Suspicions of an Ex Post Facto Gotcha

Fred’s sarcasm in the comments to Andrew’s foregoing post regarding my previous complaints that Mayor Laffey hadn’t tied his arrest of Maria Hernandez to the issue of school choice doesn’t really work based on Laffey’s ex post facto announcement. Will’s comments fair a little better, since his previous assertion was of an unseen plan on Laffey’s part. But for all we know, it was discussion on this very blog that prompted Cranston’s newly minted school choice policy. Probably not, but the timeline hardly invalidates my argument that Laffey had said absolutely nothing about the topic previously.
If this matter is unfolding according to some master plan, however, I have to say that I find the strategy to be unnecessarily manipulative. Pushing a family into the state spotlight with an arrest and promises of prosecution in order to embarrass foes and tentative allies alike with a gotcha probably isn’t the most politic means of advancing conversation.
Of course, if there were a plan in operation, I’d have expected materials to have been prepared (e.g., on the Web site) for simultaneous release. I also wouldn’t have expected this to be the case:

Laffey said he has not contacted Providence to brief them on his plan, or to work on the problems together.

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Leon Berg
Leon Berg
15 years ago

You may not like the man or his methods, but the fact remains that Rhode Island is FINALLY having a serious debate about school choice. You have to admire Laffey’s political acumen in creating a significant movement for change.
Imagine what this guy could get done in the US Senate!!

bountyhunter
bountyhunter
15 years ago

Enough of this peripheral sandbox stuff already. In the immortal words of Ted R., let’s get back to Laffey and his plan!!

TCC3
15 years ago

I always thought school choice was about allowing students to attend private schools with public funds when the public schools in their community were bad as opposed to just shifting taxpayers $$ around.
I applaud Laffey for trying to protect Cranston’s taxpayers, but I have serious doubts as to whether this effort is going to lead to education reform (or is really about it) or a dialogue about school choice despite how the arguments are framed.

Grady Shipley
Grady Shipley
15 years ago

I echo the comments of TCC3. Also, Mr. Berg, has this really become a “significant movement for change?”

Andrew
Editor
15 years ago

TCC,
Massachusetts uses choice within the public system and has had success with it. Follow the link in this post…
http://www.anchorrising.com/barnacles/002455.html
The idea is that parents dissatisfied with the quality of education in their city/town can have a voice in their child’s education that goes beyond their vote for the school committee (and Providence residents can’t even vote on school committee members).

Andrew
Editor
15 years ago

Justin,
I agree that arresting Maria Hernandez was probably an unnecessary detour if the school choice plan was the ultimate goal all along.
But I disagree that Mayor Laffey should have gone to the government of Providence before going public with all of the details of his plan. Providence knows its schools are in bad shape, but, as the statistics that the Mayor presented show, doesn’t seem to be in any rush to fix them. Had the mayor tipped his hand, it is reasonable to assume the officials in Providence happy with the current funding structure would have leaked the proposal in the most unfavorable light possible and tried to turn public opinion against it right away.
And for reasons that I don’t fully fathom, they would have found a sympathetic media. Look at the headline and the subhead of the Projo story you linked to; Providence harming Cranston, a chance to avoid prosecution, criticism of Providence. Where’s the mention of the potentially biggest part of this program — Cranston willing to take Providence students (answer: paragraph 5, right before the article start talking about the Mayor’s supposed “vitriol”, which apparently consists of pointing out the problems in Providence that everyone is aware of). Another example: one of the media members at the press conference asked the Mayor in very disgruntled tones why he was opening this “can of worms” by discussing school choice.
Presenting the plan in one shot as a complete package to the government and the citizens at the same time was the only way Mayor Laffey had any shot of getting public attention on the entirety of his program.

Justin Katz
15 years ago

That’s all well and good, Andrew, but flaws remain with the ostensible master plan beyond the “unnecessary detour.” It is worth considering, for one, whether kicking off the debate (according to the master plan theory) with the arrest helped to frame the discussion in terms of Laffey’s “vitriol.”
For another, even granting a fear of preemptive strike by the Providence school system, it surely harmed the cause for the folks in Providence to hear of the plan via reporters looking for a response (as appears to have been the case). As with the lacking simultaneous Web/PR package, Cranston could have contacted Providence in a more deliberate way, opening the door for actual discussion.

Fred Sanford
Fred Sanford
15 years ago

It is all well and good Andrew that Laffey captured FRONT PAGE headlines and TV coverage, which is now leading to this debate about school choice.
Yes, these problems of illegal students have been going on for years and yes, no major RI elected official has ever talked about school choice as a solution or gotten so many people talking about it. But the unnecessary detour in the MASTER PLAN has caused certain opinion makers to frown upon Laffey.
Instead Laffey could have posted on this blog about school choice, have a press conference with a story showing up on page 3 of the West Bay edition of the ProJo, then he could have meet quietly with the teachers union which defacto runs the Providence school system. They would have told him that this needs more study, and anyway the real solution is more money for failing schools in Providence. Who cares if a minority Democrat State Rep. from Prov. showed up to his press conference in support of school choice, maybe he would have shown up after reading this website.
Hey, what do I know, I am just a junk man with the English vocabulary of someone who graduated from a failing urban public school.

Justin Katz
15 years ago

Oh come off it, Fred. When you’ve got a real name on display, there’ll be some legitimacy to your personal attacks and allusions to (or delusions of) my pretentions. Until then, your absence of accountability will limit your credibility.
Of course, you could gain some of the latter were you to address the discussions that are actually on the table, instead of attempting to belittle the person who is making them:
1) I challenge the notion that putting school choice on the “FRONT PAGE” was Laffey’s purpose from the beginning (and suspect that the “Laffey captured” phrase has been the operative one). If you’re able to offer any, I’d be interested in hearing arguments or seeing evidence that meets my challenge — other than the Kool Aid stain on your upper lip.
2) I assert that Laffey’s “master plan,” if it was such, was far from optimal to effect its ostensible end of advancing a school choice discussion. Note that it has had the effect of pushing away people — myself for one, Dan Yorke for another — whom the cause would otherwise draw in.

Fred Sanford
Fred Sanford
15 years ago

Uhm, Justin, I have no credibility in your eyes because you would just consider me a junkman with a sense of humor.
By the way, I never mentioned your name or the word “pretensions” in my last comment. You took it that way. But, you have made personal character attacks on Laffey in the past, remember pixelation (not that anyone cares about that).
As for Yorke, he has been against Laffey for quite some time before this episode (read some of the comments on your website), and I wouldn’t want to lump myself with a guy who screams for hours every day at the top of his lungs.
As for your skepticism about the MASTER PLAN theory of Laffey politics, you are entitled to it. I have no document showing that Laffey had a secret plan on February 12, 2006 to raise the issue of school choice. Although fighting the unions, the Providence administartion does seem like a common approach for him. One day when the Laffey library opens you and I can do some research, and hold an academic symposium entitled “Laffey: Opportunist or Master Planner”.
Now Mr. Katz, please don’t go James on me, you need to lighten up. If you want to dish it, you got to take it. Have some fun.

Will
Will
15 years ago

Justin, With all due respect, Dan Yorke went off the reservation quite some time ago. He has a very personal vendetta against the mayor, based on what most would chalk up to a misunderstanding. That Laffey literally grew up with Yorke’s former radio nemisis didn’t exactly endear Laffey to him. Any objectivity that he may have had went out the window a long time ago, so don’t hold him up as some authoritative source on all things Laffey. I do not know with metaphysical certitude that there was some “grand plan” in place early on having to do with using this particular event to promote a discussion of school choice. However, I do think that Laffey would have brought up school choice at some point during his campaign, as it fits with his philosophical leanings. This episode simply provided a specific opportunity to do so. I’m quite certain that having the parent arrested wasn’t the end all. It was a means to say to all other parents in the system with kids illegally there, “look, this is what could happen to you.” And you know what? It’s working big-time. There’s been a spike in the number of people coming forward to say they don’t belong there. That saves Cranston taxpayers a lot of money. I do tend to think that Laffey later determined that prosecuting that parent on felony charges would probably end up costing a lot more money and divert unnecessary attention and effort, than it would really be worth on the particular individual case. The message sent was simple, come to school here illegally, and there will be a consequence. It doesn’t matter what the consequence were to be (public humiliation, fines, or prison), but rather that there was a consequence at all. It’s been a known fact… Read more »

bountyhunter
bountyhunter
15 years ago

To the Katz/Yorke axis–
It is interesting, Justin Katz, that you placed yourself in bed with Yorke, as I was going to make this connection at some point anyway. I’m glad you did it, though, because the following points are stronger that way.
It is clear that the Katz/Yorke axis is absolutely pre-occupied (bordering on obsession) with Steve Laffey personally, thereby whitewashing sober-minded judgment on his policy prescriptions and accomplishments. You pick-and-pick at his alleged motives and his innovative methods rather than looking at the results.
I can understand guys like Bobby O. and Jesse from Cranston (see the other blog)regularly going after Laffey because, after all, they are liberal democrats. Yet you and Yorke are clearly not liberal and are certainly not democrats. So what accounts for your behavior?? What do you hope to accomplish by it?? As is oftentimes the case in human relations, the answer probably lies in the blows to human pride that come from feeling slighted by someone you admire. Pride is listed as the first deadly sin for a reason, you know.
You were piqued by an earlier reference I made to “sandbox stuff”. That is telling, because people tend to react most strongly to what their inner selves know to be the truth.

Joe Mahn
Joe Mahn
15 years ago

Yorke is a dope.
Yorke was a keen eyed commentator.
Today yorke is just a dope.
He used to be focused on truth.
Today he is focused on himself and his petty vendetta (a now popular descriptor on most blogs).
He used to be a contender.
Today he is a has been.
It can happen to anyone.
It happened to Yorke.
Justin, you may be next.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Gotta go. RI Future just posted that Yorke just choked on a hot weiner across the street from a Credit Union of Central Falls branch.
J Mahn

Justin Katz
15 years ago

Joe, I can’t be afraid of being a “has been” because, well, I haven’t been.
As for bountyhunter’s comment-box psychoanalysis (a very cheap form of vanity, that), I suppose it would do no good either to argue the point or merely to insist that it isn’t true, both strategies being likely to be taken as evidence that the analysis was correct. I will say that I believe it to be total bunkum that “people tend to react most strongly to what their inner selves know to be the truth.” (Of course, for the psychoanalyzer, that mushy “inner self” concept gives plenty of room for slippery toldja-sos.)
As it happens, I’ve been intending to write something explaining my far-from-obsessive reaction to Laffey (leaving aside, however, the strong negative reaction that his votaries on this site have managed to impart from the beginning). I’ve been holding off on doing so because I thought I’d have an opportunity to ask some clarifying questions of the man himself. That doesn’t look likely to be the case, so I’ll write the thing as soon as time allows.

Will
Will
15 years ago

Have to give Justin credit for accuracy: “Joe, I can’t be afraid of being a “has been” because, well, I haven’t been.”
Justin, being a non-native Rhode Islander, tends to view things through a different prism, than some of us who are all too familiar with how politics tends to work here. Rhode Island has a history of strong mayors. Some have certainly had questionable accomplishments and have used less than ethical means to retain their office seemingly forever. Mayor Laffey has bucked both trends, first by having a considerable list of real accomplishments in only about 3 1/2 yrs in office. Secondly, by saying right up fron that he would only stay there as long as necessary to clean up Cranston’s mess. Thirdly, by presiding over a city administration free from scandal. Promises made; promises kept.
I might only make one personal observation. While you’ve (Justin) certainly cannot be accused of having some Pavlovian dog-like positive reaction to anything said or done by Mayor Laffey, one might make the case, that the opposite could be true. At least, it tends to come off to readers that way. I’m not saying that’s how it is, but that it is a valid perception. Just as Dan Yorke, who used to sing Laffey’s praises, has let his emotions so cloud his own judgment, that he won’t even allow Laffey or his staff on his radio show anymore, don’t fall into the trap of assuming that there must be a sinister or solely political motive to everything that Mayor Laffey does. I understand the temptation to be contrary for its own sake (as I’ve occassionally given into it). Try to avoid it.

Justin Katz
15 years ago

Will: if anything, I have a negative Pavlovian response to Laffey’s supporters.
I thank you for caring to offer advice, but I hope you understand how condescending it sounds. I’m not sure that it would be possible for me not “to come off to readers” the way you describe — at least this set of readers, among whom every step and misstep of the mayor’s is assumed to be part of some brilliant plan and every criticism is assumed as deriving either from an undisclosed affiliation with the Chafee campaign or from deep-seated psychological or personal issues.

Will
Will
15 years ago

Of course, it’s not meant to be condescending, though you’d hardly be the first to accuse me of that. Sometimes, despite my best efforts to avoid it, that’s just the way it comes out. My point was that sometimes your posts (point in case, about Laffey vis-a-vis a few of his supporters) tend to make certain, generally negative assumptions regarding their basic motivation for supporting Laffey, that may not necessarily be objectively based. I realize that much in politics tends towards the subjective, and that at some point you may have found a personality flaw, whether real or perceived, of the mayor’s that you tend to focus on — or that you infer the personality issues of his supporters, to be present in him, too. People with stronger personalities, also tend to have more perceptible personality flaws. Do I like Mayor Laffey? Yes. Do I always agree with him? No. Will I vote for him? You bet. If Laffey said, “I’m starting a new cult — would you like some kool-aid?,” would I drink it? No. My support for Laffey comes with both of my eyes wide open. Laffey has a strong personality. He’s a fighter. That means, someone is usually going to be on the receiving end, if he perceives them to be a part of the problem, and not part of the solution. He’s motivated by a deep sense of right and wrong. He sometimes ruffles feathers in the process. That being said, he usually does plan most things well in advance; though not all of the plans are always executed “brilliantly.” One cannot always control every variable. However, most of the time, what you see reach the public, usually has had a lot of thinking put into it by someone in his camp, if not Laffey himself.… Read more »

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