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Norwalk Dems pick Julie Corbett for BoE

Julie Corbett, center, accepts applause Monday from Norwalk Democratic Town Committee members after being appointed by District A to the Board of Education. At left, next to Corbett, is Joe Perella, who ran for the Board two years ago but lost to Yvel Crevecoeur.

NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Democrats on Monday elected a replacement for departed Board of Education member Yvel Crevecoeur, stirring racial concerns.

Although Julie Corbett has professional education credentials, as did Crevecoeur, her election by District A members created an all-white Board of Education.

“I think this is a sad day for Norwalk. Sad. All-white BoE. Sad. That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. This is a diverse community. What is diverse by having an all-white BoE?” Norwalk Branch NAACP President Brenda Penn-Williams asked.

“Your point is well taken. I am equally concerned about what you just expressed. I think all of us in this room are,” Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho said in response, urging Democrats to mobilize so this doesn’t happen in two years, with the next municipal election.

Crevecoeur, who was born in Haiti, resigned recently, citing health reasons. He holds a Ph.D. in Special Education from UConn; Corbett holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA)from the University of Delaware and is president and founder of Corbett Education Consulting LLC, specializing in school and district education reform and turnaround strategies with clients throughout the country.

The Board had three black members a month ago, but Crevecoeur left, Sherelle Harris did not run for reelection and Shirley Mosby was not endorsed by the DTC for reelection. Mosby ran as a Working Families Party candidate and fell far short of other candidates at the polls.

“You’re telling me that they could not find a minority to take a Yvel’s place?” Penn-Williams asked. “Very, very sad. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Corbett was the only candidate nominated by District A. Common Council member Eloisa Melendez nominated Corbett, and District A Chairman Broderick Sawyer seconded the nomination, through a proxy.

Camacho formally asked if there were other candidates; none were brought forward.

Penn-Williams said she had asked what the DTC feels qualifies a candidate for the Board of Education.

“I haven’t found the right answer yet,” she said. “What is a qualified person? Your skin color qualifies you? This is really, really sad. Sad. And I love being a Democrat. I don’t want you people in here I think I’m racist because I am not but fair is fair. And I am not saying black person should’ve had it, maybe Hispanic. But a minority should’ve gotten it and it’s a shame, it is really a shame everybody should go home and look at themselves…. What qualifies an all-white board to tell my grandchildren how they should learn?”

Her comments received biracial applause from a minority of DTC members.

Camacho said qualifications are complicated.

Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ed Camacho speaks directly to Brenda Penn-Williams, Monday in City Hall.

“The fact of the matter is we need people to step forward, we need people of color,” Camacho said. “We need people, Latinos and African Americans, to step forward who are willing to serve and who are willing to do the hard work that it takes to be a constructive member of the Board of Education, of the City Council, of the governance of the city.”

Democrats have a duty to fan out across the city and find people, so that in two years there’s a crop of people of color ready to run for the Board of Education, he said.

“If we are committed to it, we will see it happen,” Camacho said. “So, I agree with you and I agree with the sentiments but it has been difficult, it is has been a challenge to find people willing to step up to serve on any of the Commissions and Boards, and for that matter the Common Council. It is a lot of work, there is a lot of time involved, but it’s a mistake to take away from this that we are not committed as a party to achieving the very thing that you discussed because that is important.”

Mike Mushak tied the problem to the charter revision that failed a year ago.

One of the questions involved more pay for Council members, so that people who need a babysitter could serve, but minority Democrats told people not to vote for it, he said.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Council member Faye Bowman (D-District B) said.

“I know what I heard,” Mushak said. “(Council member Travis Simms) was telling people to vote no on charter reform.”

“Is that wrong?” Simms asked.

Camacho shut that down. “I would hate for all of this to take away from Ms. Corbett who has been newly elected to the ‘Board of Ed,’” he said.

Corbett agreed after the meeting that Board diversity an issue. She consults nationally and if she came in and saw an all-white Board of Education in a city with the diversity of Norwalk, she’d have concerns and questions, she said.

“That said, I think it was far beyond me and this seat,” Corbett said, referring to Crevecoeur’s resignation just a month ago and the timing of needing a replacement.

“The Board may not be the most racially or ethnically diverse but there is diversity within the Board members,” Corbett said. “So, I think, one, we need to recognize that that the Board does have some diversity but I also think we need to recognize that this is a bigger issue than just the Board of Education as well. This is a city-wide issue in representation and community engagement. So need to work as a party and across party lines to figure out what barriers are to getting anyone involved in politics and serving the community … We need to think about 2019 now. We need to start thinking years in advance, not three weeks before an election.”

Melendez introduced the nominee as Julie Corbett Chavez; Corbett is Corbett Chavez on a personal Facebook page but is Corbett on her professional website.

11 comments

Piberman November 21, 2017 at 6:14 am

Not obvious we should substitute “diversity” for competence and ability as our criteria in selecting either elected or appointed City officials.

Wondering November 21, 2017 at 7:00 am

Two things perplex me about this situation. First, I don’t get “…THEY could not find…” quote from Ms. Penn-Williams. Isn’t everyone responsible for finding and recruiting good candidates? Isn’t she a member of the DTC? Holding on to the WE-THEY attitude is sad and troubling. Next, while Ms. Corbett sounds like a terrific candidate, I’m surprised and disappointed she would seek and accept this position if as an educational policy consultant she had a deep understanding and appreciation of both the very real and powerfully symbolic issues around diversity.

Double Bee November 21, 2017 at 7:33 am

Brenda Penn-Williams seems to be saying skin color (if caucasian) shouldn’t qualify someone to be on BOE. And yet also seems to think for minorities, it does.

Al Bore November 21, 2017 at 8:19 am

I am so sick and tired of the racial BS, it helps nothing except to further divide us. Stop the racial BS, all that should matter is if the candidates are qualified and that they base their decisions on what is best for all the students of Norwalk. I do not think you need to be white, blue, or black to do that. You have to be qualified and care about the students of Norwalk and want a top notch educational school system here in Norwalk. We need a school system that makes families want move to Norwalk to get into, not one that makes families move out to get away from. If that is the primary goal of the BOE all the students and Norwalk taxpayers will benefit and Norwalk will be a better place to live!

Not affiliated November 21, 2017 at 8:25 am

I’m offended that we can’t find a qualified mix-raced candidate. We NEVER see any Asians or East Indians in an elected office.

If we’re to balance on racial lines, our board should aim to 60% Hispanic.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 21, 2017 at 9:38 am

The DTC appears to have a minority recruiting problem, and I doubt it’s tied to pay scale. Some of this is circumstantial. One BOE member stepped down and another opted not to run again, leaving Mosby, whom the DTC did not float on their BOE slate. Looking at Columbus school’s tally, Mosby performed far better than her GOP competitors, but the leading dems on the BOE slate more than doubled her tally. The problem of populating the BOE with people as diverse as the students they serve is not limited to filling slates and vacancies. The community itself was not on board with Mosby this year. I’m not sure if that’s a party thing or a performance thing.

Mike Mushak November 21, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Donna, according to detailed research by the United Way on income levels in Norwalk, they determined that about 1/3 of our population is living either below the poverty line or just above it in a category labelled ALICE, or Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed, in other words folks struggling to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck.

Yes, that’s right, a third of Norwalk or close to 30,000 people are the struggling working poor. These folks are generally too busy and too stressed just trying to survive to run for office especially for Common Council at the current laughable salary established in the 1930’s.

Please don’t underestimate the importance of raising the Common Council pay to help entice a third of the city to be properly represented, including those of minority status, by making it possible for these folks to take time off from their second jobs or be able to afford babysitters as they sit in the hours of meetings required to serve.

This ALICE category also includes elderly and disabled on fixed incomes, and younger folks with mountains of student debt. All folks who may be perfectly qualified to run for office including having the passion to give back to their communities, but who simply can’t afford to.

The bi-partisan effort to raise Common Council pay for the first time in 80 years was commendable, and it was ultimate hypocrisy to see minority elected officials representing low-income communities including where I live, vote against the best interests of their own low-income constituents.

In the meeting last night I simply pointed out the hypocrisy. If we’re going to have an honest debate about why so few minority candidates step up to serve, including possible solutions, let’s start with an honest appraisal of past efforts to help fix this problem, and which side of the debate various folks chose to take a stand.

It’s called accountability.

SusanHos November 22, 2017 at 7:50 am

@ DonnaS.

If you live in Westport… shouldn’t you focus your attention there? Allow Norwalk to be Norwalk. Thanks Kindly.

Donna Smirniotopoulos November 22, 2017 at 9:48 am

@Mike, I don’t disagree in principle that raises are in order. Skewing then off the major’s salary was probably a factor in the defeat of that Charter Revision proposal one year ago. If it were up to me, I’d make the cc smaller and pay everyone a real salary. If it said somewhere in the article that the DTC has tried to recruit people of color to run and those they approached demurred due to the lack of pay, I would be convinced that the nominal pay deters people from running.

@SusanHos I’ve owned property in Norwalk for five years and I’ve lived here for two. Thank you kindly.

Rosco November 22, 2017 at 12:52 pm

I agree that the BOE should be representative of the community it serves. But I don’t think this should be the driving factor in the candidates that make up the board.

District A has had minority representation on the BOE for over 20 years.

“Rosa Murray served on the BOE since 1991 with a two-year break between 2009 and 2011.”

“Dr Yvel Crevecour elected in 2015… resigned 2017”

What’s sad is the NAACP placing blame on the District and the Party. Brenda Penn Williams asked what makes a candidate qualified? Well if you look at the current slate of democratic elected BOE candidates, they all have some sort of background in Education or professional experience so there’s a start. Even individuals that have a basic business background would be qualified from my perspective. So where are the folks they’ve brought to the party?

I can tell you what is NOT a qualified candidate… Someone that has no professional background, no resume, won’t speak/comment in regards to their platform or qualifications. These are the types of candidates that have been brought forward in the past and their only qualifier seems to be the color of their skin.

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