Thursday, April 17, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

UPDATED: Mayor Nutter jumps the shark

UPDATED: Mayor Nutter jumps the shark

Somehow I don't think winning back the Dad Vail Regatta is going to redeem Mayor Nutter from his appalling lack of leadership here in the case of the racially-motivated violence against Asian-American students at South Philadelphia High School. He's managed to get every aspect of this thing 180-degrees bass-ackwards wrong -- unbelievable.

A real leader would have gone to community very early in the crisis, stood up in unflinching terms for the victims of racial violence, and at least expressed his exasperation -- if not his disgust and condemnation -- over the school officials who allowed the situation to deteriorate this far.

Did I miss an announcement that today was Opposite Day, because somehow instead we got this, days after news of the attacks first broke:

Mayor Nutter today praised the Philadelphia School District and schools Chief Arlene Ackerman for their handling of racial violence at South Philadelphia High School.

"Superintendent Ackerman and the School Reform Commission and the entire school district I think took these matters very seriously, and quite honestly, jumped on them in the most immediate fashion," Nutter said at a news conference today.

As the article notes lower down:

Eight days passed before Ackerman went to South Philadelphia High to talk to students and staff. The superintendent has also taken heat for her refusal to meet with students boycotting the district.

The students want to meet away from the school, with parents, community organizers and translators present. Ackerman has objected to the activists and meeting location.

Nor did Nutter address one of the most disturbing questions raised here -- the question of how a woman with such dubious credentials was picked to run one of Philadelphia's already most troubled high schools. In a story first reported last week in the Daily News (UPDATE: I've since learned that the excellent Notebook Web site had it before anyone else -- kudos) and expanded upon today in the Inquirer, LaGreta Brown was hired here even though her tenure in Atlantic City set off more red flags than a Madrid bullfighting festival -- and yet the mayor of Philadelphia doesn't seem particular bothered by that, nor do any other public officials. for that matter. Meanwhile, Mayor Nutter is so eager for this crisis to go away that he's making apparently exaggerated claims about the boycott by Asian students ending, when at least some if not most of the students have not returned. (UPDATE: OK, now the boycott apparently really is over.)

Superintendent Ackerman -- who ousted the last principal at South Philadelphia High in June, showing it can be done -- needs to admit that a huge mistake was made here and now oust the new one, even as Ackerman has now raised serious questions about her ability to do her own job. As for Mayor Nutter, he can't be fired until 2011, but one or two more out-of-touch news conferences like this one and you have to think that's a very real possibility.

By the way, more shoes are about to drop in South Philadelphia...starting tomorrow.

UPDATE: This is the shoe:

THE SCHOOL DISTRICT'S assignment of district police Sgt. Robert "Sarge" Samuels, who had been lauded as a part of a solution to racially tinged violence at South Philadelphia High, has provoked accusations that he has used heavy-handed tactics against students - an approach that community activists say is the last thing the troubled school needs.

District officials said that Samuels, 45, a martial-arts enthusiast who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of Chinese, had been handpicked by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman because his presence would help Asian immigrant students who speak little English.

But his detractors say that he's a bully with a short fuse and a penchant for violence. Yesterday, Samuels allegedly handcuffed a student for mouthing off.

Meanwhile, the Daily News had a great editorial on Nutter and the schools situation today.

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Will Bunch
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