Cash Michaels charges that Wake County school board members “stabbed” Keith Sutton in the back

Posted on December 5, 2013 

Cash Michaels is skewering the “Kushner Seven,” charging that the seven Wake County school board members who removed Keith Sutton as chairman on Tuesday had “stabbed” him in the back.

In an analysis piece in the latest issue of The Carolinian, Michaels writes that “members of the African-American community sat in shock and silence, not believing that the Democratic school board they had once worked so hard to elect in 2011, had just stabbed one of their best, brightest, and arguably most effective young leaders in the back right in front of them.”

The replacement of Sutton in favor of Christine Kushner by a 7-2 vote that took place along racial lines could haunt the board for some time.

Michaels, the editor of the African-American newspaper, had cheered the election of the new Democratic majority in 2011. But Michaels, who first wrote about the rumors that Sutton would be replaced a few weeks ago, is not so kind now to those board members while praising Sutton’s one-year term as board chair.

Michaels writes that the Democratic board members had agreed to have Sutton as chair last year because it gave them a “chance to regroup.” He charges “that much wasn’t expected of him by many of his white board colleagues.”

“Problem though – Sutton was more than capable of handling the task of leader without them, and they soon came to realize that, and not like it,” Michaels writes.

Michaels writes that Sutton had the political tools that the other Democrats lacked to accomplish an agenda that included passing the bond issue, hiring a new superintendent and fighting off the county commissioners to retain school construction authority.

“A staunch Democrat, Sutton never led with his politics, a deadly mistake Kushner, [Susan] Evans and [Jim] Martin had already made, making them so toxic that even Tea Party Supt. [Tony] Tata felt the need to attack all three publicly,” Michaels writes. “Sutton was never really a target because he didn’t make himself one, thus allowing him better opportunities to talk turkey with what otherwise would be Republican adversaries. And when he didn’t like what he was hearing, he put his foot down.”

Michaels fires more shots at the Democratic board members, writing that Sutton had to work around them in his efforts to get the job done. Michaels points to how Sutton had face-to-face meetings with former Commssioners‘ Chairman Joe Bryan instead of bringing other school board members with him.

“Kushner and Evans were of limited use because of their perceived liberalism,” Michaels writes. “Jim Martin, an NC State University professor, could be counted on to give laborious lectures at the board table without invitation. And his aggressive, and at times erratic behavior during a joint meeting with the Wake Board of Commissioners during sensitive school bond negotiations, only crystalized the need to keep him away from the important stuff.

Former Chairman Kevin Hill was so battered by the board Republicans’ abuse, he not only gladly stepped down, but actually changed his party registration from Democrat to unaffiliated, just to get out of the political line of fire. This, after the county Democratic Party, a year earlier, poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his 2011 re-election campaign.”

Michaels relates how one of the board members, on condition of anonymity, told him why they felt they needed to dump Sutton. The board member charged that Sutton “would go it alone too much, didn’t have time for important meetings, and would not collaborate with others.”

But Michaels isn’t buying that argument.

“By doing what they did, the way they did it, without ever saying a word, the white board majority is conceding that none of them possessed the political skills or acumen that their black board chairman clearly had,” Michaels writes. “So the only way to now bury his singular accomplishments with the past, is to cut him lose entirely, and forge ahead to rack up their own collective accomplishments in the future.

They now want their faces on the front pages of the major newspaper now, and in all the major media.”

Looking ahead, Michaels questions the ability of the new school board leadership to deal with commissioners who are pressing as hard as ever to gain control of school construction. He also questions how they’ll deal with the issue of high-poverty schools, writing that “the board has unceremoniously dumped the one voice many of those high poverty school students had as chair.“

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