By Cash Michaels
Until District 4 candidate Venita Peyton walked in 45 minutes late, there were no Republican school board candidates who participated in last week’s 2011 Candidates Forum at Martin Street Baptist Church.
And even though the sponsors - the Wake County Voter Education Coalition, the NC Black Women’s Empowerment Network, and the Alpha Theta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. - had invited all of the candidates weeks in advance, most of the GOP’ers - Heather Losurdo, Eric Squires and Jennifer Mansfield (an independent who vied for the Republican endorsement) in District 3; and Donna Williams in District 6 - never even bothered to respond.
Republican incumbent Ron Margiotta in District 8 declined, according to event organizers, and Cynthia Matson in District 5 called to cancel her appearance the day of after attending a Wake Voter Education Coalition meeting days earlier.
Peyton - a black Republican who was apparently compelled to attend after boycotting the previous Wake Up Wake County District 4 forum held in Southeast Raleigh, partially for political reasons (she accused the sponsors of being “Democratic [Party] controlled”), was politely received by the audience.
On her blog, Peyton supports the board’s GOP majority, and accuses NC NAACP President Rev. William Barber, a staunch advocate for Wake’s previous student diversity policy, of not caring about the education of black children.
Why would Republican school board candidates ignore Wake’s African-American voters and the golden opportunity to address their issues, even though the GOP candidates claim they’re running to ensure that “all” children in Wake County Public School System get the best education?
Indeed, are they, and their supporters, only interested in attracting more conservative-leaning anti-student diversity voters, so that the GOP can gain a super unbeatable majority on the Wake School Board as the crucial Oct. 11 Wake School Board elections draw near?
Already there are strong indications that what was officially supposed to be a nonpartisan election, just like in 2009 when the GOP first won their five-member majority, is anything but.
The State Board of Elections is still investigating who authored a political flier titled “Indoctrination,” which shows the five Democratic school board candidates under pictures of national NAACP Pres. Benjamin Jealous and NCNAACP Pres. Rev. William Barber (including one of Barber being led in handcuffs by Raleigh Police during a demonstration at the former Wake Schools headquarters in Raleigh), above the words, “These angry men have an agenda for Wake County Public Schools to continue with forced busing, social engineering and failed quota systems using your children and grandchildren as pawns in their scheme.”
Referring to the Democratic candidates, the filer continued, “They have 5 liberal allies running for election this Oct. 11th who have supported them in their fight against Wake County families. VOTE NO on these candidates and their agenda.”
Later on that same flier, it says, “It’s your children and your schools - NOT theirs.”
When none of the board’s Republican majority, or the Wake GOP itself, denounced the flier, District 4 incumbent school board member Keith Sutton, a Democrat, blasted them and their “Tea Party supporters” for name calling, attacks and division.
“I would hope that both members of the board majority and our opponents would denounce such tactics being used,” Sutton said, adding that the focus should be on, “…what’s best for our children, our schools and Wake County’s schools.”
The only response from any Republican on the school board was from Vice Chairman John Tedesco - an admitted Tea Party sympathizer who has spoken at numerous rallies across the state - who instead accused Sutton, the board’s only African-American, of name calling.
All of the Republican school board candidates (including Mansfield) back the GOP-led Wake School Board’s neighborhood school policy, which critics fear will create more expensive high poverty schools like Walnut Creek Elementary in Southeast Raleigh, which costs $1 million more to operate annually, has approximately 77% of its student population free-and-reduced lunch, is over 50% low-achieving, and is almost 100 students beyond capacity as of Sept. 22.
The top GOP candidates - Margiotta, Losurdo and Williams - have strong right-wing Tea Party ties, have been backed by major Republican figures like NC House Majority Leader Paul Stam, businessman Art Pope and Wake Commissioner Chairman Paul Coble, and are raising large sums of money from those sources.
Yet, all three, despite their promises to serve in a nonpartisan, apolitical fashion, have done anything but, thus antagonizing African-Americans.
As reported previously by The Carolinian, Republican Donna Williams in District 6 has vowed, “not to see red, not to see blue” if she’s elected to the school board. But as the founder and former president of the Northern Wake Women’s Republican Club, Williams is holding partisan fundraisers with GOP leaders, expressing her full support for the board’s GOP majority, and has the endorsements of Chairman Margiotta and the rest of the board’s Republicans.
In short, if there are any Democratic leaders supporting Donna Williams - a true sign of nonpartisanship - her campaign hasn’t identified any.
District 3 GOP candidate Heather Losurdo says she has “strong views” about helping “every child” if elected to the school board. But last week, other strong views that Losurdo harbored were exposed by a website called, “The Queen of Extreme” which labeled her a “Tea Party Extremist.”
An examination of Losurdo’s past Facebook postings and those of her husband, Craig, by Progress NC, a progressive advocacy group, reveal a strong admiration for the right-wing Tea Party, objection to illegal aliens coming into the US, and a profound dislike for President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
As has been widely reported, when Craig Losurdo posted a picture of a skunk on his Facebook page, and then wrote, “The skunk has replaced the Eagle as the new symbol of the American Presidency. It is half black, half white, and everything it does stinks,” referring to the president’s bi-racial heritage, his wife Heather wrote under it “LMAO,” meaning “Laughing my ass off!”
When interviewed about the controversy by WTVD-11, Losurdo admitted that “Yes, I support the Tea Party,” said she wasn’t extreme, and called the skunk reference about Obama “light-hearted humor.”
When asked how African-American parents of Wake students should receive this, Losurdo said, “I’m sorry if they take it any other way than it was meant to be. It had nothing to do with race. I have my opinions of the president, and last time I looked, it was ok to have my own opinion.”
That opinion apparently also includes another Tea Party-style bash at the president by her husband that Losurdo approved of, this one showing a little white girl with a mean look on her face, displaying an offensive middle “bird” finger, with the caption, “Thanks, Obama. You’ve spent my lunch money, my allowance, my inheritance, 35 years of future paychecks and my retirement. You asshole.”
The offensive posting about illegal aliens is ironic given that Craig Losurdo is awaiting sentencing in federal court for his 2007 role in hiring illegals and forging documents during the eight months he worked for a Texas company. Losurdo pled guilty, and cooperated with federal authorities to testify against the company.
And then there’s Wake School Board Chairman Ron Margiotta, vying for his third term as District 8 representative.
Margiotta has opposed Wake’s student diversity policy since he was elected eight years ago, but not until 2009 when four other anti-diversity foes joined him on the board to form a majority, did the New Jersey native gain the power to dismantle it, and push for a neighborhood school plan instead.
Since he became chair two years ago, Margiotta has used the school board platform to publicly call opponents, “Animals coming out of their cages”; tell the public that the board had no intention of creating high poverty schools, all the while planning to make then still under construction Walnut Creek Elementary School exactly that; and try to get 6,000 black students reassigned from suburban schools back to Southeast Raleigh without a reassignment plan in place.
Margiotta’s close ties with Tea Party businessmen Robert Luddy and Art Pope; his hiring of conservative attorneys to represent the school board and right-wing think tank Civitas Institute to orientate new school board members, and his refusal to ask the Republican-led General Assembly and Wake County Commission Board for more money for the school system in order to protect his political allies, critics say, leave no doubt about his partisan intentions to push an even more aggressive agenda on the board if re-elected.
But the Republican chairman’s tactics have rubbed even fellow Republicans close to him the wrong way at times.
While researching Margiotta’s campaign reports on file with the Wake Board of Elections, a blistering November 4, 2009 resignation letter to the “Citizens for Ron Margiotta” campaign, from longtime campaign treasurer Phyllis Bryson was found.
Letters of resignation from a political campaign committee are considered public record.
“Ron,” Ms. Bryson began, “Due to political, philosophical and ethical differences, I am resigning as your treasurer, effective immediately.”
Ms. Bryson continued, “Many people have reported your attempts to influence them to the detriment of my family. I am stunned. It is difficult to believe that you are totally innocent, as you claim.”
The Carolinian tried to call Ms. Bryson with the phone number listed, but it was disconnected. This paper also emailed Ms. Bryson at the email address listed, but she hadn’t responded as to what the issues surrounding her resignation, or allegations against Ron Margiotta, were.
For his part, Mr. Margiotta has made it known in writing to The Carolinian that he has no intention of making any comment to this newspaper.
UPDATE: Phyllis Bryson graciously responded to The Carolinian after presstime. She was interviewed about her resignation letter. That story will appear in The Carolinian next week (and on this blog).