Wednesday, October 12, 2011




By Cash Michaels
An analysis

            It’s not over yet.
            Despite the jubilation over Tuesday evening’s extraordinary near Democratic sweep of the five open Wake School Board seats, the runoff in District 3 between Democratic incumbent Kevin Hill, and Republican Tea Party challenger Heather Losurdo, will be the marquee event between now and Nov. 8th.
                                LOSURDO AND HILL
            Hill garnered 49.7 percent, just shy of the required 50 percent in the District 3 four candidate tally to Losurdo’s 40 percent, thus spurring a runoff.
            If Hill, a lifelong educator and former Wake School Board chair, fails to hold off Losurdo in the Nov. 8th head-to-head, then the Republicans on the board will retain their 5-4 majority.
            More importantly, they’re also likely to elevate their current vice chairman, District 2’s John Tedesco, to the chairman seat, now being vacated by Republican Ron Margiotta, who lost his long held District 8 seat, 52 to 48 percent, to newcomer Susan Evans.
            Tedesco, who is up for re-election in 2013, is arguably the most visible, and many say most divisive figure on the Board of Education. His abrasive partisan remarks, stretching the truth at times, and many speeches at right-wing Tea Party rallies across the state, have made many see Tedesco more as a political operative, than an educational leader.
                            TEDESCO AND MARGIOTTA
            "I talked to a lot of folks in Ron's district and they said Ron's got this, he never loses," a visibly angry Tedesco told ABC 11 TV news. "And now they know they made a mistake. But they have one shot left."
            That shot being the Hill - Losurdo District 3 race. If Losurdo, who admittedly supports the Tea Party, and agreed with her husband on Facebook that President Obama was like a skunk, “black, white and everything it does stinks,” does win, Tedesco, a close lieutenant of Chairman Margiotta, would be the natural Republican choice to carry out the chairman’s neighborhood schools plan.
            A plan, as currently reflected in Supt. Anthony Tata’s school choice student assignment plan, that could create a high number of poorly resourced, high poverty, predominately black and Hispanic schools, something Democratic voters made clear Tuesday night that they don’t want.           
            Even though there will be a public hearing on Tata’s choice plan this evening, 5 PM at Broughton High School, and the board is set to officially adopt it on next Tuesday, Oct. 18th, the new board that’s sworn-in in December, if it’s Democratic-led, may move to rescind that adoption, and order Supt. Tata to add diversity to his plan before it’s implemented.
            That’s the one thing Chairman Margiotta didn’t want.
            “It seems that the people have spoken, I can accept that, [but] my concern is that we may very well go back to where we were prior to two years ago, and that’s a real concern that I have,” Margiotta told WRAL News, referring to the school system’s socioeconomic student diversity policy, which the chairman’s Republican majority dismantled.
            In the midst of Margiotta’s defeat, his standard-bearers were picking up the torch, and leading the charge to hold onto power.
            “Kevin Hill was under 50 percent,” hollered Joey Stansbury, who worked for the Citizens for Margiotta campaign. “That means for the next month, you get your butts up to northern Wake County, and help get Heather Losurdo on the school board.”
            According to Bob Geary, reporter for the Independent Weekly, internal polling is showing Kevin Hill at least 16 points ahead of Heather Losurdo in a one-to-one. If, or how that holds remains the question until Nov. 8th.
            Vice Chairman Tedesco also made a solemn vow before the TV cameras.
            “This whole county will pour every bit of effort, and every bit of dollars and resources, to decide how this school system goes - do we go to neighborhood schools, or do we go to busing for quota systems?”
            Winning the District 3 is even more crucial for the Republicans on the Wake School Board.
            Thanks to staggered elections in odd numbered years, the next round of Wake Board of Education elections take place in 2013 in Districts 1, 2, 7 and 9. But all of those districts currently have Republican incumbents. So even if all of them, including Tedesco, sweep the 2013 elections, they’ll still be in the minority on the board if Hill holds on to win this Nov. 8th.
            That means the GOP could be out of leadership on the school board until 2015, four year from now. If the Democrats are successful in stabilizing the school system both in student assignments, graduation rates and end-of-grade test scores, they’re likely to be re-elected in four years, thus shutting the Republicans out for almost a decade.
            Thus, the Wake GOP and their ancillary Tea Party supporters are expected to fight the battle for District 3 with brutal campaign tactics, as they displayed in the District 8 campaign against Margiotta challenger, Susan Evans.
            According to Evans in an interview before last Tuesday’s election, both parents and teachers, and even people who didn’t have children in the Wake County Public School System, were telling her how upset they were with Margiotta’s unyielding style of board leadership.
            His willingness to sacrifice the system’s high school accreditation in his battle with AdvancED; refusal to ask the Republican-led NC General Assembly and Wake County Commissioners for more money for the system so as to not embarrass them; and Margiotta’s at times “bullying” manner of publicly promising political retribution, and reluctance to build consensus and compromise on the board, all led to a growing negative impression that killed his chances for re-election in his own upper-middle class district.
            One secret to Evans’ electoral success in District 8 - which consists of parts of Southwestern Cary, Apex and Holly Springs - is the black vote. Evans reportedly visited 16 black churches in Margiotta’s district between August and last Sunday, imploring them that their votes could make the difference.
            Given that approximately a few hundred votes separated the two, then observers say that was a smart move indeed.
            Evans says she looks forward to serving on a more professionally led Wake School Board where partisan politics are left at the door, and board members can, for the first time in two years since the Republican majority took over, work together to improve the school system for the betterment of all Wake school children.
            The Democratic victory election night in the Wake School Board races was breathtaking. Overall turnout was only 21 percent, according to the Wake County Board of Elections, but it was at least 10 percent more than in 2009, when the Republicans won Districts 1, 2,7 and 9in a so-called “nonpartisan” contest to join Margiotta in their board takeover.
            Once the polls closed at 7:30 p.m. and the early voting results were flashed, it was clear that every Democrat had a lead that none would ever relinquish.
           Banking those votes, along with whatever turnout they could get on Election Day, was a strategy derived from the 2008 Obama for President campaign that helped him defeat Sen. John McCain by just 14,000.
            The Wake Democratic strategy paid off big. With the exception of Hill's District 3 race and Evans' contest in District 8, no other Wake School Board race was a close.
                              SUTTON AND PEYTON
            In District 4, encompassing East and Southeast Raleigh, incumbent Keith Sutton, who many times fought Margiotta, Tedesco and the rest of the Republican board majority, crushed Republican challenger Venita Peyton with over 80 percent of the vote in a landslide.
            Peyton, apparently being helped by Wake Republican Party handlers according to Sutton, tried to go negative on him, to no avail. This makes the fifth straight public office Peyton has sought, that she has lost.
            In District 5, NCSU Professor Jim Martin handily trounced Republican Cynthia Matson for the seat currently held by Dr. Anne McLaurin, a Democrat. Matson has once led a group called “Assignment By Choice,” which several years ago pushed for neighborhood schools without success.
            District 6 saw Christine Kushner easily besting her other three opponents, including Donna Williams, for president of the Northern Wake Women’s GOP Club.
            If there’s credit to be given, a major part of it has to be to the Wake Democratic Party, with, unlike in 2009, raised tens of thousands of dollars for its candidates, mounted a sophisticated voter telephone canvassing system, and went blow-for-blow in the rhetorical trenches with the Wake Republican Party and the Tea Party with campaign mailers and fundraisers.
            Led by Chairman Mack Paul, the party will have to mount the same intense battle now for one Democrat, Kevin Hill, for the Nov. 8th runoff with Republican Heather Losurdo.
            "Congratulations to Susan Evans for defeating Tea Party ringleader Ron Margiotta,” State Democratic Party Chairman David Parker said in a statement Tuesday night. "I have no doubt that Susan will work hard to restore the confidence, trust and integrity lost under Margiotta’s failed leadership. Ron Margiotta’s days of making Wake County Schools the butt of national jokes is now over.”
            No doubt Republicans will try to use NCNAACP President Rev. William Barber, as a negative backstop in hopes of scaring voters to support Losurdo. Rev. Barber has been a formidable adversary to Chairman Margiotta and his neighborhood schools, even filing a federal suit against the Republican-led board.
                            REV. WILLIAM BARBER
            “We noted with disgust and dismay, that the Margiotta/Tedesco/Pope group of ideologues condoned the use of racist mailers and Internet images, one featuring an unflattering photo of me with Mr. Margiotta's opponent," Rev. Barber, who is inn High Point for the annual NCNAACP State Conference, said in a statement election night.
"Those who used racist propaganda and dirty tricks seem to have forgotten that the education of our children is a sacred thing -- our teachers are sacred, our schools are sacred and our school leaders have a sacred duty to be responsible for all our children. Tonight we thank God the people didn't forget."

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