Clemenza’s Advice

Here’s a good idea.

In light of the retirement of Pope Benedict, Madison should demand a similar transition.

Pope John Matthews I, the Vicar of Madison Education, should step down from his throne. Admittedly this suggestion is informed by my participation on the board of the Urban League of Greater Madison and the now-defunct Madison Prep board.

But look, Matthews is still in good health. His $300K per annum package at the helm of Madison Teachers Inc. has placed him among the very one percent many of his followers revile. Like the Pope—and Don Vito Corleone—John has fought too many wars. He now prowls his mansion at night, toying with the local Democratic Party he has purchased, fighting enemies that do not exist, in battles that need not be waged.

No better example of why John’s retirement would be good for our New Madison, rich with faces of many colors and voices, than The Manski Debacle. Never have Progressive White Folk appeared so utterly smug and ruthless as when Sarah made her dash.

First, it has to be asked: Why was Manski even running for the Madison School Board? Kids? No. A passion for education? No. So why? Because The John Father wanted it to be so.

So The John Father, like Don Corleone, unleashed his money and powerful networks. The usual list of progressive endorsers fell in line creating a snapshot for Manski whiter than Ronald Reagan’s cabinet. The Cap Times played its part, never seeming  to understand that “all white progressive” is an oxymoron. Did any of them think for a minute that the sea of white faces for Manski communicated something to minority Madison? This is how tone deaf they have become.

And what of the voices of parents of color and a new generation whose children are failing in our schools? Why did The Tri-Lateral Manski Cabal not include their voices? Here’s why. Because in Madison, at this time in history, there is no room on the justice agenda for black and brown people. Scotty Walker has spooked the progressive herd. White folks with college degrees, a 175-page contract, pensions, limited accountability, three months of summer vacation and unassailable job security have bum rushed their way to the head of the Justice Line.

What is worse, they have rewritten the language of productive political discussion. “Support our public schools” has become code for “blind allegiance to John Matthews and MTI.”  “Privatization of our schools” is Pig Latin for “Do not discuss change, accountability or innovation.” And if someone disagrees with a progressive? Just call them a member of a “Republican conspiracy to corporatize public education in America.”  Whatever that means.

And the result of The Great Manski Exodus? Ananda Mirilli, a young, smart Latina mom and a perfect voice for New Madison, was denied her name on the general ballot. Debate was silenced.  And a default win in a city struggling with a racial achievement gap was awarded to a white male blogger and union mouthpiece who confuses activity with achievement, and words with thought.

The blogger got a school board seat the same way Fredo got Vegas.

But there is hope for us all.

If you are unafraid of the young and diverse voices of New Madison. If you support healthy democratic process, there is no better way to express this sentiment than to cut a small check and cast your vote for James Howard and Wayne Strong on April 2. These two candidates have a keen understanding of the problems facing the young people we are losing. They don’t have a lot of money or a powerful network of white people with master’s degrees. But that is a good thing. It means they are in no one’s pocket. Their presence on the school board will guarantee its inde-pendence from The John Father, and a fresh start for our new superintendent.

As for Madison teachers on the front lines, consider the notion that change could be a good thing. Movie stars and athletes often change agents when things become unproductive or toxic. Younger voices of a new generation can be heard. More effective discussions can be had. Teachers and students both stand to benefit from new models and less discord. Do not fear that Madison will not give you the respect you deserve. After all, everyone loves a great teacher.

As for The John Father? He has fought the battles. He has his scars.

He thought his enemies were Kaleem Caire, Derrell Connor, the Madison Prep gang—or Tattaglia and Barzini.

But it was Manski all along.

So now it is time for The John Father to step away from the battles, to live a happier life for himself, and to let Madison find a new way.

Here’s hoping John heeds the immortal words of Clemenza.

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at johneroach@mac.com.

Find more of John Roach's columns here.

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