Race and This Election

Issues of race came into play in the 2012 Board of Education election.

Published April 18, 2012, 10:33 a.m.:

In Maplewood and South Orange, we pride ourselves on being forward-thinking, progressive towns. We move here for the diversity. We embrace it. We brag about it. We use it to market ourselves.

This past election, we were tearing ourselves apart over it.

The issue came crashing into the forefront late in the campaign. On April 12 — less than five days before polls would open — an awkward audience question was the main takeaway for many from the .

The question was as follows (): "This question refers to the March 5 board meeting when a close supporter — this questioner says — a close supporter, Dr. Reeves — I'm not sure of this context — said the problem in the district is black culture. The person writing the question finds this offensive. Once again, I'm doing my best to translate this. Does this sound familiar? And the person is asking if this Dr. Reeves hosted a coffee for your campaign."

This publication decided not to report the question — which the moderator and candidates rejected ultimately as inappropriate — or post the video until it could perform further research on the accusation. Our judgment was that it would be unfair for either campaign to allow unsubstantiated accusations to air that could impact the outcome of the election.

This we now know: The citizen in question is not a member of the Pai-Eastman-Bennett campaign team. The Pai-Eastman-Bennett members have stated a platform of racial inclusiveness. Wayne Eastman has specifically rejecting the argument that "black culture" is reponsible for the achievement gap in an Op-Ed here on Patch. Jeff Bennett told Patch, "The comment had nothing to do with me nor do I agree with it." Neither Eastman, Bennett or Madhu Pai have made any comments or written any literature blaming the achievement gap on black culture.

Was there a coffee for Pai-Eastman-Bennett at the individual's house?

Patch received information  on April 18 that Rusty Reeves and his wife invited friends to a coffee to meet Eastman, Pai and Bennett in their home on March 18.

Regarding the forum, the about how and why audience questions are selected.

Over the final weekend of the campaign, an email published by Lisa Davis, co-chair of Swanson/Payne Parrish, began circulating widely throughout the towns. The full content is as follows:


Next Tuesday, April 17th is Election Day for the South Orange/Maplewood Board of Education. It is vitally important that we turn out to vote in this election. I want to make sure that you are all aware of the stakes in our upcoming Board of Education elections.  I am Co-Chair of the Payne Parrish/Swanson campaign. I also support candidate Amy Higer. Many of you know Jennifer and Tia.  The Board of Ed recently voted to overhaul leveling in the high school and combine levels in the middle school. As many of you know, for over two decades fair minded folks in town have fought against a leveling system that relegated most Black students to lower levels where they received an unequal education and were unprepared for college or careers.  In the March 5th vote on the proposal, Jennifer Payne Parrish was one of seven votes in favor.  Wayne Eastman, who is running on a slate with Jeffrey Bennett and Madhu Pai, voted against the proposal. Let’s not forget that we all pay the same taxes, yet Black parents often have to fight to get their kids into college preparatory classes. That is manifestly unfair.  Some of the most vocal supporters of the Eastman slate believe that Black kids can’t excel because of Black culture.  Here is a link to the public comments of one of their prominent supporters from the March 5 Board meeting to that effect. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rqtdT20530&feature=plcp&context=C466e228VDvjVQa1PpcFOzOSyRz_YOUpHq4vLQkrbJRh0y_5BNHps=

I believe that the other slate believes that any gains for Black students will come at the expense of high achieving White students.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Please make calls to get all of your friends to come out and VOTE for Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer on Tuesday, APRIL 17.

Read the Patch transcription of Reeves' comments here. 

Patch confirmed that the email was sent by Davis. Steve Latz, chairman of the Payne Parrish/Swanson and Higer campaigns provided an explanation for and defense of the email. Here is an excerpt:

On the afternoon of April 12, Lisa Davis, campaign co-chair for the Payne-Parrish and Swanson campaign, sent an email to 19 friends, urging them to vote in the upcoming April 17 BOE elections. Her email was drafted with my full knowledge, assistance and encouragement.

In particular, I suggested she mention the statement made by Dr. Rusty Reeves during the “Public Speaks” portion of the March 5 Board of Education meeting. No one else in the campaign, including the three candidates and Amy’s husband Michael Paris, had any prior knowledge of Lisa’s email, nor were they given the opportunity to review it. They have since indicated they would have refused approval had they been afforded the opportunity to do so.

I take sole responsibility for the email. I regret any adverse impact it may have had on their campaign, but I reject the notion that anything in the email is libelous and would point out it was sent to a list of Lisa's friends, not circulated publicly. If that is violation of ethical campaign practice, then I would urge both campaigns to produce ALL emails circulated on their behalf, by campaign leaders and others closely associated with each campaign. I am in receipt of many generated by both sides. It would, in my view, make a very interesting discussion. And one might further include in that discussion all of the posts on MOL, many of which, in contrast to Lisa’s email, have no basis in fact.


A lengthy thread on MOL shows some community reaction to the the CCR forum and the email by members of the community.

Patch has asked both campaigns for additional information about these questions as well as official statements addressing them. Wayne Eastman's current Op-Ed addresses the issue of "black culture" as well as broader issues about campaigning and debating. Here is an excerpt for Eastman's post:

I strongly disagree with the finger-pointing, judgmental, blaming quality of both the achievement gap as rooted in black culture position and the leveling as rooted in white supremacy position. I want to make that disagreement especially clear as it relates to the former position.

I am putting myself forward as a leader, and leaders have responsibilities. It is the planks in the eye of myself and my side that I am in the best position to do something about. I have tried to do that in my campaign, and I pledge to continue to work on that as a Board member with Madhu and Jeff and with my other Board colleagues.

I believe we need to respect individuals and their passions. Demonizing people who express passionate ideological sentiments is itself highly problematic.

Read Eastman's comments in full here.


Updated April 19 to include a link to another article by Steve Latz, chairman of the Payne Parrish, Swanson and Higer campaigns.

Updated April 18, 2012, 3 p.m. to link to a transcript of comments.

Updated April 18, 2012, 1:26 p.m. with information about an event hosted for the Pai Eastman Bennett campaign on March 18.

Ellen Kahaner April 18, 2012 at 06:00 PM
Let's leave the anonymous posting and name calling to Maplewood On Line!
Mary Mann April 18, 2012 at 06:18 PM
There is now a link to a transcript of Reeves' public comments in the story and here: http://patch.com/A-s6jr
Mary Mann April 18, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Ellen, agreed. Home Owner, Personal attacks are against Patch policy for comments (see the Terms of Use — link on the home page). I would ask you to rephrase. Thanks.
Kalani Thielen April 18, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Thank you Mary, for assembling all of the information on this contentious issue.
Home Owner April 18, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Lisa, none of the candidateswhom you opposed expressed anything remotely consistent with your "belief." You falsely accused them.
John Davenport April 19, 2012 at 04:32 AM
Did Latz or Davis host coffees for their candidates? Even if not, they played directing roles in a campaign for school board. Mr. Reeves's comments at the BOE meeting were not part of the board campaign; They were in response to the decisions to delevel 8th grade, 9th grade (esp. social studies), and high school electives. Should we now go back through all the public speaks in recent months at BOE meetings and see which speakers might have hosted a coffee? This kind of a witch hunt can have a chilling effect on public discourse at BOE meetings, where public speaks were already cut to 2 minutes (a limit strictly kept). I do not say or mean to imply here that the CCR selected this offending question to be asked with any malicious intent. We know at least one source of the question because Mr. Latz posed it directly to me on the Monday evening three nights before the CCR debate (in the form of an assertion). From the CCR statement that they received this strange question about a public speak in a BOE meeting (addressing the deleveling decisions, not this campaign or reasons to vote for any candidate) on six different cards, I would have to guess that the CCR was used here. I'm not excusing the decision to ask the question; I do not know how much time pressure the moderators were under -- it can be hard to make tough judgment calls in such circumstances. But it seems that a certain group stacked the deck of question cards. These facts are crucial for evaluating this event.
John Davenport April 19, 2012 at 05:08 AM
There is one last thing I must say before taking a long break from all this. People have rightly been defending Mr. Reeves's character, noting his years of devotion to inmates and people in very troubled circumstances. Others can and should say more on that. By the same token, the many goods in Mr. Latz's character should be recognized. I will take heat for saying this, believe me, since the election became so emotional. Obviously I have judged it necessary to criticize very strongly some of Latz's tactics, and they angered me last year too. And I have disagreed with him vehemently since the deleveling issue came so suddenly on the scene to most of us in May 2010 (before which it had been a debate with the small group, "United"). Prior to that, I was inclined to work with Mr. Latz. He served on the BOE for something like nine years; his expertise in school budgets and state law impacting school finance is unsurpassed. I learned a lot from him and he helped me prepare for efforts to convince state legislators to help our district. While I do not know him well, from what I can tell, he is a person who is incredibly strong willed in devotion to justice -- the very kind of person I most praise. This has made the last two years that much harder for me. While I clearly think his admirable passion has got the better of his judgment in the last two years, this record of public service and knowledge acquired through long toil for the public good should be remembered in the balance.
Lee Navlen April 19, 2012 at 12:03 PM
6 very dedicated volunteers ran for the school board. 3 won, 3 lost but all should be proud of the time and effort they put into running. These people and I mean all 6 of them are not racists and are certainly not mean spirited. Perhaps some overzealous handlers took it upon themselves to take this situation to a level that was completely inappropriate but sometimes in the heat of battle these things happen. Moving forward, I get the feeling that Steve Latz and Lisa Davis may have to personally run themselves if they want to actually be involved in future campaigns since for now too many bridges have been burnt. I also can't see a scenario where the CCR hosts future debates. Not with a political agenda that certainly (once again) warrants a review of their funding.
Michael Paris April 19, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Hi John. Frankly, your sudden conversion to elevated civil discourse is a little hard for me to take. I feel a need to respond, but I also don't want to keep pouring gasoline on the fires. You did not conduct yourself well at all during this campaign. You, and others involved in the Eastman, Pai, and Bennett campaign were engaging in McCarthyite tactics and direct personal attacks, generally, and aimed particularly at Amy Higer (my spouse), on MOL for many weeks before the election. My own conscience is clear. I've gotten angry with individuals in person-to-person emails, and I regret that. But you went off the deep end in a way that I know shocked many good people. As for Mr. Reeves' comments, my view used to be that when people say things like that publicly the best response is to ignore them. Now I'm not so sure.
Michael Paris April 19, 2012 at 06:10 PM
I don't know Lisa Davis well, but for many years she has struck me as an insightful and incredibly decent person. It doesn't surprise me at all that she would want to communicate with her friends about highly inappropriate and morally objectionable public comments coming from a supporter of the Pai, Eastman, and Bennett campaign. Her email did include guilt by association--it moved from Mr. Reeves' offensive remarks to an assertion about the views of the 3 candidates--and that was simply wrong. I hope you do not try to deny your role in the campaign as a surrogate working with the campaign team, or that Mr. Reeves was similarly involved with you and a core group of 25 or so other people. So if Lisa Davis and Steve Latz are to be held accountable for crossing the line, and they should be, then so too should you and many others working in concert with you. 
 Best regards, 
Kalani Thielen April 19, 2012 at 06:26 PM
Mr. Paris, Your wife ran a good campaign. I didn't vote for her, as I mentioned to you in a different forum, because I didn't think that she would make Computer Science a priority in the same way that the Pai/Eastman/Bennett camp would do. However, at one of the debates, your wife made the point that if CS/programming was made a focus in schools (especially elementary schools), it would be most effective by integration with other subjects as much as possible, and she elaborated on this in some detail. I agreed with this point, as it was consistent with my own experience, and put it to the candidates Pai/Eastman/Bennett as well. You may resent some things that were said in this campaign, on behalf of one candidate or another (I certainly harbor some such resentments as well). However, I hope that you understand that not everybody who voted against your wife shares the same view of what has been said, and also that many of us who voted against your wife still greatly respect her and her contribution to public discourse. Respectfully.
Michael Paris April 19, 2012 at 06:49 PM
Your job on the campaign? Maybe you should apply for a job with Fox News? Ok, John, I'm not sure Mary will permit this, or that she should. I could go over several of your posts in this same way: Here's one you alleged several times that had no basis in fact. When I went on MOL to correct it, you did the Fox Newsy thing and moved away from it, or moved on, only to return to it at some point later in the same thread, or in a different thread: ****** The biggest problem with the campaign by Jennifer, Amy, and Tia (hope I have her name right) is that they have been going around to coffees telling folks that Pai, Eastman, and Bennett are for "going backwards" and want to roll back deleveling. And that is outright deception. Amy even said or clearly implied at the Hilton debate that her opponents believe that student academic potential is genetically fixed, which is like calling them genetic racists -- incredibly offensive and ignorant (are there no other factors someone with a Ph.D. could think of to explain the racial achievement gap -- it's either caused by levels or IQ and that's it?!). Nothing in the Pai-Eastman-Bennett statements suggest reversing the changes just made. Though people know I opposed deleveling 8th and 9th grade plus electives in higher grades, even I would not favor changing the levels every year or two and making teachers feel like yo-yos. ******** She said nothing of the kind.
Michael Paris April 19, 2012 at 06:54 PM
PRIOR POST CONTINUED. Now (1) Amy and her running mates often said that some people in this community want to turn back the clock, or rollback leveling up. They never said Eastman, Pai, or Bennett did--E, P, and B said they did not want to or it was not possible. (2) The real point: Amy did not say what you said she said--not even close. The closest reference would be her closing statement at the Hilton Debate on March 15, which can still be viewed here on Patch. Your statement was wildly off the mark as a matter of fact, and personally quite vicious. It was over the line--so you should apologize for that one. Shall we continue? I'd rather not, personally, and probably won't, but I easily could, for a good long time.
Home Owner April 19, 2012 at 08:12 PM
You are being hypocritical, Mary. Michael's comments on John are no less strident than those I made to Lisa, which you banned. You are taking sides here, Mary. This means your site here will continue to wallow in obscurity. For the record, I support the "right" of Michael to shoot at John. I'm just appalled at your flagrant hypocrisy.
Mary Mann April 19, 2012 at 08:36 PM
A comment here was deleted at the request of the poster.
Mary Mann April 19, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Home Owner, You have a point. It's practically impossible to comment on posts that are about the behavior of people without commenting on the people!
Mary Mann April 19, 2012 at 08:47 PM
In addition, I would argue strenuously that I am not taking sides. I AM trying to look at the language carefully and keep people to the issues. I don't want the conversation devolving into name-calling. Thanks again for your input.
Mary Mann April 19, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Home Owner, I don't want to censor you. I just wanted you to rephrase and repost. Saying someone's actions were "despicable" is allowed. Saying the person is despicable is not. I know. Sounds like silly semantics. But it helps to keep the conversation focused on the action or issue, not the personalities. Thanks again.
Michael Paris April 19, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Earlier, John Davenport posted this in response to one of my earlier posts: John Davenport 2:17 pm on Thursday, April 19, 2012 Sorry you feel that way Michael. For my benefit, when time permits, please list your grievances. You can email me privately if you prefer. MOL was part of my job in the campaign, a job no one wants. Like you, I post under a recognizable name. I will not be on MOL and Patch much for a few weeks, but I will try to address the grievances. This is a sincere request for information; I am not sure what the grievances are. I did post a complaint on MOL about questions at the League debate, but retracted that and apologized for it. Let me know when time permits.
John Davenport April 19, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Dear Michael, I had thought on 'second thought' that it would be preferable to email directly on all this: davenport.jj@gmail.com . But if you want to do it in public, we can. I'll go through the list of grievances. I now think this may simply drag out a painful process; but if you insist. Re the first one, I'll have to go back to the film of the Hilton debate. As for my "job," yes I assigned myself the job of addressing the arguments online. Of course others posted as well, but I have done this almost every year for many years during BOE campaigns. Btw I am solely responsible for anything I have posted here or on MOL. Like others who supported PEB and posted, I did not have any of my statements approved by the campaign; they came solely from me. PEB did not vet, and are not responsible for, anything I wrote (same for their campaign manager). I simply meant to indicate to you that this "job" is no fun; I don't do this for sport or some kind of vindictive malice, but to answer what I felt were unfair implications and attacks coming either from your candidates, or from some of their supporters subsequently. In short, the statements you have found offensive were in reaction to attacks; I did not initiate. In any case, your grievances are with me personally, and it is my burden to try to address them, either here or privately.
John Davenport April 19, 2012 at 10:52 PM
A third alternative would be to move this to an MOL thread. Mary might prefer that. This sort of exchange is not so much for Patch. But again, your choice.
Michael Paris April 19, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Well John, I agree that we've taxed Mary enough. We can't take this to MOL. It wouldn't work there. This will be my last post. What you are doing here is what you did on MOL, constantly, over many weeks. You are not addressing the substance of my claim. You said this: "Amy even said or clearly implied at the Hilton debate that her opponents believe that student academic potential is genetically fixed, which is like calling them genetic racist-- incredibly offensive and ignorant (are there no other factors someone with a Ph.D. could think of to explain the racial achievement gap -- it's either caused by levels or IQ and that's it?!)." Ok, can you get to the idea that what she said was "like calling them genetic racists" from her statement? So please do review the tape and let us know. I promise you, and Mary, that you can have the last word, if you want it. Go to 1 hour, 24 minutes on the tape. http://maplewood.patch.com/articles/board-of-ed-candidates-find-common-ground-outline-differences#youtube_video-9350577 Michael
John Davenport April 20, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Michael, I concede that I did not get back to this question on the MOL thread. I promised to review the Hilton debate tape, since I wanted an exact transcript to make sure I was being fair. I had posted that allegation based on my notes from the debate, which were pretty good, but obviously they are not a transcript. However, I never did have time to go back over the Hilton debate tape. This was not intended as a Fox-style dodge; I have simply been very busy. It is that time of the semester; you can probably see that many of my posts were at 2am. I do still believe that what I said was a fair response to what seemed, in the very first debate, like a strong negative attack on PEB and their supporters. It set up a familiar straw man, one that has been debunked by myself and others multiple times during the last two years. To introduce it again, along with the words "tracking" and "aptitude," seemed very uncharitable, to saw the least. Ms. Higer came out swinging in that first debate, and I thought this blow was way below the belt. It seemed to me to deserve the strong response I gave. SInce you disagree, I will review the tape (and thanks for posting the link). There is a procedural dilemma. I agree with the problems we'd face on MOL. Yet I'm not sure more of this is wanted on Patch. And what I need to say may not fit in a Patch response either. If you send me an email, I can send it to you that way. You could then decide if you'd want it posted so you could reply.
Kalani Thielen April 20, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Mr. Paris, you say: "I hope you do not try to deny your role in the campaign as a surrogate working with the campaign team [...] and a core group of 25 or so other people." Sir I don't know you, and please don't take this as an insult, but you've brought up the subject of "dirty tricks" in this thread and I'm concerned about the accuracy of your group of 25 "enemies list". Considering the way that a private citizen has been the subject of a coordinated attack by a political campaign here, I wonder if you might consider publishing the contents of this list. It seems like you associated Dr. Reeves with the Pai/Eastman/Bennett campaign here (as an operative rather than a supporter), and my information says that's false. My concern here is that perhaps the other members of your list are falsely identified as operatives of a political campaign as well. Regards.
Home Owner April 20, 2012 at 09:57 AM
Mary, facts are, I said to Lisa, after she came in here and lied about her email, that her email was despicable and that she was a "bad" person. I deleted the post at your request. Michael has said the same, if not worse, about John. Again, to be clear, I have no problem whatsoever with Michael engaging John as he has, or with you defending Lisa. Just don't claim you are applying a consistent standard to posting when you are not.
Mary Mann April 20, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Home Owner, Clearly, nothing I do will convince you that I'm trying to apply consistent rules or be fair. Your comments are all posted. Your meaning has been conveyed. Thanks for contributing. Be well.
Michael Paris April 20, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Mr. Thielen: No insult at all. I respect the quality of your participation in these online exchanges. There is no enemies list. I actually not only respect but like several of the people who worked in the inner circle of the PEB campaign. We do have copies of some emails that clearly give us "the campaign team." Operative-supporter--it's a continuum. There is no point in any further discussion of what any particular individual did or did not do in or for the PEB campaign. I entered this thread only because I did not want to let John D. get away with his lofty pretenses, post-election. He admits, and then denies, that he was actually an operative. I am stopping now. The election is over, and I'm confident that we have a great board and that all 9 members will work well together. If you want to talk privately, that's fine with me. Just let me know. Best, Michael
STEPHANIE VOLIN April 20, 2012 at 03:20 PM
not to belabor the point, but your claim that you "did not state that Dr. Reeves hosted a coffee for any candidate" is irrelevant when your own email says "Some of the most vocal supporters of the Eastman slate believe...." I understand your position that the email was sent to a handful of friends, but the didactic tone, the inclusion of the offensive link and the closing statement (" Please make calls to get all of your friends to come out and VOTE for Payne-Parrish, Swanson and Higer ...") indicate to me that this is an email that was expected to be forwarded exponentially and to be read as dire and alarming, in an effort to get out the vote.
John Davenport April 20, 2012 at 11:41 PM
Not attempting to appear lofty; just wanted there to be some public record of Latz's service in years past, even though I'm angry at him right now. Of course I supported the PEB campaign. My posts are all mine alone though.
John Davenport April 21, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Ok, since there is a clear attempt to tar me here, I have decided to answer it once and for all. I can repost my entire MOL statement on this issue from the Hilton debate, but that is probably not necessary (yet). I have been through the tape of the Hilton debate, finally. I have transcribed this as failthfully as possible: Amy Higer's closing statement at the Hilton debate: "I know there is a lot of agreement on the panel, but I think there's really two different visions of public education between us. [Note this clearly refers to her opposing candidates]. The choice in this campaign is really about two ideas. One is a moral traditional view of what an education is and how learning takes place. It is based on a belief that children are BORN with certain APTITUDES, and that they are best served when we identify those aptitudes and group children according to those aptitudes...." So she clearly stated that her opponents believe in "tracking" [the intentional misnomer for our levels] because they believe in inborn aptitudes. How would any reasonable person understand that? I don't think we need the dictionary definition of "aptitude" to know what "born with" means. So Michael, now you owe me a public apology. You guys swiftboated your opponents last year. You started trying to do it this year again. I called you on it repeatedly and you are now protesting that I did something wrong. On the contrary. That's it. My conscience is clear.


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