Michael McGeehan should not be the face of the anti-Ackerman movement


Over the last couple of days, the Inquirer in particular -- which I think we can all agree has been pretty aggressive in covering the many foibles of Philadelphia schools superintendent Arlene Ackerman -- has been hyping the fact that a Democratic state lawmakers, Michael McGeehan from the Great Northeast, want to get Ackerman booted from her job.

I have mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, where's McGeehan and everyone else in the political establishment been on this? Heck, I called for Ackerman to get fired 11 months ago, and this was before she declared open warfare on whistleblowers and truth-tellers like teacher-critic Hope Moffett (not to mention siccing the cops on prying journalists.)

On the other hand...Michael McGeehan? Really? Because here's the thing about Michael McGeehan. You never get a second change to make your first impression. When I was asked to take over the city political beat for the Daily News back in 1996, this was the very first political story I was asked to work on, which makes it more memorable for me than most. It was about Michael McGeehan.

And it was not good.

In Harrisburg, the barroom racial slurs of Tacony state Rep. Michael McGeehan sparked a flurry of closed-door meetings and scurrying in the corridors of power.

So, what did say...could it have really been that bad?

Sources have said McGeehan, a legislator since 1990, told a Democratic colleague from Carbon County in a Harrisburg bar that he was sick of dealing [with] ``n------s, jigaboos and jungle-bunnies.''


Look, I realize this was 15 years ago, and for all I know McGeehan's been out there ever since rescuing Hurricane Katrina victims off roofs or adopting orphans from the Haitian earthquake or God knows what to prove his non-racism. In life, we do deserve a chance to atone for even the most asinine things we've said, but sometimes for a political role the standards are higher. That's why I think having Michael McGeehan as a front man for this particular cause is a horrible idea. Indeed, his statement are already causing a backlash and rallying some support for Ackerman.

You know who would make a much better case for ending Ackerman's inept and imperious rule? How about the students and the parents who've suffered the most -- the majority of whom happen to be African-Americans just like the superintendent. Because that would make this what it's really about: The right of students to attend schools where they can feel safe and can learn, and the right of educators to work in an open, honest atmosphere of academic freedom.

One footnote: One of the few pols who was willing to criticize McGeehan on the record in 1996 was this guy:

"As reported, his comments only indicate that racism is alive and well throughout this country and I'm just saddened that we didn't have a picture of him with his white sheet and cross, which would have been the appropriate setting for him to make his comments.''

That was a city councilman named Michael Nutter. Whatever happened to him?