Stick with me, there's a point to this all.
By way of background, Nick Melvoin is quite an accomplished and impressive young man. He graduated from Harvard, has a Masters degree in Urban Education, and then decided that this wasn't enough so he got a law degree from NYU. After that, he did some work for the ACLU, worked in the Obama White House with the Domestic Policy Council, and also clerked in the U.S. Attorney’s office in civil rights cases. And then, with a wide range of highly-substantive career opportunities now available to him...he got a job teaching in the Los Angeles inner-city in Watts -- where teaching English wasn't enough, so he also coached baseball and soccer. And in his spare time helped students start a school newspaper.
All of these things, along with his proposals, helped him just get the School Board endorsement from the Los Angeles Times for his District 4 race -- which is impressive enough for a young, first-time candidate...but even more so when you realize that one of his opponents in the race is the current president.of the L.A. School Board! Beyond this, Melvoin was also endorsed by former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
It's not often that school board races gets attention, but there have actually been TV ads for the race, critical of that school board president, Steven Zimmer. (No, the TV ad did not come from Nick -- I asked, since it seemed so surprising. He's done very good fund-raising...but not that good. A TV ad for School Board??) Much of the public criticism about Mr. Zimmer, aside from other issues, centers around a plan with iPads whose special software never worked and turned into a disaster, wasting $1.5 million.
Last week, the Zimmer side struck back at the general criticism, and a mail flyer showed up trashing two of his opponents, one of who was Nick. The slam against him was that Nick Melvoin was apparently in the pocket of "billionaires." This got repeated several times since being in the pocket of anyone, let alone "billionaires" seems an attention-getting charge.
The thing is, there were a couple of head-scratching oddities about the mailer.
The first is that...well, it didn't name any of the billionaires. You'd think if you were charging someone with being in the pocket of billionaires, and kept repeating it, you'd name them. All of them, since that was the whole reason for sending the flyer. At the very least, you'd name one billionaire. And shine the brightest spotlight on it. "Look, over there, it's one dastardly billionaire!!" But, no, nobody is named. Just a generic charge of omnipresent and apparently venal billionaires. Mind you, it would be nice to know who any of these "billionaires" are -- even if it's just one -- because there are some perfectly respectable billionaires around. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Phil Knight, for starters. But no, no one is named. Just generic "billionaires." It tends to make one think if you aren't willing to name a single billionaire out of all you allude to, you might not be able to support the specifics of your charge. Which tends to be frowned upon.
The other oddity is that this flyer doesn't even really say what devious matters all these unnamed billionaires are doing to manipulate their personal candidates that is supposed to absolutely horrify us. The closest it gets is saying that Nick Melvoin supports charter schools, and so do these mystical "billionaires" (who the flyer seems to suggest also own some. Or own just one. Sorry, it doesn't say how many. Nor name any ). But the problem is, that can't be their big "in the pocket" devious issue, since charter school aren't devious -- they're part of the U.S. public school system, schools that any child can go to (with high academics) and generally have excellent performance records. Now, to be clear, for all their support, not everyone may support charter schools. But they hardly are the sort of crooked, smoke-filled room deals that one associates with billionaires putting politicians in their pocket. That's generally centered on getting government approval when acquiring land-and-mineral rights and missile guidance systems.
Ultimately, all this presupposes too that "charter schools" are the sort of high-yield ownership investments that billionaires are apparently so-known for loading their portfolios when building their financial empires. Lining their greedy pockets with charter schools -- indeed chains of charter schools, all sprouting up across the land, like a national empire of McCharters.
(Now, to be fair, we might have one clue about the billionaires. Not all of them, but the former Mayor Richard Riordan is a billionaire, and he supports charter schools. Horrors. The thing is, as far as I know -- and the flyer doesn't say otherwise -- he doesn't actually own any. Just thinks they're good ideas for public education with strong track records. And therefore he's endorsed the candidate who supports them. So, it's hard to find anything underhanded there, either. I'm guessing he paid for the TV ad. Who all the other billionaires are, though, it's not clear...)
And that's where the odd charge by Zimmer forces remains. That Nick Melvoin is, for some mystical reason, in the pocket of a rash of unnamed, manipulative "billionaire(s)" -- who support a form of public education.
Because, as we know, someone who graduates from Harvard, gets a Masters in Urban Education, earns a law degree, works with the ACLU, gets a job at the White House, clerks with the U.S. Attorney on civil rights and then goes to teach in the inner-city and coaches baseball, soccer and start a school paper -- is just the sort of person on the lookout for billionaire's payday...
If Nick Melvoin -- indeed if someone, anyone with those credentials -- wanted to be in the pocket of "billionaires," he'd have raced over breathlessly to Wall Street years ago, and be halfway up the ladder to his penthouse by now.,
But no, he took that "teach in Watts" and "run for the school board" route as a far better, faster and more clever way to riches and easy street.
Local politics can be fun. Sometimes though it's much more loco.
Ultimately, though, when someone makes unsubstantiated charges with unnamed participants of an uncertain problem, and it's all about support for a form of successful public education, the sense of desperation comes through strongly.
Thanks to Nick Melvoin's website, though, forewarned is forearmed, so the public can at least be on the lookout for the face of Machiavellian greed.