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GOLDMAN: Chair, Vice-Chair Elections Next for Richmond School Board

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – Having picked a new RPS Superintendent, the nine member Richmond School Board moves to their annual elections for Chair and Vice-Chair. With Dr. Bedden now the new School Chief, the School Board takes on a far different role than in 2013.

“Timing is everything in politics,” former Virginia Governor Jerry Baliles liked to say.

In my view, this “time” dimension – as Rod Serling, legendary Sci-Fi writer liked to say – suggests who might or might be the right individuals for the jobs in 2014 as opposed to 2013.

Let’s analyze the players and the state of play as Santa gets ready for a long night’s work.

FOR CHAIR:

There are four possible choices for Chair in my view. Let’s take them in reverse alphabetical order:

GLEN STURTEVANT – FIRST DISTRICT

Glen is a real lawyer; he doesn’t have a cushy, effectively no-show government job created by his friends. This puts him and everyone else who has to work for a living at disadvantage in the current Richmond government culture. I mention this for a reason, this reality has to change for the schools to truly improve.

There is no indication Glen wants the job.

If he did, could he get the five votes needed to win? I don’t think so. But he is a very capable individual.

KIM GRAY – SECOND DISTRICT

She is clearly the big winner with Dr. Dana Bedden’s selection.

Since being elected to the School Board, she has been the most publicly outspoken K-12 reformer in city elected office, challenging the Mayor, two former Superintendents, the REA, and others who have for too long been defenders of a failed status quo.

Kim narrowly lost the Chair’s position last year in a 5-4 vote against the Mayor’s choice. Kim has her faults as do we all. At times, she can be her own worst enemy, as can we all. It is part of the human condition.

Still, let’s be blunt. The petty jealousies evident in the 5-4 vote were not some people’s best moments in my view. They are a lot better that, why sell yourself short?

I have no indication Kim wants the job. Moreover, could she get five votes? In that regard, one of her supporters – Kristen Larson – is apparently campaigning for the Vice-Chair’s job. If that is true, then, it seems very likely Mrs. Larson has promised her vote to someone else.

DON COLEMAN – SEVENTH DISTRICT

He is currently the Vice-Chair. With Dr. Bedden taking over, a case – in the alternative as we say in the law – can be made NOT to go with a high profile Chair, but rather a low key person who prefers to operate in the background. That is to say Dr. Bedden is the high profile one now.

Don is capable and low key. The question would be whether he is too low key and whether he can stand-up to the status quo when push comes to shove.

He could do it. But does Don want the top spot? I have no indication he does. Could he get the five votes? I see several coalition possibilities.

JEFF BOURNE – THIRD DISTRICT

Elected by a 5-4 margin in 2013, I assume the 3rd district guy wants another term. But the Baliles “timing” equation says this is a political mistake for him.

Why? Jeff is a “lifer” in politics, all his jobs are politically connected, and it doesn’t take a mind-reader to know he is using the Chair’s job to run for higher office. There is nothing wrong with ambition. But this means “image” is key for Jeff, that’s a politician’s top asset.

Jeff was leading the fight to get Dr. Jackson, not Dr. Bedden. Jackson was the choice of the City Hall establishment. It was the wrong choice, a bad choice, but as they say “all is well that ends well.”

But it tells me something, given that true reform requires Dr. Bedden to push back against the status quo, the smart “Bourne Identity” move would be for Jeff to follow the shrewd strategy of Derek Jones [see below] and “lay in the cut” for 2014. He can’t afford to be seen as too loyal to his patron Mayor Jones, but at the same time, he can’t afford to be as not loyal enough.

Why risk a no-win situation as Chair? Step aside, get praised for Dr. Bedden, shore-up your work resume, and get ready to run for higher office in a few years.

At this point in time, being Chair is too much risk for too little reward. But I doubt whether he will take my advice.

That’s his choice. But don’t ever say I didn’t give honest, 200 proof advice when others were telling what they thought someone wanted to hear.

VICE-CHAIR

As a matter of politics, the Vice-Chair is invariably chosen from one of the five or more people voting for the winning Chair candidate. There is little reason to expect that to change. Give the various possible majority vote coalitions, anyone of the remaining five could wind-up as Vice-Chair.

MAMIE TAYLOR – FIFTH DISTRICT

She was a big upset winner last year. One thing I admire about Mamie is that she is a very loyal person, a rare trait even at this level of politics. Right now, some silly rule is stopping her from doing the volunteer work with school children. That’s where her heart is. I have no reason to believe she wants to be Vice Chair. But she could get five votes.

Either way, someone needs to change the rule and let her help the kids in her district.

KRISTEN LARSON – FOURTH DISTRICT

She pulled-off an even bigger upset win last year. Kristen is the Board’s lead voice for charter schools. Her reported interest in being Vice-Chair doesn’t surprise me.

She is a hard working school board member. “Rumor has it,” to quote the great song by Adele, she and Mr. Bourne were leading the charge for “Action Jackson.”

To be perfectly frank, this totally baffled me at the time, and still does.

But this is the holiday season and everyone gets a clean slate come January 1.

My sources claim she is being encouraged to run by some people who backed Coleman the last time. Politics in a nine person group is often more about power and personality than it is about policy. This is human nature.

Kristen is very dedicated to the school children. Are the rumors true? If I knew the answer, then I wouldn’t call it a rumor. Could she get five votes? Yes, there are several five vote coalitions potentially available to her if she is willing to play the necessary politics.

SHONDA HARRIS-MUHAMMED – SIXTH DISTRICT

Let’s just say she got off to a rocky start.

“Stuff happens” in politics, you learn to roll with it and not make the same mistakes again.

Shonda has genuine interest in the students, especially those from challenged backgrounds. All of us have talent we don’t appropriately use.

I am not in the “sell people short” camp. Even at the School Board level, it can be tough game. She has the talent to “up her game,” as the saying goes. I hope she does.

A new Superintendent gives everyone a new start really. But I think Shonda going for Vice-Chair in 2014 would be a stretch. Next year, however, can be a really good year for her if she puts her mind to make it happen.

Politics is often about picking yourself off the floor – look at Governor-elect McAuliffe – and doing it better the next time.

DEREK JONES – EIGHTH DISTRICT

Looking at things from a 200 proof political perspective, Dr. Jones, the Mayor’s son, has played the game better than anyone else on the Board in 2013.

He is simply too smart to want to be either Chair or Vice-Chair in 2014. When he got elected, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But he understands my “timing” theory.

His “day” is coming.

But until then, he is smartly waiting in the background, letting everyone else take the lead. It’s the best play of anyone on the Board by far.

He is laying back, letting the play come to him. I like that strategy on his part. If he keeps playing it smart, he will waltz into his next office, higher up on the ladder.

TICHI EPPES – NINTH DISTRICT

For purposes of full disclosure, she is a client of mine, indeed last year Tony Troy and I had to bring suit in federal court to reverse an illegal decision throwing her off the ballot.

Accordingly, I can’t really comment any further except to say her dedication to reforming the system is well-documented, going back to her PTA days, others would have simply given up and never agreed to the federal court challenge. I admire that.

CONCLUSION

The above discusses the “state of play,” it isn’t intended to make predictions.

Politics generally adheres to Newton’s First Law of Motion, or in street talk: you can’t beat someone with no one. Inertia, which if I remember correctly was Galileo before Newton, is the rule in politics –  any change is work and so why be bothered if I don’t have to do it?

Actually, it might be Newton’s Second Law come to think of it. Anyway, he only had three, so I got a 33 percent chance of being right on the physics by pure chance, but 100 percent on the politics, there is no gamble there.

In politics at all levels, there are better choices and worse choices, seldom if ever the Best Possible or Worst Possible choice.

Those who know nothing about the real world of politics pine for “unanimous” choices.

This is a silly gripe, it is not how the real world works except in certain circumstances.

Five to four is plenty good enough for most things, the trick is for people to have their say, have a fair process and vote, and then move on.

The fight for the needed change in the RPS is just beginning.

The School Board can either be part of the solution or part of the problem. As ACDC pointed out, “it is a long way to the top when you want to rock and roll.”

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.