tactic of Karl Rove, who brought us George W. Bush twice. Basically, it condones saying anything that will harm an opposing candidate even if it is lie.

In one of your posts on H&H you said CSM's views were justified by my statement, which said that both sides in the PHI dispute are blaming the other for causing the dispute. You said that I was acting as if I agreed with the hateful NAACP statements. To me, this is worse than "guilt by association." It is "guilt by coincidence." Just because I greet someone while we are waiting for our coffee at Blanchards does not mean that I support everything that person says or does.

This whole experience will help me develop thicker skin. As George Braxton told me after the PHI vote, he knows his position was right because he was receiving equal amounts of hate mail from both sides.

I know that you are passionate about the PHI. I know you were hurt by the hateful statements from certain NAACP representatives. But accusing me of endorsing those statements is just not fair.


Jennifer said...

I got about four hours of sleep last night, but I'm going to try to marshal my thoughts here anyway.
First off, readers such as artipantz need to keep in mind that Mr. Berlin is running for public office and has made his entire platform available for public scrutiny. I and others have interacted with him on specific points, but we are not candidates. We don't necessarily publicize our thoughts and our past actions like he does in the course of running for office. It's a bit much for anyone to assume anything about my feelings regarding anything beyond PHI (or uniforms, I suppose) because that's all I've discussed publicly. You don't know what I do for a living and you don't know what I do with my spare time.

Also, I have never accused Mr. Berlin of not supporting the PHI. He was very clear in this blog about his opinions before and after his meetings with Richard. The things I have challenged him on related to his reaction to our opponents (Bert, I will respond directly to your comments but you're going to have to wait until I've had some sleep).
This bothers me too much to wait, though:
CSM, in her comment #25 on H&H, in effect accused me of being racist. She accused me of being in the pocket of representatives of the Richmond NAACP who made hateful and divisive statements at the PHI hearings.
What?? She did not either. I mean, not even remotely. Shoot, Gray didn't read it that way either (see post 32).
I don't want to see charter schools popping up all over the city, either - maybe one more out there in the East End to catch the kids who can't get across the river or to Fox/Mumford. I would prefer to have everyone go to their neighborhood school, but I also know there's a practical problem: you have to get people willing to send their kids to the neighborhood school. The PHI offers a bridge between the status quo and the ultimate goal, which is the same for both of us. Once we get the cart behind the horse where it belongs, we can start moving forwards.

Bert Berlin said...

Let's just agree to disagree on certain issues.
I repeat my offer to meet with you, or anyone else who wants to talk about RPS. Actually, I would prefer to just listen so I can better understand your concerns.

gray said...

"I don't want to see charter schools popping up all over the city, either - maybe one more out there in the East End to catch the kids who can't get across the river or to Fox/Mumford."

I would rather see magnet type schools here in the east end --like an IB or arts program at Bellevue and a montessori program in a newly built school in Fulton Hill. As everyone knows, Bellevue elementary is on the chopping block --a school that houses an Elizabeth Van Lew museum, has high scores, won third place in the city's Mind Games contest and is also the only school in the east end with a little economic diversity. The school just needs support from the city and from the neighborhood. Bellevue has great potential but I was beginning to think during the last several months of the school year that there were forces from the outside/downtown trying to take it down. Some want the school to close because it is old and needs lots of renovation work and some because it is not ADA compliant. But this is a landmark, an RPS treasure with a rich give up on it would be wrong. It is the duty of RPS to bring east end schools up to the level of Munford instead of closing schools and warehousing kids like what has happened over at Woodville elementary.

I think a magnet school in the east end would balance well with a charter on southside. I'll try and find a link to this town in Massachusettes that has both charters and magnets. The Governor's school is a good example of a magnet.