“In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience – the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men – each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient – they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul.” John F. Kennedy – Profiles In Courage
Facing A Nasty Truth
Offering my own experience as a veteran of contentious political battles and my own ground – level observation of Rockland County politics in the Town, County and Congressional District arenas, presents a unique perspective for your fair minded consideration.
Borrowing from the principles of “Profiles in Courage” I focus on the three types of political pressures an elected official faces. Senator Kennedy discussed in the preface to Profiles in Courage; “the problems of political courage in the face of constituent pressures, and the light shed on those problems by the lives of past statesmen… the three types of pressure faced by senators as pressure to be liked, pressure to be re-elected, and pressure of the constituency and interest groups.”
Let’s discuss the issue at hand for the moment concerning the East Ramapo School District Board. Some in the Legislature complain they are being picked upon not out of genuine concern for the students, nor for the empirical data measuring allocation of resources, nor scholastic markers, but for no other reason than the ugly specter of anti-Semitism.
The nasty truth of the matter is greed, racist disdain for the ethnic make-up of the student body and lack of political clout in the community to stand up to these powerful special interest is what is truly going on. Let’s just get that out of the way. Denying it, dis-agreeing with it, or dismissing it, will not change the reality of it.
The politics in the Town of Ramapo ranging from Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence, the Town Board, and back-room dealings with both the Democrat and Republican Committee are all well documented and known to the players and activist residents. There are enough publications, news stories, reported election day anomalies and the rise of the ignominious term added to the political lexicon called; “the Block Vote” to validate there is a problem.
Rightly or wrongly, some in the predominantly various religious sects embedded within the Jewish Community of Ramapo cringe at its enunciation and consider it to be an out-right anti-Semitic expression. Whether there is no truth to the accusation or if it is an earned disparagement is a debate for another column.
For the purpose of this discussion concerning political courage in Rockland County, this article must acknowledge the unpleasantness, unpopularity, and the ethical dilemma associated with denying one segment of the Ramapo school community equal opportunity that is due to them and the factually disproportionality of limited resources channeled to the sole benefit of another.
When I won the nomination for Ramapo Town Supervisor in 2007; we learned first hand what was occurring in our community. The awareness arose that the powerful players involved were driven by certain real estate developers and their end-less cash was manipulating all from the shadows. The cheating was beyond any scope one could fathom.
My team challenged the status quo and warned everyone what would happen. On election night 2007, Christopher St. Lawrence validated our predictions and confirmed our warnings:
Since then, we and others have continued to sound the alarm, warning the community that they were being sold out by their own Town government. We challenged the political party bosses in open debate that eventually resulted in their political demise. But, at the cost of the deconstruction of the opposition party system and fracturing that results from third party formulas.
A profile in courage is measured by the negative barometer of political scars, array of opposition against what is right, the expenditure of money and political pressure to kill the messenger. Resistance to it all is a must because surrender is irreversible.
Lessons From Profiles In Courage
The lesson offered by this Ramapo example is that the solution can be found by grooming many principled candidates who could give a wit about being “liked”, “resistant to the pressure of re-election” or “enslaved to the purse strings of the special interest.”
Understanding the harsh reality is only a first step, but also the data shows us that State take-overs of school districts are disastrous for the student body, even though it satisfies the political body by lending the appearance of taking action under pressure. I urge our well intended activists to re-consider this track.
The solution lies in the most obvious. Remove this ERSD School Board politically. Investigate them criminally. Pressure them legally. Demand the Rockland County legislature utilize the authority they “hold”, given them by the voters for this express purpose.
Political Cowardice at the Rockland County Legislature
The recent obstruction noted by three Legislators should galvanize the resistance and motivate the resolve, not become the excuse to let them off the hook. It is not a profile in courage for the majority of the Legislature to take on the popular issue and go through the motions to give up at the first sign of rancor.
When all of us witness the Town Supervisor of Ramapo openly expressing his intentions to destroy one segment of the community to benefit another and every elected office ‘holder’ in the County sits idly by, turning a blind eye, resorting to the excuse of “there is nothing do be done about it”, but who then find a change of heart when it becomes popular in election season; cannot be considered for any profiles in courage awards.
The Students Will Have to Learn to Survive With Courage
The Rockland Voice Profile in Courage award goes to the students of the East Ramapo School District. I had the privilege of being invited to speak to them at Ramapo High School. When I looked over the sea of 100+ faces, hanging on to every word, seeking a way out of the dilemma they know they are in; I became furious with the calculation that half of them would not graduate. Not because they are not smart, engaging, willing to work or capable, but because they are denied the basic tools owed them by a Board entrusted by our community to provide for them and paid for by the tax-payer.
The immediate message to these future leaders is to set an immediate goal for themselves now. I challenged them to set for themselves the goal of “graduate Ramapo High School with an A average.” I urged their bi-lingual peers to tutor their classmates in English. If we could motivate each one to reach one, and to take it upon themselves to help each other graduate, then they will be better prepared to cope with a society and community, that gives not a wit for their well – being, their civil rights, or the decency of insuring they are not relegated to menial labor. What a waste of potential that would be. Their courage is to be commended and deserving of our best efforts to rectify this grave injustice hoisted on them by their elected representatives.
[Disclosure note: The author of this piece; Anthony Melé is the publisher of Rockland Voice, and New York State Vice-Chairman of the Latino National Republican Coalition, as well as the Rockland County, LNRC Chairman]