UPDATE: Comments From Howard Gardner and John Weldon:
Joe Larcheveque, Steve Best and John Weldon, Republican candidates for Board of Education, question Democratic candidate Howard Gardner’s usage of “monolithic” to describe the three Republican candidates for school board during a forum Thursday night. OIB received several emails and phone calls Friday questioning Gardner’s characterization. Gardner is running on a Democratic slate that includes two black males and one white male. No females or Hispanics on the Democratic ticket. The Republican slate has three white males. So what was Gardner’s reference? Does ethnic and race makeup trump candidate quality? Would appreciate comments from folks who attended the forum. Statements follow from Gardner, Weldon, Larcheveque and Best.
My statement did not emanate from a vacuum; it was in response to one of our Republican opponents who attempted to portray the Democrat and Working Family Parties team as homogenous thinkers with no diverse points of view (monolithic). The fact is, while there is a common ground on many issues, we do have varying views on others–what role, if any, should charter schools play in education reform, as an example. There will be as much dialectic among us as a coalition as there will be between us and other board members. Also, my statement was made as a follow-up to a statement I made approximately 30 minutes earlier. In that earlier statement, I emphasized our team reflects the city of Bridgeport. Members of our team reside in all but one of the major districts of the city; and our various backgrounds created a perfect complement to become effective members of the board: Sauda’s two-term BOE experience; Eric’s long-term involvement in PAC activities and current leadership; Andre’s experience with the operation of city government, and as business owner; Dave’s 38 years of teaching and coaching; and my 27 years of corporate experience.
I’ve read Mr. Gardner’s statement with respect to his use of the term “monolithic” to describe the three endorsed Republican candidates for the Bridgeport Board of Education, of which I am one, along with Joe Larcheveque and Steve Best. Before I talk about Mr. Gardner’s response, I think a definition of the term “monolithic” is in order. From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
1 a : of, relating to, or resembling a monolith : HUGE, MASSIVE
b (1) : formed from a single crystal <a monolithic silicon chip>
(2) : produced in or on a monolithic chip <a monolithic circuit>
2 a : cast as a single piece <a monolithic concrete wall>
b : formed or composed of material without joints or seams <a monolithic floor covering>
c : consisting of or constituting a single unit
3 a : constituting a massive undifferentiated and often rigid whole <a monolithic society>
b : exhibiting or characterized by often rigidly fixed uniformity <monolithic party unity>
Now that we’ve established what “monolithic” means, myself and Messrs. Best and Larcheveque are anything but monolithic. We have each operated our own independent campaigns, funded and operated primarily with our own resources and efforts. We three are beholden to no group or faction and, if elected, will continue to operate with independent, individual thought and conscience.
Again, now that we’ve established what “monolithic” means, it actually perfectly describes what Andre Baker, Sauda Baraka, Howard Gardner, Dave Hennessey and Eric Stewart-Alicea are. They are not a “team,” as they continuously refer to themselves as. Rather, they are a bloc seeking to gain control of the Board of Education. This faction says the Board is controlled by the Mayor and they seek to wrest that control away from him–but they neglect the second half of that sentence, which is: and give that control to Andre Baker, Sauda Baraka, Howard Gardner, Dave Hennessey and Eric Stewart-Alicea.
The phrase “absolute power corrupts absolutely” holds true. It stifles progress and censors free dialect and the sharing of ideas–it doesn’t matter if that control rests with the Mayor or with the five-person bloc pictured below, who make no bones about their intention to completely take control of the Board.
Again, now that we’ve established what “monolithic” means, let’s talk about what Mr. Gardner really meant. He speaks of diversity. However, I would assert he used that term in Thursday’s forum as being synonymous with the phrase “people of color”–He was essentially saying a vote for the Democratic and Working Families candidates is a vote in favor of “people of color.” I would also assert he uses the term “monolithic” as being synonymous with “the White Man.” Mr. Gardner can backpedal all he wants at this stage to try to deflect the underlying racist meaning of his statement. However, in my own view, he should instead simply own up to it and apologize for it. In this day and age, where we have people of color in all manner of powerful places–right up to the President of the United States–we should not be playing the race card. Irrespectively of whether Mr. Gardner takes true ownership of his statement or not, I am truly disappointed in him and his attempt to make this election about race.
During closing statements presented at last night’s forum, Democratic candidate Howard Gardner tried to draw a distinction between his fellow party and adopted Working Families candidates and the three Republicans. Mr. Gardner touted the diversity of his fellow allies seated to his left, and then immediately stated that when he looks at the Republican candidates to his right, he sees “monolithic.” It left me, as well as others in the room to wonder exactly what the word “monolithic” meant in that context and why he felt it was an appropriate term to use.
My Republican colleagues and I come from completely different backgrounds. Steve Best spent his early years outside of Bridgeport. I grew up in Bridgeport near East Side Middle School, and John Weldon hails from Black Rock. I am a paramedic; Steve a retired publishing executive; and John a transit district manager.
We started our campaigns on our own, at different times and for different reasons. We chose not to become a slate because of the diversity represented in our opinions on issues that we will surely face on the Board.
We all want a better education for our children. We all want our kids to be safe and secure, happy and well rounded. We all want our elected officials, administrators, teachers and staff to have a student-centered approach. That is quite a monolithic set of concepts if you ask me.
State law requires minority party representation to prevent a monopoly on ideas and political views. That concept is being hijacked as the Working Families Party and the Democratic candidates join forces to silence any minority voice on the Board of Education. It seems the plan is to build consensus the easy way, by assuring little opposition occurs in the first place.
I sincerely hope the comment made by Mr. Gardner at Thursday night’s forum is not a portent of behavior we can expect on the Board of Education should he be elected.
We have had our fill of divisive behavior permeating Board of Education meetings. Every discussion at every meeting needs to be focused on the children, with respect and attention paid to all. The politics need to be checked at the door.
Last night’s Board of Education Candidate Forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was a great evening for the candidates and for the future of Bridgeport Public Schools. The event concluded with closing remarks by each candidate. As the random draw dictated, I was going to be the last one. Immediately prior to me was Howard Gardner. As I was turning on my microphone, and waiting for my cue to speak, Howard delivered a closing comment that put me on my heels.
As I recall these final moments, Mr. Gardner turned to the Democratic and Working Families candidates that sat to his left and referenced their “diversity”. He then immediately turned to his right, to face the three Republican candidates, and referred to us as “monolithic.”
Mr. Gardner’s comment caught me by complete surprise. Much of last evening’s forum discussion had been a positive and sincere promotion of improved discourse in Board of Education meetings, and the paramount need to eliminate the incivility that too often plagues this body. As I picked up the microphone, I let his words lie there for a few moments. In those few seconds, it was difficult to comprehend what he meant. Clearly, he was distinguishing between the left and right sides of the podium. Yet, it seemed implausible to me that he would be making such a provocative declaration. My simple, and non-confrontational, response was: “I am not sure how to address Mr. Gardner’s ‘monolithic’ remark. I am still pondering what it meant.”
There is some personal irony in this. I was very much looking forward to meeting Howard Gardner. I had been told many good things about him. We are both endorsed by Citizens Working For A Better Bridgeport. Except for a brief handshake before the forum began, we have had no interaction or communication. We do not know each other. Alas, he somehow felt compelled to call me “monolithic.” Mr. Gardner, I have pondered this for a full day now. Please explain what you meant because I want us to have another handshake.