Monday, August 08, 2016

August 8, 2016--A Hillary Story

The Trump campaign, actually Trump himself is imploding.

He could get away during the GOP primary season with calling John McCain's heroism into question (it was written off by his people as refreshingly incorrect), but now in the general election he shot himself in both feet when he repeatedly made gratuitous and disparaging comments about the parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, an American Muslim who in Iraq saved his comrades when he took the full blast of an insurgent's suicide bomb, giving up his life in the process.

This unforgivable transgression plus the good vibes that ultimately emanated from the Democratic convention has propelled Hillary to a commanding seven to 10 point lead. Political savants from Joe Scarborough to David Plouffe have pronounced the election effectively over. To them and others, the only remaining question is how big Hillary Clinton's landslide will be and will it be overwhelming enough to enable sufficient Democrats to ride her coattails and thereby retake the Senate and maybe even the House.

I suppose there is one other remaining question--whether or not WikiLeaks has more compromising Clinton emails and phone logs to dump into the news feed that are so damaging as to derail her candidacy.

Even if they do, we may be at a point not unlike where we were seven months ago when Trump boasted that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his people would still vote for him. Now, even if Hillary is conclusively shown to have knowingly passed along top-secret information, her people will still vote for her. As much as anything else to vote against Trump.

I am trying hard to get with the program--I will of course vote for her but still not with any enthusiasm. To me she is corrupt in significant ways and a cut-from-the mold establishment politician beholden to big-money special interests. This would make it hard for me to support her if she were running against . . .

But there's my problem--I can't come up with a plausible alternative. So Hillary for me it is.

In an effort to feel better about her, and to convince a wavering very conservative friend to vote for her, the other morning over coffee I told him "my" Hillary story. As much to push him along as to convince myself she is better than I think she is.

The story goes back to 2005, when she was New York Senator Clinton and I was senior director for Education, Media, Arts and Culture at the Ford Foundation.

The foundation was funding a school-reform project in Roosevelt, Long Island, the state's lowest-performing school district. It is small with one high school and a feeder system of about a dozen elementary and middle schools. Academic performance was unacceptably low and thus progress from one level to another was such that only a few students graduated from high school and of them just four or five athletes each year entered college.

Our project was to work with all the schools and teachers in the district to bring about improved, coordinated instructional methods especially in reading, language skills, math, and science. We made an upfront commitment to parents and their children when they entered first grade that if they progressed satisfactorily from grade-to-grade and graduated from high school on time, four years of college scholarships would be waiting for each of them.

Senator Clinton learned about Project GRAD and contacted Ford, indicating that she believed in the effort and wanted to consider becoming involved. I suggested that she might want to visit Roosevelt's schools, to get a "before picture."

And so for the first time, the senator visited Roosevelt, a de facto segregated town that for decades had been where Long Island's wealthy townships, not wanting them in their midst, provided low cost housing for welfare recipients. Some said "dumped" them there. It was a godforsaken place with a  small, boarded-up downtown where it felt dangerous to wander.

On her first visit, Clinton, without entourage or press, spent nearly two hours in Roosevelt's schools. At the high school, the principal and I walked her about. She was mobbed in the hallways when classes changed and was eager to talk to and hug students who were drawn to her. She wanted to know what life was like in Roosevelt ("scary," I remember one sophomore girl saying) and in the high school ("going nowhere," one seemingly depressed one junior reported).

On the second floor, the corridors were quiet. It looked as if half the classrooms were not in use. "Why is that?" Clinton asked, "Classrooms on the first floor seem completely full."

The principal said that that was because the science labs were on the second floor.

"Don't the children take lab science?" the senator asked.

"Well, they do, but the labs here are not functional. They have no power, no running water, no gas for bunsen burners."

"But doesn't the state require that to earn an academic diploma students are required to take three years of lab science? Meaning that the lab component is required?"

"Yes, that's true but we have a way to deal with that," the principal, smiling said. "Once a week we bus our science students to one of the Great Neck high schools where they observe Great Neck students doing lab experiments. We certify this as fulfilling the lab requirement."

I could see that learning about this did not please the senator, but she remained silent.

Later that day, still thinking about how humiliating it must be for Roosevelt students to have to satisfy their lab requirements by observing white, affluent kids in Great Neck, she pulled me aside and with a heavy heart, said--"I want to be involved. I want to see if you can get Ford to expand its involvement. I'll help raise money for the college scholarships, but the next time I'm back here--and I will be back--I want to see those labs up and running. I want you, Steve, to get the money for that from the foundation."

"This is perfect," I said. "As the result of your involvement we will expand our commitment; but, I need to tell you, the foundation does not make grants to fund facilities. So Ford wouldn't be able to pay to fix the labs. Maybe we could . . ."

"I know the president of the foundation, and I'm willing to call him to see if in this case an exception might be made."

I stammered, "Whatever you say. You're the senator."

She gave me one of her signature laughs and said, "Don't worry. I won't get you in trouble with Frank."

As a result of her call, more money from Ford was forthcoming and I was able to add $100,000 to the grant to make the labs functional.

About six months later I received a call directly from Senator Clinton, "Steve. It's time for me to pay another visit to Roosevelt. Can you meet me there next Thursday? On the second floor," she paused for emphasis, "To check out the labs."

"Well, I . . ."

"At 2:00," she said and hung up.

The work on the laboratory renovations was behind schedule, as almost everything was in Roosevelt, so I called the mayor and district superintendent and told them the senator was coming in ten days and by then everything needed to be completed.

I held my breath but come a week from Thursday when we met at the high school, on the second floor, all was in working condition, including the bunsen burners. Senator Clinton told the beaming principal that when she comes back in the fall she expected to see all three labs in use.

They were.

And then eight months later, Hillary Clinton, again accompanied by just one aide and a Secret Service agent, returned to the high school to participate in the graduation ceremonies. After just a year and a half of Project GRAD the graduation rate had about doubled and nearly a third of the graduates were on their way to college with the scholarships that'd been set aside for them.

I told this story the other morning to a very conservative friend, who, though rapidly becoming disenchanted with Donald Trump, was far from willing to even consider voting for Clinton.

But Rona asked him, "So what do you think?"

"This morning I learned a lot of new things about her." He was reluctant to speak Clinton's name. "I have a lot to think about."

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