Political rivalry on School Board? It's about time

A salty dog of a politician I once knew had this great saying about getting elected.

"The best way to run," he would drawl, pausing for effect, "is unopposed."

True enough, when you're the one who has to go begging for checks, stumping for votes and dodging your opponent's criticisms. Best to sail into the job unscathed by competition or strife.

But for us taxpayers, citizens and voters — not so much.

Competition, even the ugly sort, can be a good thing.

Over at the Hillsborough County School Board these days, the polite tea party is over, with all that what-a-smart-idea and aren't-you-clever-to-say-so and of-course-I'll-vote-your-way-since-you've-been-on-this-board-so-much-longer-than-me gone with the wind. The white gloves are officially off.

Board newbies seem determined to stir things up in a place where collegiality had been tradition. And nowhere is old guard vs. new as evident as in the upcoming elections.

For starters: Incumbent Carol Kurdell, on the board for 16 years now, has opposition — no big surprise given that it's a countywide seat.

What is surprising, and just ask Kurdell, is that first-term board member April Griffin is publicly endorsing Kurdell's opponent Stephen Gorham.

(Gorham, it's interesting to note, is the same guy who gave powerhouse Ronda "Fire-and-Brimstone" Storms a serious run for her money for the state Senate seat she ultimately won, though how much of the vote for him was actually against her we'll never know.)

Griffin, who has been making noise pretty much since she got on the board, plans to send letters touting Gorham to her supporters. Unheard of!

Kurdell had no comment about Griffin's move, but says of the board's current climate: "It's never felt like that before. It's very political, and I deeply regret that because it's unnecessary."

Griffin: "It's a good ol' boy mentality."

Not that the old guard takes this lying down, bringing us to what I call Husbandgate. (By now you need a scorecard to keep up, but trust me, it's worth it.)

As the Times' Letitia Stein reported this week, the husband of school superintendent MaryEllen Elia gave fat $500 campaign contributions through his company to incumbents, excluding only Susan Valdes, another relative newbie and close Griffin ally.

Notably, Valdes and Griffin were the superintendent's biggest critics at evaluation time last year.

The hubby of the aforementioned Kurdell gave more modest contributions to two incumbents, but not Valdes.

This is the very essence of democracy, contributing to whom you want and putting your money where your mouth is. It is their absolute right, absolutely.

But both wives said they were not involved in their husbands' decisions on contributions to races that affect their positions. All I can say about that is, if there wasn't a whole lot of discussion around the dinner table before those checks got written, their households run a lot differently from mine.

So what does it all mean?

It means we have a race on our hands and the makeup of a School Board to watch. It means maybe both sides have something to learn about change and consensus.

Petty politics aside, competition is good. For the rest of us, at least.

Political rivalry on School Board? It's about time 07/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 10, 2008 5:49pm]

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