Wake County's Racial Watershed

Next Tuesday's Wake County School Board election promises to be a watershed event for race and poverty. I have followed the issue closely and today's Op Ed article in the Raleigh News&Observer by David Zonderman, "On school vote hangs our future", expresses what's at stake as capably as any observer.

Few recent school board elections have carried such historical and educational weight. Voters should remember the modern civil rights movement's struggles and realize that the fight for educational access and equity did not end with Brown v. Board of Education. That campaign for quality education continues today. In an increasingly diverse nation and an ever more complex world, all children need and deserve the best education possible in classrooms that reflect the rich and variegated human mosaic of America.

The election has drawn national attention. Much attention has focused on the intended and unintended consequences for racial diversity. Many of the grievances of opponents of the diversity policy can be attributed to school board policies that have tried to cope with explosive growth using limited resources. Reassignment, year-round schools and busing have been among the irritant but necessary tools to address this growth which continues in Wake even as Charlotte-Mecklenburg school enrollment declines. A fraction of busing is directed at achieving economic diversity which has the effect of also achieving racial diversity while limiting the negative effects of pockets of poverty.

Last week UniteHere, a national hospitality, food service, laundry, airport and textile union weighed in, [Union blasts SEANC leaders] announcing two endorsements and questioning the involvement of SEANC/SEIU officials in promoting anti-diversity candidates. Since then another action alert has gone out from Carolina UniteHere quoting extensively from a previous post here on BlueNC.

Why are two top SEIU officials in North Carolina backing anti-diversity candidates in the heated Wake County school board elections, including a busing opponent and a “neighborhood schools” advocate who is running against a pro-diversity SEIU member?

In what one liberal blogger has called “a politically tone deaf move,” two top leaders of SEIU’s large state employee affiliate in North Carolina have inserted themselves into the Wake school board contest, publicly backing candidates who want to dismantle Wake County’s celebrated school diversity program.

Dana Cope, Executive Director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) and Ardis Watkins, SEANC’s legislative director, formed the “Children’s PAC” earlier this year after their efforts to stop the county schools’ reassignment plan were unsuccessful.

Cope and Watkins live in an affluent West Raleigh neighborhood that is located in one of three nodes scheduled to be reassigned from Lacy Elementary to Stough Elementary.

The two SEIU officials recently dissolved their PAC and allied themselves with another anti-reassignment group, the Wake Schools Community Alliance (WSCA), which has endorsed four candidates for the Wake school board.

In District 1, for example, the group is backing former Wake Forest Town Commissioner Chris Malone, who also enjoys the support of the Wake County Republican Party. Malone is a strident opponent of busing and the district’s longstanding practice of reassigning small groups of students periodically to achieve diversity goals. The pro-diversity candidate, Rita Rakestraw, is a child development specialist who is endorsed by the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Triangle Area Labor Federation, and Unite Here.

In District 7, Cope and Ardis and the WCSA are backing Deborah Pickett, a first-time candidate who opposes Wake County’s reassignment policy and believes that low-income students will do better in “neighborhood schools.” Her opponent, Karen Simon, is a staunch defender of Wake’s diversity goals and policies. She has the support of the North Carolina Association of Educators, the Triangle Area Labor Federation and Unite Here. And get this – she is a state employee and a member of SEANC.

So Cope and Watkins now find themselves publicly backing an anti-diversity candidate who is running against one of their own members. How did this come to pass?

In a scathing post on the liberal political blog BlueNC, writer and state employee Greg Flynn accused Cope and Watkins of “trafficking in the goodwill of the SEANC” for “what amounts to a point of personal privilege.” Flynn also said:

“Some State legislators say privately that they take a dim view of Cope’s actions in this matter and that they reflect poorly on SEANC and SEIU. They note that the end game of many WSCA supporters will negatively impact SEANC/SEIU members in Wake County, especially low and moderate-wage workers, who don’t have the 5-year contract that Cope enjoys.”

For members of North Carolina’s pro-education, labor and civil rights communities, now is the time to make your voices heard. We urge you to speak out now so Cope and Watkins and their friends in the WSCA don’t roll back 40 years of progress in Wake County.


Paid for by UNITE HERE TIP Campaign Committee. Not authorized by any candidate.
1775 K. St.NW
Washington, DC 20006

To be sure there may be more going on in internecine union affairs than meets the eye here, but there is no denying that Tuesday's Wake School Board election will be instructive regarding the state of racial issues during a supposedly post-racial presidency.


A disappointing and ignorant

A disappointing and ignorant comment. Have you actually met one of the people who want to change our school system? Have you ever even visited a Wake County School?

Yes and yes

I have indeed met people who want to change your school system. And yes, I have visited many Wake County schools.

Talk about ignorant comments.

You guys are complete idiots.

You guys are complete idiots. It's scary to me that someone can't disagree with the school board without being called racist. Respect for the opinion of others is obviously not something your mother taught you. I don't care about these unions that don't like each other, but I do care about my kids. And apparently so do Cope and Watkins. This isn't racism...it's reality. I'm a single Mom and I have one child in traditional and one child in year round. All of that because of the school board's decisions. And if these stupid decisions had been about diversity I could have stomached that a little bit better than I do now knowing it's for no good reason and I'm stuck with a schedule nightmare and HUGE day care bills to "accomadate" the school board's decisions. This is not about diversity. Don't kid youself. It's about the school board's lack of respect for kids and parents. My kid goes to a school that is 70% minority. Is that diversity? I think not. The funniest thing about that is that I never would have noticed that and looked up my school's numbers if the school board had not used "diversity" as their excuse for EVERYTHING.

Your anger and favor are horribly misplaced

Blaming your rants on your local school board is absurd.

Dana Cope doesn't care about your kids. He cares about his wife's perceived slight.

You have one child in traditional and one in year-round because your past County Commissioners (mostly GOP led for the past decade) have underfunded school construction while Wake County's population has exploded. Your past commissioners preferred lower taxes to building schools, and now you're living with the consequences. If you don't like year-round, then raise some more money to build more schools to house all kids in the same track (Hint: the school board can't levy taxes).

Diversity is not about race in Wake County policies; it's about the number of students that qualify for free and reduced meals in a school. Your 70% minority number is meaningless without looking at the FRM ratios across the county.

Then you blame day care bills on your local school board? That's beyond asinine. What does a school board have to do with the price of child care or a given citizen's need for it?

Your anger is real, but it's also really misdirected. Think about why you're in this situation and vote accordingly at all levels of government.


You can blame the Legislature too

Because they "know best" what local governments need, the Legislature keeps off the table options like impact fees what Wake could have placed on development to make all its rapid growth help pay to build new schools.

Impact fees for Wake County can't even make it out of committee in the legislature. In fact, the Legislature has not approved impact fees for local governments in about 20 years. It's sickening how millions in Realtor and Homebuilder campaign money helps ensure the costs of growth will continue to be mostly borne by existing residents...

And you should realize that

And you should realize that the Realtor and Homebuilder PAC money is behind status quo candidates in this election. Horace Tart is backed by the homebuilders. Jim Goodmon, a major landholder, is paying for TV commercials to preserve the current school board policy. Two years from now, he will be contributing to county commissioner candidates who will vote against those same impact fees.

The "unholy alliance" that Greg Flynn talked about is not Dana Cope and Wake County Parents, the unholy alliance is between developers and those who would maintain our school board policies which protect their property values by creating the illusion of good schools.

I sympathize with you

on your scheduling conflicts and day-care costs. The system should be designed to avoid such scenarios. But this position:

My kid goes to a school that is 70% minority. Is that diversity? I think not.

shows that you may not understand what diversity really means. In this formula, your child is the diversity agent representing new and different ideas to the majority of the students. Diversity doesn't mean dark skin, it means different.

It might not be easy for you to do, but instead of focusing on the hardship aspect of this arrangement, try to consider the positive impacts your child could have on other children.

Asinine? My opinion

Asinine? My opinion asinine?
What's asinine is not "getting it" that day care bills ARE related to the school board when the school board voted to set such a crazy schedule. And the fact that you call another person's opinion "asinine" when it's different from your says it all. You are completely closed off to other people's opinions. Wow- what an excellent student you must have made.

And next time have the guts to put your name.

Facts are Pesky Things

I am going to start this post by making the disclaimer that I am not attacking Greg. I know Greg has done a lot of good research, but he has been told some things by UNITE-HERE that are false and wrong. Please excuse the length of this, I get pretty passionate when one union attacks another.

First a little disclaimer and some facts that UNITE-HERE has misled folks on. Dana Cope got involved in these school board races as the parent of two elementary aged children. SEANC, SEIU Local 2008, has not been involved in these races at all. How do I know? Because for the last 6 months (as most of you know) I have worked for SEANC. I have always done and always will do political work (and will talk about what I have been doing a little later). I have never been asked to help on the School Board issue, my opinion has never been asked for, and the organization has not and will not endorse in these races. In fact I personally disagree with the position that Dana has taken, but I am never going to tell a parent not to do what they believe is best for their child.

So while UNITE-HERE would like to attack SEANC and by extension SEIU, the organization has had no involvement with this issue. The reason of course is that SEANC is concerned with the working conditions of state employees, something that school board has zero bearing on. What UNITE-HERE is really doing, and I am incredibly disappointed that they have tried to bring the progressive community of our state into this, is to attack SEIU.

For some history, UNITE-HERE does not like SEIU. Early this year members of the old UNITE and the old HERE had more than a few disagreements, and the majority of the old UNITE members voted to form their own union, Workers United. That group then voted to affiliate with SEIU. The HERE faction has taken this extremely badly, and has engaged in practices that are best described as union busting, in an attempt to break up and hurt Workers United.

This latest “endorsement” by the UNITE-HERE people in Washington DC is just the latest shot in that battle. That follows on the heels of months of nasty emails from UNITE-HERE to SEANC members badmouthing SEIU and in no small part buying into the nonsense attacks from folks like Glenn Beck about SEIU.

In fact, UNITE-HERE has zero members in North Carolina. Let me repeat that. ZERO. Why? Because they all voted to leave and join the new Workers United union! As far as I know, every local of the old UNITE-HERE throughout the south has left and joined Workers United. So you will excuse me if I don’t care at all what UNITE-HERE thinks about anything going on in our state.

I mentioned above that UNITE-HERE has misled people about the facts. Let me set you all straight. First, Karen Simon is NOT a member of SEANC. So the idea that Dana is endorsing against a member is absurd.

Second, SEANC and SEIU have done more to pass Health Care Reform than any other organization in this state this year. I know this because I have been in charge of that effort. So after we did more than any other group to pass Health Care Reform, and after seeing Dana have to put his reputation on the line for us to be involved in this effort at all, it makes me incredibly angry to see SEANC be attacked by another union.

When UNITE-HERE has done as much as SEANC and SEIU to make the lives of workers in North Carolina better then I will care what they think about a local school board race. In the meantime they can go jump off a cliff.

"Keep the Faith"


I have posted the Unite Here email in its entirety for your information. Please don't attribute it to me. This comment is fairly well reasoned but subsequent comments have gone off on a tangent.

SEANC/SEIU funds used for school board race?

BlueSouth says

" Dana Cope got involved in these school board races as the parent of two elementary aged children. SEANC, SEIU Local 2008, has not been involved in these races at all."

I believed this until I got a letter in the mail yesterday, sent in a SEANC envelope, mailed with First Class permit 1090, with letterhead with the SEANC logo and name, signed by "Dana Cope, SEANC Executive Director", which first rebuts the UNITE-Here tactics, and makes the excellent point that UNITE-Here are outsiders in the Wake school board race. Cope then says "I am not representing SEANC in any way as I express my opinion in Tuesday's October 6 election", then goes on to "explain to you my personal endorsement of Deborah Prickett in the District 7 election". He goes on for a paragraph in his endorsement. I would have believed it was a personal endorsement other than the use of SEANC envelopes and letterhead and signing his SEANC title. Sorry Dana, this gives the clear apperance that it is fact an SEANC endorsement. If in fact SEANC funds were spent on this mailing, was it an illegal corporate contribution to the Prickett campaign? Is Cope mistaking his personal interests for those of SEANC? I've been a SEANC member for 30+ years. I have a call in to Dana to see who paid for the mailing. I'll feel a lot better about Dana and SEANC is I find out that he padi the entire costs personally, and inadvertently used the letterhead and envelopes.

A smaller joke in this -- after railing about outside influence, I note that according to Wake Board of Elections records, Cope is registered in district 6, not district 7.

I should be clear about something else, After listening to the entire campaign, I could not support either candidate, neither Prickett nor Simon. When I early voted last week, I wrote in incumbent school board member Pattie Head, who did not seek re-election. She's done a fantastic job on the school board, and since there will be a runoff if there is no majority my vote was not wasted.

Dana Cope

Dana Cope's efforts to promote inequality in the Wake County school system are extremely distasteful. Moreover, they undermine SEANC's crucial role to advocate for public employees and the public good.

You are giving him a lot of credit if you think

the use of the letterhead and envelope are inadvertent. It would be nice to know that he personally paid for the postage.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


“Some State legislators say privately that they take a dim view of Cope’s actions in this matter and that they reflect poorly on SEANC and SEIU. They note that the end game of many WSCA supporters will negatively impact SEANC/SEIU members in Wake County, especially low and moderate-wage workers, who don’t have the 5-year contract that Cope enjoys.”

If those "some legislators" got off their butts and stopped being afraid of their own shadows and ended the ban on collective bargaining (something that was created as part of the Jim Crow race war) then those state employees could have a contract like Dana has.

And while we are on the subject of racism and helping working people in this state, the group that SEANC helped start to overturn the Jim Crown ban on collective bargaining is the HOPE Coalition. A group that UNITE-HERE was never a part of.

So again, they can go jump off a cliff.

"Keep the Faith"


Why is it off base? Because he is the ED of an organization involved in politics he isn't allowed to become involved in politics that affect his children?

Isn't it a lot more off base for a national organization with zero members in our state to be attacking a parent for getting involved with their kids education?

Really if Dana was involved in this effort from the other side I know that you and Greg would be either ignoring it or applauding it.

"Keep the Faith"

It doesn't matter who's more off base

maybe they're both off base. What matters is whether there seems to be a conflating of his public role and his personal life. If that conflating came as a result of HERE's pot stirring ... well that's a different problem. Are they the only people who have a problem with Cope's advocacy?

For what it's worth, I'm not shopping at Whole Foods anymore because of a public position their CEO has taken about healthcare. He says it's his personal view and it shouldn't affect a customer's relationship with the store. I say baloney to that.

Is it?

What matters is whether there seems to be a conflating of his public role and his personal life

This post wasn't a well reasoned question about whether or not Dana should be involved or not. It was an attack on SEANC because of the specific side that Dana has chosen to take in his personal life.

"Keep the Faith"

I didn't read it that way

But you may be right.

Wake County politics has always looked like a slow moving car accident to me. I don't watch unless it crashes into something I care about.

For the record

This post is not an attack on SEANC, of which I am a member. It includes a report of an attack. I'd like to keep the facts straight, unlike NCSPIN which can't even get its corrections right.

This disappoints me, James

To stop going to a store or to make a personal boycott against any legitimate establishment because their CEO doesn't agree with you politically seems (as much as I hate to put it this way) childish. Not everyone in our country agrees with you and I on every issue of the day. It is why we have the political process we have and what makes us so different than so many other countries. We're allowed the freedom to sort of agree to disagree. What if everyone that believed differently than the Whole Foods CEO boycotted it? Oh, yeah, it might get him fired or it may just cause a great many people that don't have a dog in this hunt to lose their jobs and benefits and create very big problems for their families. There are other ways to "skin the cat", James. Your actions shouldn't be one of those. It is counterproductive and hateful and spiteful and could hurt innocent people.

I agree with you on just about every issue you take here on BlueNC. Can't back you on this one, sorry.

Would it disappoint you

...if I decided to stop hurting all those innocent people in Libya and start buying everything I could to buy products and services smiled upon by Muammar al-Gaddafi?

I mean, I don't agree with everything he says, but there could be innocent people involved without a dog in this hunt.

I'd hate to put pressure on a leader I disagree with by forcing those he purports to lead to put pressure on him. We're free to agree and disagree, right?

Just sayin'


A lot of people are disappointed

That's okay. We each have different views.

I believe that the dollars I've spent at Whole Foods have helped build a soapbox for Mackey to push his personal agenda. His column challenging the value of government involvement in health care (in the Wall Street Journal) wasn't by John Mackey private citizen. It was by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. The two are indistinguishable in that league.

I've encouraged all my friends to stop shopping there - most of them have ignored my advice. Most people don't care what I do or don't do ... I just want people to stop and think.


PS By the way, I try to steer clear of South Carolina too. The South Carolina NAACP doesn't hold its conferences in South Carolina because the state legislature continues to fly the confederate flag over their Capitol. I don't go to South Carolina for the same reason. They don't worry about the hundreds of dollars I might spend going on vacation there, but I feel better knowing my money isn't supporting a government that has policies I consider offensive.

We each have lines that we won't cross for wide and varying reasons.

That whole "innocent people" thing only goes so far. I boycotted Mt. Olive pickles for years. In the end, the workers won ... it was very painful along the way, though.

That was good

You are an excellent debater, James. I have to give you kudos on that post. It was far better than mine. I am sure if I dug hard enough I could find examples of where boycotts hurt employees and ended up being a negative rather than a positive outcome overall. I won't do that. Takes too much time for something that really wouldn't matter one way or the other anyway.

At least I have spoken my peace and you have accepted that we do have differing opinions and that they should be acknowledged. I respect you for that greatly. Hopefully I won't see too many folks here that want to get on your "good side" defending you and talking me down on this one.

I don't have a good side. :)

If you only knew!

I'm glad you're here to challenge our tendency toward group think. You're a good sport.

I try :)

Hopefully most of the people here are as understanding about my messages here as you are. Blogs, to me, are about debate and bantering around everyone's take on important (and sometimes not-so-important) issues. I like it here because I can sometimes disagree with the generally accepted position and not have to take a brick upside my head :)

I am new to this but am learning every day. Thanks, James.

Not talking you down,

because you appear to be in a safe place, and I'm not talking down to you, because you're likely smarter than I am. But the proper way to sort those homonyms is either "speak your piece" or "hold your peace", of which I encourage you to do the former.



You don't know anything about what I ignore or applaud so please don't speculate. I take a lot of flak from all sides for things you don't even hear about and I do it because I believe it's the right thing to do. I don't pull punches anymore and I don't swing wildly either.

"some legislators"

The people who spoke to me off the record don't spend much time on their butts and they are among SEANC's best friends in the legislature. If you want to write them off then SEANC/SEIU needs a different strategy for success.

As for the NC Hope Coalition, Unite Here is a listed signatory. While the website appears to be no longer accessible, a cached copy shows that as of May 22, 2009, UNITE HERE - NC, Unite Here 294 T and, UNITE HERE Local 565 were listed organizations.

Signatory is not a partner

You and I could sign on as signatories to NC HOPE or any other support petition. That doesn't make us part of or partners in the organization.

"Keep the Faith"

No idea who

The joy of anonymous comments is that I have no idea who you are talking about.

"Keep the Faith"


Shakespeare uses the phrase "hold my peace" a good many times, which I have seen on stage interpreted physically as "hold my piece". Here's one use that may not lend itself to that ambiguity, but perhaps to a BlueNC signature.

"I hold my peace, sir? no;
No, I will speak as liberal as the north;
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all,
All, all, cry shame against me, yet I'll speak."
— William Shakespeare (Othello)

I will try to have a dialogue

I will try to have a dialogue here again. Last time I tried, Mr. Flynn had my access revoked (so much for free speech). My name is Joe Ciulla. Perry Woods knows who I am.

Before you call me a right wingnut, know that I worked my behind off to help Harold Weinbrecht get elected in 2007, and I am doing what I can to help Lori Bush in 2009.

How many of you who attack Dana Cope have children in the public school system? How many of you (be honest here) have met with parents of F&R children in the school system, to understand their needs and to understand how the public school system can do the best job in helping these children and breaking the poverty cycle?

Have you been to church meetings in Southeast Raleigh and talked about dropout rates? Have you spoken with young men who dropped out to ask why?

I have. And until you have actually faced this problem, you have no basis to throw stones at Mr. Cope. He is not a friend of mine, I have met him once. But it is very easy to sit at your keyboard and throw stones.

I encourage you to invest the time to visit schools, study the data, and understand what is really going on in our school system. We are talking about children here. By condemning Mr. Cope because of his union affiliation you are marginalizing our children. When did our children become a union or partisan issue?


For the record, I didn't have your access revoked. I believe James excercised his privilege to do so because I was being attacked personally, one of the hazards of using my own name. I have a child in the Wake County school system, spoke with some F&R parents last night and Friday morning was working on a dropout prevention project in Granville County.

Greg, Apologies, I thought

Apologies, I thought you ran the web site.

It was me

We have only one rule of behavior at BlueNC. A poster or commenter must rise to the level of "intolerably obnoxious" for me to block them. You more than qualified at the time ... and I thank you for exercising more restraint and civility this time around.

Two things, Joe

First, Dana's affiliation with SEANC is an important issue in this discussion. That's a very powerful political position that he holds, carrying with it a great deal of influence. For him to (also) step forward as a leader in this school board fight means he is bringing some of that (union) influence with him. Some of that just can't be separated.

The second thing is: We do advocacy here at BlueNC, with an eye towards progress. Now, you can spin all you want to about wanting good education for all students, but we weren't born yesterday. Dana's behavior and statements, especially this one:

"How dare they use my children for a social experiment that has gone wrong and needs replacing."

mirror the attitudes of Boston parents of more than three decades ago. That city proved that economic factors and "neighborhood schools" could produce segregation just as effectively as laws did in the South.

You know this, and Dana Cope knows this. So when we see you guys talking about neighborhood schools, parental choice, student's rights, how much money parents spent on Lacy Elementary, etc., we know that you know you're on the wrong side of a class and race issue that's decades old.

And just as a bonus here, let me tell you something else that pisses me off. I've heard a lot of bull from Republicans about wealthy intellectual Democrats "acting like they care" about social issues. Well you know what? When people like Dana Cope pull this NIMBY crap and try to undermine decades of progress because their storybook life might get soiled a little bit, they make that bullshit start to sound just a tiny bit credible.

Mr. Cope's statement was very

Mr. Cope's statement was very similar to this one:

"How reckless it would be to experiment on this community's own children"

That statement was made by Steve Ford, today, in his editorial.

My only "dog" in this hunt is the desire to help my community. My son is a Junior in HS and nothing coming out of this election will have any affect on him. Greg's original post made reference to an "unholy alliance" between Mr. Cope and those of us who would change our school's policy. I believe that the true unholy alliance in play here is the one between Harvey Schmitt, Jim Goodmon, WEP and WCPSS. It is 'good for business' to hide the failures of our school system and create the illusion of world class schools. When did our schools become an "economic development tool" instead of a "student development tool?"

Economics and education

are inextricably tied together, Joe. You know that. Or you should know that, anyway.

And this whole meme about "hiding failures" is a covert way of saying: "It doesn't matter where these poor brown kids attend school, they're still going to fail."

You may not see how that belief is in direct conflict with your stated goal of improving education for all students, but I and many others do. At the end of the day, keeping students grouped together by class is what you folks are trying to achieve, and no amount of finger-pointing or name-dropping is going to hide that fact.


And just as a bonus here, let me tell you something else that pisses me off. I've heard a lot of bull from Republicans about wealthy intellectual Democrats "acting like they care" about social issues. Well you know what? When people like Dana Cope pull this NIMBY crap and try to undermine decades of progress because their storybook life might get soiled a little bit, they make that bullshit start to sound just a tiny bit credible.

Exactly: Dana Cope's efforts to establish one set of schools for wealthy people and one set of schools for working class people have hurt the progressive movement in North Carolina. We would expect, particularly given NC's distinction as the state with the lowest union density in the county, for unions to show some solidarity.


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I disabled your link

There are many things we can do to improve the education of our children, but pimping term papers isn't one of them. :/