Success Academy Stays Mum On Chairman's Racial Barb

Success Academy Stays Mum On Chairman's Racial Barb

Success Academy Stays Mum On Chairman's Racial Barb

For years, billionaire hedge fund manager Dan Loeb has been one of the Success Academy charter school network’s most crucial supporters. Loeb has donated millions of dollars to the network, been a bridge between Success CEO Eva Moskowitz and high-profile financiers and politicians, and served as the network’s chairman of the board.

Now Loeb's racially charged comment about a black state senator threatens to become an unwelcome distraction as Success seeks to expand its footprint in New York and as Moskowitz works to cement her status as a national leader on education reform with a new book.

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On Thursday night, the New York Times reported that Loeb wrote in a Facebook post that Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the black Democratic leader of the New York State Senate, has done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”

The comments came as part of a defense of state Sen. Jeff Klein, who leads a rival faction of breakaway Democrats and has been an outspoken supporter of charter schools.

“Thank God for Jeff Klein and those who stand for educational choice and support Charter funding that leads to economic mobility and opportunity for poor [black] kids,” Loeb wrote in the post. “Meanwhile hypocrites like Stewart-Cousins who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.”

Success’s website touts the fact that 93 percent of the network’s 15,500 students are black or Latino.

A spokeswoman for Success did not reply to queries about whether Loeb would remain the chairman of the board.

Loeb also sits on the board of pro-charter schools group StudentsFirstNY; a spokesman for the group did not respond to a comment about whether Loeb would remain on that board. A spokesman for Families for Excellent Schools, a charter group that often serves as Success's lobbying arm, declined to comment. Loeb has given at least $1 million to Families for Excellent Schools.

After midnight on Friday, Loeb apologized for his comment, saying, “I regret the language I used in expressing my passion for educational choice.” Loeb also deleted the Facebook post.

Last year, Loeb and his wife were the guests of honor at Success’s annual fundraising dinner at Cipriani in Midtown, where Moskowitz praised Loeb for his “unique way of urgently pressing for big change, but always thinking about our kids and how to support them.” Loeb has founded three of Success’s 41 schools. He’s also been instrumental behind the scenes at the network, helping to coordinate Ivanka Trump’s visit to a Success campus in Harlem, and accompanying Moskowitz on many other high-profile tours of the network’s flagship school, Harlem 1.

Moskowitz has also relied on Loeb to help coordinate some of the network's biggest donations from his colleagues on Wall Street; fellow hedge fund billionaire Julian Robertson gave Success $25 million several years ago, and financier John Paulson has donated $8 million to the network.

Loeb’s incendiary comment comes at a precarious moment for Moskowitz. The charter leader has isolated herself from many of her colleagues in the charter sector by embracing Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She has welcomed both Ivanka Trump and House Majority Leader Paul Ryan into her schools in recent months, and has chastised journalists for "kind of rooting against” the Trump presidency.

Steve Zimmerman, who leads a coalition of independent charter schools in New York City, said Loeb’s remark “certainly isn't going to help the charter movement, which is already being tarnished by association with the current administration.”

Moskowitz recently angered some of her teachers when she refused to publicly state her support for undocumented and transgender students and staff in her schools, and finally relented to saying she would protect vulnerable students after a tense back-and-forth with staff members. In the weeks following Trump’s election, Moskowitz repeatedly refused to answer questions from reporters about whether she would commit to supporting undocumented students in her schools under Trump’s immigration policies.

Moskowitz is also in the midst of gearing up for the release of her memoir, “The Education of Eva Moskowitz,” due out next month. Her in-house public relations team is hoping the book will help shift the media narrative away from Success’s controversy at home and instead solidify Moskowitz’s role as America’s most influential charter leader.

Loeb’s comment threatens to upend much of that work.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has received more than $170,000 in donations from Loeb, sought to distance himself from the hedge fund manager’s comments on Thursday.

“We have no connection with these comments whatsoever, and in our opinion they are entirely inappropriate and have no place in the public discourse,” a spokesman for Cuomo told the New York Times. Cuomo has been a strong supporter of charters and close ally of Moskowitz’s at times, but has recently inched away from the charter cause in favor of more broadly popular education plans like free college tuition.

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source url: 
http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2017/08/11/loebs-racial-comment-threatens-moskowitzs-moment-113900

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