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There goes the neighborhood

There goes the neighborhood You may be a reasonable, civil and thoughtful person, with a desire to serve your school district/city/state/country in some small but significant way.

How'd you like to be transformed overnight into an overbearing, opinionated, know-nothing blowhard? If that sounds like a good idea, here's how to do it: Run for elected office, win, ally yourself with other newly elected ignoramuses, and then just flat take over the place.

That's what happened a few days ago, when the newly elected majority of the D-11 school board pushed aside the veterans, and elected themselves to all the board offices. It was, by all accounts, an interesting spectacle. State Sen. Ed Jones was there to lend moral support, as was the master puppeteer himself, Steve Schuck, who brilliantly orchestrated and financed this year's right-wing pro-voucher takeover of the D-11 board.

In the bucolic past, no one paid much attention to school board elections, other than parent volunteers, teachers and committed supporters of public education. Board members tended to be moderate/liberal do-gooders, with a common agenda of better-financed public education and a dim view of vouchers/charter schools.

Schuck, no stranger to take-no-prisoners politics, realized that most voters have little interest in school board elections, and probably couldn't name a single board incumbent. With four out of seven seats up for grabs, Schuck saw an opportunity for a classic political power play. He rounded up four ardently pro-voucher candidates, organized/financed slick, expensive and somewhat nasty campaigns, and commandeered the school board. As you might expect, Schuck doesn't live in District 11; he's just a rich, smart, eccentric guy who wants to be -- and is! -- a power player.

As a graduate of D-11 schools, a resident of D-11, and a property owner in D-11, I've got a dog in this fight. Listen, all you newbies on the board: Forget about your half-baked notions for a while. Sit back and learn. You don't even know enough to know what you don't know. If you screw up, you'll fail the kids and, more to the point, property values will decline! And if that fearsome prospect doesn't sober up you loony Republicans, I don't know what will.

As you might expect, the moderates who so long controlled the board are stunned, furious and uncomprehending. Welcome to the ranks of the marginalized, guys -- and let me suggest that you get together with your co-religionists in city politics, who sat on their hands (or ran for mayor!) while the developer-financed right took over City Hall.

But here's a cheerful thought. Consider the examples of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their predecessors in office were both fiercely partisan politicians, polarizing and divisive figures.

But Hickenlooper and Schwarzenegger are avowed pragmatists, uninterested in score settling, uninvolved in the culture wars. Hickenlooper, in his first few months as mayor, has been brilliantly successful, and I'll bet you that Arnold will do just as well. If so, it may signal a sea of change in American politics, and an end to the pervasive nastiness that has characterized public debate for the last 20 years. Wouldn't it be great if the yelpers and yammerers of both the left and right just shut up? No more Rush, no more Al Sharpton, no more Tom DeLay, no more Ralph Nader ... we can dream, can't we?

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, the plot to sell the City Auditorium thickens. The official city line, i.e., "we're just sitting on the sidelines waiting for the results of the blight study" is simply B.S. In fact, the city has, by its decision to participate in the proposed blight study, predetermined the result.

Here's how these studies work. According to the statute, there are 12 separate conditions that, if they exist, contribute to blight. Those conditions include deteriorated infrastructure, high crime incidence, abandoned/vacant/unusable buildings, etc., etc. If all of the property owners in a proposed district agree to be included in the proposed urban renewal area, a single condition is enough to trigger a finding of blight.

But if any property owners decline to participate, there must be at least four such conditions. According to one experienced player, there's no doubt that at least one exists in the auditorium block -- but it'd be hard to find four. So guess what? The city, by including the auditorium in the blight study, guarantees the result. That, my friends, is fundamentally dishonest.

A final thought -- I'd guess, that if the city put their little auditorium scheme on the ballot, it'd fail by about an 80-20 margin. So let's make sure it gets on the ballot ... maybe it's time for the do-gooders to play hardball.

  • There goes the neighborhood

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