GARNER — John Tedesco is turning down an offer from local Republican leaders to pass the hat to help him out during his financial difficulties.
On Thursday, Tedesco's 36th birthday, Wake County Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Bryant urged people to send birthday cards and gifts to show support for the outspoken Wake school board member who is facing foreclosure of his home.
Bryant's plea came a day after Tedesco was skewered on national television and by local critics.
"He lost his job because he was doing what we elected him to do," Bryant said in the statement posted on the GOP website and sent out in an electronic newsletter. "Why not show him your support by sending him a birthday card and gift to let him know how much we appreciate his sacrifice, and help him when he needs it the most."
Tedesco, who said he resigned his job with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Triangle to focus on the school board, suggested any gifts and donations be sent instead to his former employer.
"While I appreciate their generous offer, I can't accept it," Tedesco said. "I know there are many other people having difficulties right now."
He quipped, however, that he'll accept information on employment opportunities.
Gary Bartlett, executive director of the N.C. Board of Elections, said there's nothing in state campaign finance law that would prevent Tedesco, a local official, from accepting gifts.
The school board's code of ethics and conflict of interest policies state only that board members can't receive gifts in exchange for school contracts.
Still, Bryant's proposal is not a good idea, said Jane Pinsky, director of the nonpartisan N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform. Accepting gifts would send a message to Wake students that school board members can be bought, she said.
"While it might not be illegal, it doesn't exactly pass the smell test," Pinsky said.
But John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh think tank that has praised Tedesco, said there's nothing wrong with the head of a political party asking people to send sympathy gifts to an elected official.
One of four Republican school board members who were elected in 2009, Tedesco has been the most vocal supporter of assigning students to neighborhood schools and abandoning the district's previous policy of making some assignments to achieve socioeconomic diversity in schools.
On Monday, he appeared on Fox Business Network to talk about the contentious debate over student assignment in North Carolina's largest school district. A day later, he was a target of comedian Stephen Colbert, who satirized Wake's elimination of the diversity policy on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report."
And on Wednesday, many of the speakers at a public hearing at Southeast Raleigh High School attacked Tedesco.
In response, local GOP leaders rallied behind the Republican school board member. The county GOP and the Northern Wake Republican Club encouraged people to speak on Tedesco's behalf at Thursday's reassignment hearing at Garner High School.
"Mr. Tedesco, I appreciate what you're doing," said Garner resident Brian Pearce at the public hearing. "There are a lot of people in Garner who are supporting you."
Jay Bryant, a Wake County GOP spokesman and the husband of Susan Bryant, said they thought sending gifts would cheer up Tedesco.
"It was an opportunity to help John at a time when he was feeling down," he said.
"Public officials don't stop being human beings," Jay Bryant said. "This is a man who has dedicated his life to helping children. At some point, we wanted to show we loved him."
Tedesco was a vice president at Big Brothers Big Sisters until he resigned in April. Before his departure, he claimed that some supporters of the diversity policy were putting pressure on the group. But in his resignation letter, Tedesco said he wanted to spend his time focusing on his school board duties, including serving as chairman of the student assignment committee and head of a task force working to help low-income students.
"After he was elected, the liberals threatened to cut off funding for the organization unless he was fired. John cared more for the well-being of the at-risk children the organization served, than for his own livelihood and so he resigned his position," Susan Bryant said in Thursday's statement.
Tedesco said Thursday he stood by his resignation letter.
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