by Bob Geary
If I have the math right, John Tedesco was within 50 votes of finishing off a Republican takeover of the Wake school system last night. GOP-backed candidates won three seats outright; their fourth candidate, Tedesco, got 3,247 votes out of 6,576 cast in the five-way District 2 race. With 50 percent plus one, he'd have been elected. Some provisional ballots must still be reviewed and, if legit, counted, so the exact numbers will change a bit. But Tedesco came very, very close.
Now the runner-up, Cathy Truitt, is reportedly talking about a runoff against Tedesco in which she would present herself as the Olympia Snowe to Tedesco's Mitch McConnell. In other words, elect Truitt, and she'll be the heroic voice of moderate Republican reason in the center of the culture wars over Wake's schools in the same way that Maine's Sen. Snowe can negotiate with the other side in the U.S. Senate -- and maybe find a compromise on health care reform? -- where rabid Republicans like McConnell, the Republican minority leader, can't. No, won't.
So the question progressives are asking themselves today is, should we mount a campaign behind Truitt in a last-ditch effort to keep the rabid Republicans of Wake from wrecking the schools? And/or find some other way to stop them from doing what they are so clearly bent on doing, which is splitting off the suburban schools in Wake from Raleigh's inner-city schools?
Meanwhile, you can almost hear the emails dinging onto the screens of Raleigh's and Wake County's business leadership. They're not all Republicans, but a lot of them are. But whatever their stance on other issues, they are not rabid-right Republicans when it comes to the schools -- quite the opposite. They've always supported the policy mix of diversity, magnet schools and (lately) year-round schools that has characterized Wake's system for 30 years, for the obvious reason that a healthy school system was good for bidness.
That policy mix was brought to you by a coalition of Democrats on the school board (e.g., John Gilbert, Beverley Clark, Susan Parry, Rosa Gill) and Olympia Snowe-type Republicans (Judy Hoffman, Roxy Cash, Bill Fletcher, Patti Head). It was opposed, for as long as I can remember, by rabid-right Republicans like Jesse Helms, Gary Pendleton, Tom Fetzer, and Paul Coble, who never missed a chance to denounce it with the single word "busing."
Or busin' -- never a "g".
And let's not forget what happened when the rabid-right Republicans, in '93 and '94, took over the county and cut school budgets mercilessly. The answer: 2,000 trailers instead of the new schools that were needed but not built. But even in this period, the R-R Republicans never got control of the school board, so their recipe of "neighborhood schools" to smash the diversity/magnets mix was never followed.
But after last night, Coble -- the one-term Raleigh mayor who is suddenly controlling things on the Wake County Board of Commissioners despite the fact that he's supposedly in the minority on a 4-3 Democratic board -- and Fetzer, the newly installed State GOP Chair, hold the future of Wake's schools in their hands. Theirs' and Ron Margiotta's.
Margiotta, who before last night was the dissenter on a school board that was 8-1 in favor of the diverrsity mix, will be the new board chair unless somehow Truitt can overcome Tedesco in a runoff and become the board's version of Snowe.
The chances of that happening are awfully remote, imho. True, the November runoff will coincide with municipal elections (Garner, Fuquay-Varina) in District 2, bringing out a whole new set of votes on top of the ones who went to the polls there yesterday. Still, Tedesco starts far ahead, and with an enormous GOP-generated head of rabid-right steam behind him. No to mention that neither Garner nor Fuquay is friendly territory for a Democratic counter-campaign.
Should progressive try anyway to elect Truitt? It seems their only course is to rebuild the old coalition of Democrats and Bidness Republicans in a big, big hurry and throw in in the path, not of the Tedesco-Truitt race so much, but the Coble-Fetzer-Margiotta machinery that, unless it's slowed down, can undo 30 years of hard school-board work in a single meeting.
We saw the beginnings of that effort on Monday, when Jim Goodmon (the Republican CEO of Capital Broadcasting/WRAL) and Charles Meeker, the Democratic mayor of Raleigh, fronted a too-little, too-late press conference to warn about the consequences of a rabid-right Republican victory. Too late to stop Tuesday's sweep, that is. Maybe not too late to stop the victors from smashing their prize, but only if the that effort is magnified by a factor of about 10.
If it is, it could help Truitt close the gap against Tedesco and prevent a landslide which, if it occurs, will embolden the Coble-Fetzers even more than they are now -- if that's possible.