Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cory Booker, the Facebook Money, and the Rule of Law

Much of the coverage of the Zuckerberg/Booker $100 million dollar grant has been overwhelmingly positive and congratulatory.

But taking a look at some of the details of how the Newark school system came to receive a $100 million grant from the Facebook CEO on the same day that a devastating movie about him was released that shows him to be “an insecure jerk who screws over people and becomes a much-richer insecure jerk" leaves me wondering just what will happen to the future of this country now that it seems little punk billionaires/insecure jerks like Zuckerberg and Bill Gates get to make all the policy calls on governmental matters.

Zuckerberg, for example, is calling for the closing of many Newark schools, the firing of teachers, and the institution of merit pay, as a way to improve the Newark school system.

And since he just gave the system $100 million, I bet he gets his way, even if many in Newark do not agree with those new policies.

In addition, Newark only gets ALL the Zuckerberg money if Booker retains control of the city's schools.

Giving Booker even a small amount of control of the school district without having the matter voted on in the state legislature is illegal.

So here we have the city of Newark, essentially held captive by Zuckerberg's demands.

Booker must run the system.

If Booker goes anywhere, the money goes with him.

In three years, Booker's term will run out.

Will Zuckerberg take the rest of the money and run if Booker chooses not to seek re-election or finds himself Fenty'd out of office?

For that matter, given that this is New Jersey and municipal leaders get arrested in justice sweeps all the time, what happens if Booker is nailed on corruption charges?

Don't think it can't happen.

Almost everybody around him in Newark has been arrested, so it may only be matter of time before Booker is targeted (unless of course the Obama justice department gets word not to go after an ally of the president.)

Even if Booker isn't dirty himself, the fact that many of the people he chose to work with and hire are says much about Booker and his judgment.

In February of this year, Booker's chief aide was indicted on corruption charges.

Here is the story:

NEWARK -- A former top aide to Mayor Cory Booker was indicted today on federal extortion and bribery charges for allegedly funneling contracts to a trucking company that he partially owned.

Ronald Salahuddin, who resigned last year as deputy mayor, was charged with steering contracts in 2006 and 2007 to a demolition firm. In return, authorities say Salahuddin demanded the firm hire his business partner in the trucking company, Sonnie Cooper, as a subcontractor. Cooper was also indicted.

"Salahuddin’s brazen efforts on Cooper’s behalf are at the core of what the federal corruption statues are designed to prevent," U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.

Salahuddin, 59, was among the first high-level appointments made by Booker, elected in 2006 as a self-proclaimed reformer who vowed to fight corruption. Fishman stressed today that there is no evidence that Booker was involved in wrongdoing.

In an interview, Booker defended his efforts, saying his administration had mounted probes leading to 19 convictions within city hall. "We don’t wait for other people to investigate corruption in our city. We are aggressively working against it every single day," Booker said.

Perhaps Booker isn't dirty, although given that his political patrons are Mayor Bloomberg and Bill Gates, you can make the argument that he doesn't need to be dirty since he has sold out to the Wall Street/hedge fund criminal class and clearly has all the money he needs via his wealthy patrons.

Nonetheless, that many of his political appointees and cronies ARE dirty suggests he has questionable judgment at best and perhaps shouldn't be given sole control of the Newark school system, particularly since the move is illegal.

Here's how illegal it is:

If Cory Booker even thinks of making a decision affecting Newark schools, he and Gov. Chris Christie will find themselves in a lawsuit faster than you can say Facebook, the head of the Education Law Center said yesterday.

David Sciarra, a veteran of numerous court battles involving public education, said it would be "improper and illegal" for Christie to formally offer Booker any authority to make decisions about the Newark Public Schools. Sciarra was lead counsel on the historic — and successful — Abbott suit filed in 1997 against the state to provide more funding for its neediest schools.

"I have no doubt appropriate legal action would be taken on behalf of the residents of Newark to challenge such a move in court," Sciarra said.

Sciarra’s concerns are rooted in his intimate knowledge of state education law. He feels that giving Booker even a small amount of authority over his city’s schools violates New Jersey’s statute on school district takeovers by circumventing the will of the state’s legialture and Newark’s voters.

"We’ve had numerous contacts from parents and community and parent leaders concerned over giving any kind of power to the mayor," Sciarra said. "We have to see what the specifics are, and we need to assess if it does cross this line."

According to Sciarra and state law says Acting Commissioner of Education Rochelle Hendricks is the state official with true authority over school districts under state control. In Newark’s case, it’s elected advisory board also has some responsibility, but Booker and Christie do not. Newark schools have been under state control for fifteen years.

If Booker does anything more than advise Henricks on how to run Newark’s schools or who to select as the districts’ next superintendent, those actions invite a legal challenge, Sciarra said.

Yesterday, on the Oprah Winfrey sho Christie said Booker will be the point person leading his effort to reform Newark’s schools, but did not offer any more explicit details about Booker’s role in the restucturing.

For the remainder of this academic year, Booker said he will lead a community effort to articulate a set of standards, benchmarks and reforms to recommend to the governor and will not have any legal authority over his city’s schools.

"He, right now, statutorally is in charge of the Newark schools," Booker said of the governor.

Not so, Sciarra said.

"The state’s commissioner of education has statutory responsibilities to the legislature by law to oversee the Newark Public Schools," Sciarra said, "The commissioner needs to be extremely cautious that she not be put in a position by the governor that’s inconsistent with her responsibilities to the school district under state law. She could be held responsible."

So Christie doesn't actually have the legal power to hand the school system to Booker, not even through the jive-ass dodge he used by naming Booker a "special assistant to the governor."

No matter, education reform is more important than other niceties like the rule of law.

That seems to be the message we get from the education reform/hedge fund movement these days.

They keep saying they've "waited" too long for change, and since democracy is too slow to bring about change, they're going to do it through anti-democratic means.

They lost the election in D.C. when the will of the people threw Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee out on their arrogant asses.

But now they will have Newark to work with as their next high profile sandbox for education reform.

The fact that the move giving Booker power over the schools is illegal or that Zuckerberg is engaging in extortion by holding the $100 million over the heads of the people of Newark and demanding they cede to his desires or lose the grant, well, that stuff doesn't matter.

What matters is that we close schools, fire teachers, open up charter schools all over Newark, institute merit pay and break the teachers union.

We'll see how this plays out.

Booker is roundly hated in Newark these days, having had some pretty big battles over the budget and layoffs (he famously said he was holding back toilet paper from city workers until they agreed to pay cuts.)

The crime rate and murder rate has soared over the past year as well.

The hedge fund criminal class will now be invested in making sure that the Newark experiment works, so I have a feeling we will see Goldman Sachs and others hand over money to the city and/or invest in the city.

Maybe that money will be enough to make Newark a better place to live and work.

But you know once they make their political points and break the unions, the Zuckerbergs and the Goldmans will be out of there and the poor black people of the city will be right where they are today.


  1. If this hateful message is from a local teacher, the reason that the city and the education system are failures is clear. If Zuckerbeg and Booker can't use private money to help these failures, it is clear that a bunch of incompetent teachers and corrupt city officials haven't done a thing for decades. What could it hurt to try something different. Given a choice of local government or private funds that can rid the system of the dead weight and corruption, I say go with it. It's time for change.