Saturday, January 10, 2015

Antonio Villaraigosa: The Myth of The Progressive Mayor

First published in a slightly edited form by LA Progressive on July 5, 2013

Statuesque in a six thousand dollar suit, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa graced the June 2009 cover of Los Angeles Magazine. Emblazoned across his photograph was the bold word "Failure." The tenuous article, embodying the sentiments of many hopeful Angelenos, reproached the Mayor for not being the visionary progressive many envisioned him to be, and in that regard, a failure.

While Villaraigosa disappointed supporters and failed to deliver any progressive policies whatsoever, he was hardly a failure to those he really serves. Indeed, for developers, real estate tycoons, billionaires, and school privatization profiteers, Villaraigosa's eight year reign was a smashing success.

As a young man, Villaraigosa was involved in some progressive, even radical groups. His college years saw him participating in organizations including MEChA and CASA [1]. He even attended People's College of Law, where he learned the language of the labor movement. Many at the time reckoned he would carry those experiences and ideas into his political career, but by the time he became an California Assembly member, his propensity for serving moneyed interests was becoming crystal clear. Supporter and author of a number of anti-labor initiatives, in 1999 Assembly Speaker Villaraigosa authored the bill amending California's Stull Act for teacher evaluations with the reactionary provision of tying into student performance on culturally and class biased standardized tests.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaking at a school privatization event. Photo by Robert D. Skeels
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa speaking at a school privatization event. Photo by Robert D. Skeels

When Villaraigosa was elected as the first Latino mayor in 138 years, many thought he would be a mayor of the people and focus on fostering affordable housing, community building, and improving public education. Instead, one of the first things he did was try to seize mayoral control of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in the fashion that billionaire bully Mayor Michael Bloomberg had done in New York City.

After a bitter court battle and a loss in a referendum, Villaraigosa relented and settled for a group of schools run by a quasi-private organization known as the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools (PLAS). PLAS went on to hire former Green Dot Charter Corporation CEO flunky Marshal Tuck and school privatization veteran Joan Sullivan, two individuals poorly qualified to run public schools. PLAS schools, while staffed with hardworking unionized teachers, have floundered as a direct result of Villaraigosa and Tuck's "leadership," drawing criticism from many quarters, including the normally privatization friendly Los Angeles Times in L.A. Unified bests reform groups in most cases, data show. The Mayor's disastrous meddling and manipulation of schools extends much further, and we'll return to his ongoing assault on public education in a bit.

Heartlessly terrorizing the homeless

Not content with attempting to mimic Bloomberg's heavy handed education policies, Villaraigosa also borrowed New York City's media mogul mayor's playbook for creating gentrification friendly regions for the then nascent Downtown Los Angeles real estate boom. Along with outgoing Councilwoman and recent mayoral hopeful Jan Perry, Villaraigosa launched an all out war on the poor and the homeless in order to create a developer friendly environment for both new construction and the conversion of older structures into highly profitable lofts and condominiums.

Safer Cities Initiative (SCI) is the name of the vicious set of policies Villaraigosa inflicted on downtown residents with the help of Bloomberg veteran Police Chief Bill Bratton, who brought his wrongheaded "broken window" policies that were hatched from theories originated from the fringe right Manhattan Institute. The broken window theory posits that a crackdown on innocuous violations like jaywalking or littering somehow improves "quality of life" and reduces more serious crimes. There is scant evidence that this is true, but the policy continues unabated to this day.

A 2007 Socialist Worker piece entitled Clearing out skid row exposed both the cruelty of and the motives behind SCI. A quote near the end of the article spoke to what SCI looks like in practice: "Los Angeles' best response to its homeless crisis is to criminalize, intimidate, and incarcerate its most vulnerable." The ethnic cleansing of skid row and its surrounds created a lucrative boon for real estate, and essentially transformed Downtown Los Angeles into a gentrifying area that grows more expensive and exclusive by the day. None of Villaraigosa's policies helped the homeless or other downtown residents displaced by gentrification. Professor Gary Blasi of UCLA summed up SCI's real accomplishments in terms of helping the homeless in a landmark report highly critical of the policy thusly:

Indeed, the main source of additional shelter and housing for homeless people, at least on Skid Row, has been provided by the State Prison system or the Los Angeles County Jail, at enormous cost to both homeless people and the taxpayers.

Villaraigosa's war on the homeless in order to appease his deep pocketed developer friends and campaign donors has been the antithesis of progressive policy. Indeed these programs have made him a pariah with homeless advocacy groups and organizations dedicated to serving the poor. Once, during a self congratulatory Villaraigosa press conference on skid row, nuns and volunteers at the Catholic Worker soup kitchen (affectionately known as the hippy kitchen) began an impromptu protest which effectively shut the press conference down. Ironically, the press conference was a venue for the Mayor to claim he was helping the homeless. This is something he has become quite adept at — offering platitudes to the very people he is victimizing.

Ousting OccupyLA — making Los Angeles safe for banksters

Villaraigosa's handling of Occupy Los Angeles mirrored his callous, but carefully stage-managed, strategy toward the homeless. His media campaign gave the appearance that he cared or even supported those camping for economic justice, but his actions demonstrated the polar opposite.

Eager to avoid the missteps of Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, Villaraigosa made press statements expressing an understanding of the Occupy movement, and went as far as to let the media see him passing out rain ponchos to protesters. However, his mollifying Occupy would only extend so far with an impending presidential election in which Villaraigosa hoped to play a prominent role in promoting. It's widely documented that the FBI coordinated the crackdown on Occupy, but it's unknown how involved they were with Los Angeles. Regardless, under the Mayor's orders the raid and closure of OccupyLA occurred with lightening paramilitary precision from the notorious Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) with full cooperation from the corporate media.

The carefully orchestrated attack on OccupyLA was held at night in order to minimize media coverage of LAPD's brutal offensive against the encampment. Accounts of alleged beatings, torture, and collective punishment were published in alternative media, while the corporate press bemoaned the state of the lawn surrounding city hall. Some of the more interesting accounts included those by high profile sitcom writer Patrick Meighan, journalist Yasha Levine, and activist Bruce Cooley. While Villaraigosa gushed about LAPD's "professionalism and restraint in clearing the park around City Hall of protesters," others told dark tales of Villaraigosa sending a political message to his OccupyLA captives:

After we were finally booked at 10 a.m., we awaited word on what was going to happen. Suddenly, a police captain appeared in front of the jail cell and began to talk to us. He flat out said the following: "Yes, normally all misdemeanors are immediately released with a citation and spend no time in jail, but it's been decided, at the highest levels of the department and city government, that you are going to spend the maximum time we can keep you in jail without charging you with anything, not for criminal reasons but to be made political examples." Literally that is almost a word-for-word quote of what the captain told us.

Our bail was set at $5,000. We were never formally charged with anything, never given lawyers and never read any rights. It's true, the law states you can be held in jail for 48 hours without being charged with anything.

Ever looking to stage manage his image and always in damage control mode, the Mayor released a mildly apologetic press statement regretful of LAPD's brutality some seventeen months after the fact. A convenient apology, given that Occupy's importance was its conspicuous visibility to keep the crimes of the finance capital class in the forefront of everyone's mind. Ousting Occupy made it easier for people to forget that today's austerity for working people was rooted entirely in the excess and recklessness of CEOs who crashed the world economy. Meighan best sums this up:

What does it say about our country that nonviolent protesters are given the bottom of a police boot while those who steal hundreds of billions, do trillions worth of damage to our economy and shatter our social fabric for a generation are not only spared the zipcuffs but showered with rewards?

Imperialist aspirations and taxed enough already

Like many Mayors and Governors with their eyes on loftier (read national) political posts, Villaraigosa holds positions on international affairs. While he never claimed that he could see Russia from the lavish Mayoral Mansion on Irving Boulevard, he does hold some extremely reactionary views mirroring those of the erstwhile Governor of "The Last Frontier." Villaraigosa's June 12, 2011 twitter post explains this best:

Quite simply, supporting a foreign policy promoting depictions of pregnant women in cross-hairs with the inscription "1 Shot 2 Kills" is diametrically opposed to any reasonable definition of progressivism.

Villaraigosa's reactionary foreign policy stances find an equally reactionary counterpart in his unbridled support of the Tea Party's obsession with national debt. To wit, he sits on the steering committee of Peter G. Peterson's "Fix the Debt" austerity organization. Fix the Debt's "solution" to our country's regressive tax system is to enact massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Instead of making the progressive case for a progressive tax structure that returns the wealth from those extracting it back to the broader society that created it, Villaraigosa calls for cuts to programs effecting the most vulnerable.

The long list of transnational corporations supporting Fix the Debt undoubtedly love that Villaraigosa has become an apologist for ideas long the domain of the most fringe right think tanks. Meanwhile, working class Angelenos continue to suffer from these austerity for the poor only policies. As the predatory firms behind Fix the Debt continue to take advantage of "performance pay" tax loopholes, they can rely on Mayor Villaraigosa to provide them "bipartisan" political cover, as he did in this Op-Ed he co-authored in USA Today:

...we've also taken heat from those on the left who feel that the notion of compromise and collaboration across party lines is somehow a betrayal of Democratic principles.

We strenuously disagree. We believe reaching a comprehensive, bipartisan debt deal will demonstrate to the financial markets, and to people everywhere, that America has the political will to tackle difficult issues and provide a tremendous boost to the economic recovery. The stimulating effect of these developments will unlock billions of dollars in currently inactive capital, spur investment and, most importantly, produce real job creation.

Squelching the South Central Farm

The South Central Community Garden, often called by its shorter name, the South Central Farm, was the largest urban farm in the country. Provided to the community in 1994 as means of ameliorating the trauma South Central residents suffered from the rebellion following the LAPD's vicious beating of Rodney King, the once arid wasteland was transformed into productive, fertile green space by hard working local campesinos (farmers). From the point when wealthy developer Ralph Horowitz began vying to reacquire the 14 acres from the City of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa again played the game that he has developed to a fine art — feigning support for a progressive movement and workers, while arranging victory behind the scenes for the propertied class. One of the best accounts of this is by prominent activists Leslie Radford and Juan Santos:

The cynicism of the top-level players is profound; Mayor Villaraigosa, for all his posturing about searching out large donors to save the Farm, always had the money to save it at his disposal. He chose not to spend it...

...But Villaraigosa sank no roots in the Farm, even though he had used the Farm for campaign photo ops While constantly reassuring the Farmers behind the scenes, promising them $5M in private fundraising to buy the Farm from Horowitz, he cynically refused to endorse their efforts publicly...

...In the end, when Villaraigosa offered to "raise" money from charitable sources to buy back the Farm from Horowitz, he had at his disposal both the profit the City had made from the Harbor Department sale, and also the money it had made in the more recent back room sale to Horowitz. The Mayor didn't have to beg money from anyone. He didn't have to lose a moment. He only had to use the massive profits from the land to buy it back.

To do so of course, would be problematic; it could only emphasize a question the Farmers are asking this week in court — "Why would the City sell land to Horowitz for $5.3M when it was worth at least three times that amount"? Especially when the City had already sold it once before for triple that amount?

Note the mention of Villaraigosa using the struggle to save the farm for photo opportunities. Always conscious of his tinsel town image, Villaraigosa wanted to be associated with the long list of celebrities supporting the South Central Farm. In the end, the developer friendly Mayor's actions didn't reflect his rhetoric, and like the homeless, OccupyLA activists, immigrant rights supporters, and other progressive movements, the family farmers found themselves face to face with Los Angeles' paramilitary police forces.

Predatory developer Horowitz, with enthusiastic assistance of Villaraigosa and Jan Perry's offices, unleashed the Sheriff's bulldozers on hapless community members. This final act adding much insult to injury, with taxpayers footing the bill for Horowitz's eviction force after he had wrangled two highly profitable deals out of the same parcel of land at the public's expense twice. Horowitz, also sat on the unelected board of the colocated Gabriella Charter School Corporation, which has the dubious history of constantly encroaching on more space of one of Los Angeles' oldest public elementary schools.

South Central Farm activist Rufina Juárez's stern words for Villaraigosa encapsulate his Janus-like modus operandi:

She also had strong words of criticism for Villaraigosa, who over the course of his corporate ladder-climbing, power-hungry career has used his "origins" and "race" as political bargaining chips.

"Mexicans," she said as tears welled up in her eyes, "have a long tradition of defending our land and we aren't going to forget this aggression. Those who don't love their land have no mother, so it's clear that Villaraigosa has no mother. It would be better if he dropped his name and just went by 'Tony.' He doesn't care about women, kids, nothing."

Impounding impoverished immigrants' livelihood

MEChA students protest Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at his lavish mansion for his role in the confiscation of immigrants' cars. Photo by Robert D. Skeels
MEChA students protest Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at his lavish mansion for his role in the confiscation of immigrants' cars. Photo by Robert D. Skeels

Given the Mayor's cultural and early political background one would think that the issue he would be most progressive on would be that of immigrant rights. Here too, Villaraigosa's uncanny ability to seek out photo opportunities and venues for self-promotion have always taken precedence over any substantive actions to help the plight of undocumented peoples. Quick to embrace and promote the California Dream Act created by his childhood friend Gil Cedillo, Villaraigosa has no tangible accomplishments of his own. In fact, with his penchant for law enforcement, one could argue that his tenure has been harmful to Los Angeles' extensive immigrant population.

Villaraigosa wouldn't participate in, but never failed to show up at the end of the massive immigrant marches of 2006 and subsequent years. Allowed to speak at the ending rallies, he relished the opportunity to be photographed with immigrant rights organization leadership. However, the Mayor repeatedly refused to designate Los Angeles a sanctuary city, despite repeated calls to so by those selfsame leaders. Villaraigosa vocally supported the Los Angeles City Council's resolution to boycott Arizona in response to their SB 1070 racial profiling law. However, when it came to actually implementing the boycott as the Chief Executive, "little ha[d] changed."

Tragically, perhaps the most enduring images of the Villaraigosa administration's immigrant rights policy are those of LAPD in paramilitary gear trampling and beating helpless women and children during the 2007 MacArthur Park May Day rally. While the Mayor condemned the use of excessive force (a progressive would use the phrase police brutality), he never condemned LAPD's pervasive institutional racism that was at the heart of the attack. Several subsequent incidents involving LAPD and immigrants saw Villaraigosa siding with the police, including the widely protested murder of Manuel Jamines by officers seemingly all too eager to discharge their weapons.

Immigrants and all communities of color also need to be wary of Villaraigosa and LAPD's Special Order 11/1, which all but codifies racial profiling and surveillance. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition website features an explanation of who is targeted by the spying initiative.

A few years ago the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the Southern California Immigration Coalition (SCIC) [3], Instituto de Educacion Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) and other community organizations created a coalition to demand an end to LAPD's seizure of immigrant vehicles. Their campaign called upon Mayor Villaraigosa to adopt the same no-impound policies that cities like San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Santa Ana and others smaller towns had implemented. The no-impound rationale was deeply rooted in social justice principles, since most undocumented immigrants are day workers, and vehicles are vital to support their families. This excerpt from a 2011 press release spells out how disastrous impounds are to immigrant families:

Cities and counties throughout the state are confiscating thousands of cars a month at drivers license checkpoints and during random traffic stops. Most drivers are often the victims of racial profiling.

The towing and impound business is quite lucrative for tow companies, the city and the county. The average victim of an impound cannot pay the estimated $2,000 in towing fees, storage fees and the citation. Those unable to pay these charges lose their vehicles completely as they are sold at auction just days after the 30-day impound period.

The coalition's spirited campaign went on for months, and at one point saw protesters picketing the Mayor's magnificent mansion. Aside from the irony, nothing was more telling about Villaraigosa's political trajectory than the sight of MEChA students protesting the Mayor, an erstwhile MEChA member himself, to demand human rights for immigrants.

Championing corporate education reform

A thorough treatment of Villargaigosa's fanatical participation in the neoliberal project to destroy Los Angeles' public school system would probably require a chapter in a book, or perhaps even several chapters. As mentioned earlier, his mismanagement of PLAS schools have made them a point of criticism from the mainstream media, a subject of ridicule by activists, and even an issue of concern by his fellow corporate reformers. Local education activists have called for the end of PLAS control at Villaraigosa' alma matter Roosevelt High School, and a recent protest by families at Santee High School saw a disgraced Marshall Tuck of PLAS ducking for cover. Yet the failed PLAS experiment pales in comparison to the rest of Villaraigosa's education agenda and policies including: a proliferation of corporate charter schools, the so-called parent trigger, outright attacks on teachers and unions, and a penchant for killing heritage language programs and ethnic studies courses.

In 2008 right-wing fundamentalist Andy Smarick wrote an essay entitled Wave of the Future for the reactionary Hoover Institution sponsored EducationNext journal. Extolling the spurious advantages of market-based schooling, Smarick laid out a road map for bankrupting urban school districts by ever increasing the market share of privately managed charter schools—the end goal to replace public education altogether. [4] Smarick's model has been the objective of corporate education reformers nationwide, and Los Angeles is their archetype. Villaraigosa proudly boasts that the number of charter schools in Los Angeles more than doubled during his tenure. Indeed the number of these institutions grew to 241 during the past eight years. Aside from draining critical finances and other resources from the public school system, charter schools exacerbate segregation, and openly discriminate against children with special needs or other issues like discipline problems.

The corporate charter school chains most promoted and supported by Villaraigosa are some of the worst offenders in the discrimination against the must vulnerable of students. A watershed report by the Office of the Independent Monitor (OIM) for the Modified Consent Decree for LAUSD found that children with disabilities are "significantly underrepresented" at privately managed charter schools. [5] Cynically, the charter school industry's discrimination against special needs students is part of the neoliberal plan, and mentioned explicitly in the aforementioned Smarick essay:

The district, despite educating fewer and fewer students, will still require a large administrative staff to process payroll and benefits, administer federal programs, and oversee special education. With a lopsided adult-to-student ratio, the district's per-pupil costs will skyrocket. [emphasis mine]

Following his stinging defeat to take over the entire district, Villaraigosa began a strategy of stacking the publicly elected school board with privatization minded board members. His grand design led to the formation of the Coalition for School Reform (CSR), a SuperPAC with the sole purpose of ensuring candidates espousing neoliberalism, austerity, and corporate education reform would control the Board of Education. The Mayor had no problem finding like minded candidates to run, and more importantly, like minded contributors to fund them. Arch-reactionaries like News Corp's Rupert Murdoch, creationists including Phillip Anschutz, neoliberal ideologues like Eli Broad, and Villarigosa's privatization mentor Mayor Michael Bloomberg are among the ideologically charged billionaires who have funded the CSR. With no entity able to compete financially with the plutocrat class funding CSR, it had early success electing candidates dedicated to dismantling the public school system, though as of late, voters have been less swayed by CSR's millions of dollars and have elected educators in place of ideologues. [6]

Educator and activist Randy Childs best captured the modus operandi, motives, and mendaciousness of Villaraigosa and the billionaire plutocrats funding his SuperPAC:

In what education historian Diane Ravitch calls the "dominant narrative" of education reform today, buzzwords like "accountability" and "choice" are used as window dressing for a concerted effort to impose corporate management techniques and market-style competition on the education system. Teachers unions and anyone else who dares to disagree with this agenda are invariably accused of being "against reform" and "for the status quo."

These allegations come straight from Bizarro World, where the richest and most powerful people in the U.S. are cast as a plucky band of selfless rebels fighting for the civil rights of poor children of color, while dedicated and overworked teachers who can't afford a house or pay for their children's college tuition are imagined to be the greedy overlords of the old order.

The early success of Villaraigosa's CSR SuperPAC yielded two board members who inflicted considerable damage to public education: Mónica García and Yolie Flores-Aguilar. Hand picked by the Mayor for their disdain of the public commons and working class people, they oversaw an unprecedented period of educator layoffs, school closures, school reconstitutions [7], charter giveaways, and more. Flores-Aguilar, who was unabashedly a Gates Foundation employee while holding her LAUSD seat, introduced a particularly pernicious reform named Public School Choice (PSC). The resolution was crafted in response to the strong push to ever increase charter school market share, and was designed to give away brand new public school facilities away to corporately managed Charter Management Organizations (CMO). The PSC school giveaway project was widely condemned by grassroots civil rights groups and social justice organizations like Association of Raza Educators. CSUN Professor Theresa Montaño's analysis of PSC is spot on:

"The alliance, formed between the mayor, the school board, and Los Angeles' corporate elite to design the idea of "public school choice," is another example of how neoliberal economic policies have influenced educational policies. [8]

Villaraigosa lobbied city wide to push through the PSC giveaway resolution, recruiting help from neoliberal leaning nonprofits funded by the Broad and Gates Foundations, and a city attorney moonlighting as a charter school consultant named Ben Austin, whose wife also happened to be Villaraigosa's political fundraiser. Villaraigosa and Austin held a series of closed town halls to help pass the unpopular resolution. PSC gave millions of dollars in brand new public school facilities away to the corporate charter industry despite concerted resistance by local communities. The partnership between the Mayor and Austin would continue to produce ways to achieve Smarick's plan of privatizing urban school districts, the most virulent being the parent trigger.

The idea of manipulating parents against the rest of the stake-holders comprising the social contract to provide public education isn't new. Variations of that theme have floated in right wing think tanks like The Heritage Foundation and The Heartland Institute for years in support of their voucher, and later charter, school choice schemes. [9] Villaragosa's close ally Austin, who worked so hard to foist PSC on the public, would take that right wing idea and repackage it into one of the most vile corporate education reforms of all time. Initially hired as a part time consultant by the Green Dot Charter School Corporation, Austin was tapped to take over their Los Angeles Parents Union which was left in shambles financially by outgoing director Ryan Smith. To justify the organization's continued existence (read funding), Austin crafted a hybrid idea by taking a page from reactionary think tanks on parent manipulation, market solutions, and so-called school choice, and combined those ideas with the 50% faculty petition provision of the seldom utilized California conversion charter law Green Dot used to convert Locke High School into a privately managed charter. The concept would allow Austin's organization to grow charter market share by merely getting a simple majority of parents to sign a petition. They named this corporate villainy the Parent Trigger. Austin and Villaraigosa unsuccessfully pushed to have the parent trigger included in the PSC process. However, they found a receptive audience with then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and State Senators Bob Huff, and Gloria Romero.

Seeing the potential to open a floodgate of growth and revenues for the lucrative charter school industry, Austin's allies managed to get the Parent Trigger (officially the Parent Empowerment Act) passed by the California legislature by one vote. Meantime Austin changed the branding of Los Angeles Parents Union to Parent Revolution, and was appointed by Schwarzenegger to the State Board of Education (SBE) so that he could craft the regulations to be of maximum use to the charter school sector. Even after he was removed from the SBE by incoming Governor Jerry Brown, Austin continued working on the regulations illegally. From the start Villaraigosa crusaded for the parent trigger, and he was joined by fringe right groups including The Heartland Institute, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Austin's Parent Revolution hosted forums with Heartland, and the parent trigger became ALEC template legislation.

Villaraigosa successfully lobbied The U.S. Conference of Mayors to adopt and endorse the trigger law for use on hapless school communities nationwide. He continues to promote the trigger at every opportunity. An anathema to democratic processes, the public commons, and community building, the trigger has been a highly destructive weapon in the war on public education. Despised on the left and discredited by prominent education experts like Professor Diane Ravitch, even political moderates realize "Triggers Create Nothing but Chaos and Division."

Early in Villaraigosa's career he worked as a paid staffer for United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). While it was just a paycheck for him, he's continually tried to leverage that distant past association with unions as cover for what at times seems to be an irrational loathing towards teachers. Truth is he never misses an opportunity to virulently attack both the teaching profession and their working class organizations.

A few years ago at the high profile Public Policy Institute of California, Villaraigosa gave an unhinged speech in which he called UTLA an "unwavering roadblock to reform," "most powerful defenders of the unacceptable status quo," and the "the largest obstacle to creating quality schools." His unfounded and mean-spirited tirade segued into a call to remove basic job protections and academic freedoms from teachers, including seniority and tenure. He also made a renewed call to further tie teacher evaluations to the culturally, racially, and class biased standardized tests that California subjects its public schools students to for a good portion of the of the school year. Villaraigosa's diatribe was so beyond that pale, that a distinguished education expert took exception to it:

And Stanford University School of Education professor Linda Darling-Hammond said she was taken aback by Villaraigosa's reference to eliminating the process in which bad teachers get pushed from school to school. "This isn't just about doing away with the 'Dance of the Lemons,' it is about chopping down the trees that grow bad lemons," the mayor said.

Darling-Hammond said that teachers should be trained and professionally supported to develop skills and good teaching practices. A good orchardist carefully feeds, prunes and cultivates a harvest - and doesn't arbitrarily cut down 10 percent of the trees in the orchard every year, she said.

Villaraigosa's contempt for teachers was also apparent in his unequivocal support of the poorly thought out Reed settlement, instead of calling for an end to teacher lay offs and a return to the sensible and sustainable solutions of the previous Rodriguez consent decree. However, supporting that latter would have addressed the systemic issues underlying schools staffing problems, something Villaraigosa has apparently never been interested in.

One would think the first Latino mayor in nearly 140 years, especially one with Villaraigosa's associations as a young man, would be a champion of heritage language programs and ethnic studies programs. Regrettably that notion would be erroneous. At his PLAS schools, the Villaraigosa's camp callously eliminated the only ethnic studies program at Santee High School and...

The decision to rob Santee's impoverished students of color of their chance to learn about their culture and history follows on the heels of PLAS killing heritage language programs at two of their other schools. Four years ago they banned the Dual Language Program and the Academic English Mastery Program at Ritter Elementary School, and two years ago they banned the teaching of core subjects in Spanish at Roosevelt High School as they had had as a response to the activism of the famous East Los Angeles Blowouts in 1968.

Calls by activists for the Mayor to restore those programs before leaving office were ignored. The disposition of PLAS schools is unknown with a new Mayor in office, and the replacement of Marshall Tuck by Villaraigosa's former Deputy Mayor of Education, Joan Sullivan.

A prominent immigrant rights activist used to always say "show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are." On September 19, 2011 the arch-reactionary American Enterprise Institute (AEI) held an event celebrating Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa's role in their brand of education reform. Both Villaraigosa and right-wing fundamentalist Frederick M. Hess spoke at the affair. The function culminated with Villaraigosa being presented [10] with the Champion for Charters 2011 Award. That occurrence pretty much sums up Villaraigosa's education policies in a nutshell. A "progressive" politician would never win an award from the AEI or its allies, much less travel to AEI's Washington, D.C. headquarters to receive it.

It's important we remember Villaraigosa's true allegiance

Los Angeles' largest medical-marijuana-store-and-escort-service-advertisement-supported gossip magazine —LA Weekly— recently published a tawdry account of the outgoing Mayor's extravagant excesses and personal indiscretions. Unsavory as the article paints him, it's safe to say that Villaraigosa would prefer we would reflect on his flamboyant self promotion and opulent lifestyle rather than his actual political record and alliances.

In the final analysis, Villaraigosa has been a faithful servant of the rich and powerful, and his politics in practice have been downright reactionary. Any claims to his being progressive are mythical, and he should never be allowed to run for another office claiming the progressive mantle again. His recent announcement that he will seek the Governorship of California adds to the urgency of true progressives' need to educate our communities on how Villaraigosa's politics have been disastrous for working people, so he isn't afforded another opportunity.

Robert D. SkeelsRobert D. Skeels is a social justice writer, public education advocate, and immigrant rights activist. He lives, works, writes, and organizes in Los Angeles with his wife and cats. Robert holds a BA in Classical Civilization from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and is currently a law student at Peoples College of Law (PCL). A US Navy Veteran, he is a proud member of Veterans for Peace. A student of Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire's work, Robert devotes much time towards volunteer work for 12 step, church, homeless advocacy, and grassroots groups. Robert's articles and essays appear in publications including Schools Matter, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Daily Censored, Echo Park Patch, K12NN, LA Progressive, and The Los Angeles Daily News. In 2013 Robert ran for the LAUSD School Board against a billionaire funded corporate reform candidate, finishing second in a field of five, with over 5,200 votes.


[1] MEChA: Movimiento Estudiantíl Chicano de Aztlán; CASA: Centro de Acción Social Autónomo.

[2] The original post was!/villaraigosa/status/80036981161205760, but Villaraigosa's twitter account was split into two at some point by the city.

[3] Disclosure: I was one of the twenty-some-odd founding members of the SCIC, which was formed on the initiative of prominent immigrant rights activists Carlos M. Montes, Gloria Saucedo, and Jessie Diaz. However, I was inactive by the time that the frequent protests against Villaraigosa began.

[4] The charter school industry has been very effective at marketing their schools as being public. They go as far as to call themselves "public charter schools." The truth is that these unaccountable, privately managed entities with unelected boards have been repeatedly determined by both the courts and numerous other government bodies to be private sector agents. For a concise compendium of information, examples, and links on this see: Charter Schools are NOT Public Schools!

[5] See both the Executive Summary and the Data Tables for the OIM Report. This is just one of many reports confirming the abject exclusiveness and discrimination practiced by the charter sector.

[6] CSR lost a key seat in the 2011 elections to retired teacher Bennet Kayser, and lost two out of three races in the 2013 elections. Professional educators Steve Zimmer and Monica Ratliff beat their CSR funded non-educator opponents. The only CSR candidate to win in 2013 was long time Villaraigosa ally Mónica García (Disclosure: I was the runner up in the five candidate race that García won). Experts like Professor Diane Ravitch are asking Is the Tide Turning Against Corporate Reform in Los Angeles?

[7] Reconstitutions are a particularly terrible method to undermine public schools by the reformers. One of the best papers on this is "The Human Costs of Education Reform: The Case of School Reconstitution" by King Rice and Malen.

[8] Carr, Paul R., Porfilio, Bradley J., Editors. The Phenomenon of Obama and the Agenda for Education: Can Hope Audaciously Trump Neoliberalism?. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Pub., 2011. p. 176.

(Montañez's chapter is highly recommended — Obama, Eschucha! Estamos en la Lucha! Challenging Neoliberalism in Los Angeles Schools).

[9] Education author Jonathan Kozol explains the negligible distinction (and symbiotic relationship) between vouchers and charters: 'In the long run, charter schools are being strategically used to pave the way for vouchers. The voucher advocates, who are very powerful and funded by right-wing foundations and families, recognize that the word voucher has been successfully discredited by enlightened Americans who believe in the public sector. So they've resorted to two strategies. First, they no longer use the word "vouchers." They've adopted the seemingly benign phrase "school choice," but they are still voucher advocates.'

[10] The actual award was from the National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools, though the fact they choose AEI as the venue for presenting the award is telling about their politics and who they serve.

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