Tuesday, April 5, 2016

When threads collide -- ed reform and the new economy

I've been on a sub-thread based on this extraordinary piece of investigative reporting by Cosmo Garvin on Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the huge education/industrial complex he and his wife Michele Rhee have assembled. It's a must read for anyone following the education reform movement and even more essential for those concerned about government corruption. The following is a very minor part of the story, but it does give an interesting glimpse into how some of the new economy hype is generated.
At his peak, KJ was a figure to behold, an urban policy entrepreneur and brander-in-chief selling #Sacramento 3.0, a “world-class” city where kids would take Uber vehicles instead of buses to their charter schools, “never check out a library book,” and have “more smart devices than toothbrushes.”

[much later in the article.]

In 2013 Stand Up employees teamed up with staff on the Sacramento city payroll to advance Johnson’s successful bid to take over the forty-year-old National Conference of Black Mayors.


In 2013 a PowerPoint presentation was distributed to the mayor’s City Hall staff, titled “National Conference of Black Mayors: Annual Meeting ‘Coup,’” laying out in bald terms the strategy behind the Johnson putsch. Participants included Aisha Lowe, who worked in City Hall as Johnson’s interim director of African American affairs—a position that doesn’t exist on the city payroll. Instead, she was earning a $100,000 annual salary as Stand Up’s executive director, while “volunteering” for the city.

Among the other plotters were Stephanie Mash Sykes, Johnson’s director of governmental affairs, and Mariah Sheriff, Johnson’s director of government affairs in education. Both positions are phony, but Sykes and Sheriff have presented themselves as employees of the Office of the Mayor. Sheriff even uses the City of Sacramento’s logo on her LinkedIn work history.

Johnson ultimately forced NCBM into bankruptcy, and that legal fight is still wending its way through the courts in Atlanta, where the group is headquartered. He immediately started a competing group, called the African American Mayors Association, and installed Sykes as executive director and himself as president. In short order, AAMA has established itself as yet another pay-to-play arm of the KJ Inc. machine. Perhaps the clearest example is Johnson’s mercenary relationship with Uber.

In June 2014, Uber gave a $50,000 check to the AAMA. In August, Mayor Johnson penned an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle praising Uber as an exciting part of “Cities 3.0” and arguing against new regulations for such ride-share companies. In September, at the USCM fall meeting in Sacramento, Johnson held an entire session on the “sharing economy,” featuring Uber CEO Travis Kalanick as a speaker. Days before, the Sacramento Kings had announced that Uber was the official ride-sharing service of the Sacramento Kings.

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