The mayor's pissed-off walk-out last week from a meeting with Latino leaders to discuss his school takeover plan is, if anything, more of a mystery, now that a recording of the meeting is circulating. He said last week he walked out because the meeting was being hijacked and he wanted to de-escalate the situation.
Doesn't sound like it on the scratchy tape somebody must have made with a cell phone. Sounds more like he just flipped out.
But the speech the mayor was making was not at all the over-the-top attack on public education some people at the meeting quoted him later as having made.
The day after the meeting, political consultant Anna Casey quoted him to me: "He said, 'Well the facts are that our public schools are dark places without hope, and charter schools are bright. They're optimistic.'
"He flat out said that he was against public schools and for charter schools," Casey told me. "He said that."
Two other people at the meeting confirmed Casey's version when I quoted it back to them. I did not ask the other two specifically if they heard him use the words "dark" and "bright." Now I wish I had, because I think those words were chosen and weighted by Casey, who is very smart and very good at this stuff.
According to the tape, Rawlings never chose those words. He said this: "For me the question is can we make a difference. When I start looking at what happens in charter schools, this is one fact. And what happens in the normal school in Dallas, the performance for the good charter schools is significantly better and the normal schools are not, they don't have the, not the vision but the sense of quality and excellence that I think our families want."
We could talk all day long here about the wisdom of immediately tying the school takeover campaign to charter schools, since that's exactly what many defenders of public education suspect in the mayor's proposed "home rule" reform of school governance -- a Trojan horse trick to pump up charters and do away with public education.
But wait. We're still on the meeting. Did Rawlings go before a meeting of Latino leaders and use a bunch of dog-whistle words to insult his audience's ethnicity? No. He did not. The version I was given afterward was canted to make it sound as if he did. He did not.
So why the walkout? I still don't get it. If you listen to the tape below, at about one and a half minutes into it, he sort of picks a little fight with Casey, who is challenging him on some facts. But that's all she's doing.
The recording is a little hard to make out, but when I listen, I hear Casey speaking in the frank but polite manner one would expect at any garden-variety town-hall meeting. This meeting, by the way, was closed to the media, a move that usually means people want to be direct and candid.
Rawlings says to her, "Are we mad at each other here?"
"No, sir," she answers.
"Well it sure sounds we're mad at each other."
The good stuff, the blowup, is at nine minutes, twenty-four seconds. The mayor is making a point about how he as mayor is subject to recall but school district trustees in Texas are not. "I can be recalled, but the board of trustees just keeps on keeping on. It's just a flawed system."
Casey says something to him at that point. I can't hear it clearly on the recording. She told me she asked him something to the effect of whether he was a flaw in the system.
At that point, boom! He says, "You guys figure it out," and he walks out.
As someone in the crowd points out minutes later, the mayor had many friends in that room. He made them look bad. On part of the recording that I have edited out, you can hear them telling the others they cannot defend his behavior. I recognize their voices, but the Anna Casey misquote has made me chary of filling in the blanks for a meeting I did not attend.
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The walkout was a bit of a victory for Casey, but I know from talking to several who were present, many of whom are the mayor's allies on school issues, that everybody in the meeting there took his walkout as a slap. It was one more indication that home rule may be a stupid white people trick.
Example: People interested in this home rule thing have spoken to me about how hard it is to find candidates for the school board who are willing to take on the sheer torture of seven-hour board meetings in which they have to take criticism night. That's a stupid white people thing. In a diverse community with some bitter history behind it, taking a certain amount of crap is the price of a ticket.
In fact if there is a fatal flaw in this whole home rule deal, it could be that it is engineered by people who don't want to take shit. Even worse if they want gratitude and respect for their efforts. If they want gratitude and respect, they should adopt a rescue dog, not run for school board. In a free-wheeling forum like that meeting last week, there is one pretty good strategy for dealing with people who give you shit. Give it back. It ain't a shareholder meeting.