For more than 100 years the Scarsdale Citizens’ Nonpartisan Party and subsequently its younger first cousin, the School Board Nominating Committee, have been proclaiming themselves important bodies that spare no effort in vetting nominees to the village and school boards. They claim their system prevents contentious and ugly proceedings that can characterize true democratic elections.
Neither nominating committee vets anyone. Their candidates submit references (presumably only good ones), and some are contacted. Each delivers a timed presentation, but none is asked even a single follow-up question. When the candidates leave, the committee members voice opinions about the candidates, none of whom is allowed the courtesy of being present to answer queries or, in some cases, accusations. Candidates learn the content of these conversations through committee members with the integrity to blow the whistle on improper proceedings.
The recent school board election made it clear that the members of these nominating committees, arguing that only their system will prevent contentious and ugly proceedings, are in fact threatening us with their own divisiveness and calumny should residents have the temerity to mount a challenge in a competitive election. This seems like a protection racket, and we have experienced the ugly result of refusing to buy their protection. The relentless ad hominem attacks against Mayra Kirkendall-Rodríguez on social media, in private emails forwarded to the candidate by concerned residents and in The Scarsdale Inquirer by system supporters included scurrilous accusations that she: “cares more about inconveniencing working mothers than about the health of school children”; worked against the interests of our residents by fighting a shoddy, if not corrupt, villagewide property revaluation; publishes false data in The New York Times and other media outlets including those in which she writes professionally. I don’t recall whether or not any claimed that Mayra eats babies.
While Mayra’s supporters took the high road and publicized her many attributes with examples of why she would be the superior choice for election to the school board, none launched attacks against Mr. Klein or Ms. Yusuf (with exception of one letter writer who charged Mr. Klein with the crime of living in a modest home and having a house “in the mountains” — a letter which I denounced publicly in print). Conversely, system supporters Jeff Blatt, Marc Greenwald, Roger Neustadt, Steve Pass and Michelle Sterling focused their letters primarily against Mayra, rather than promoting the positive attributes of their own candidates. Mayra has indicated that none of these individuals worked closely with her on any village, school or professional matter; clearly none was able to opine with facts about her expertise and competence.
Mayra and her supporters chose to focus on issues pertinent to our schools and not on attacking the other candidates or their supporters. Sadly, her opponents took the low road. It’s clear that it is time our residents stop buying protection against calumny from the so-called “nonpartisan” nominating committee cabal, monitor its behavior, and embrace free, open and competitive elections.