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Reimnitz-Wycoff race’s heated dynamics burst into Facebook flames after MFT phone banking

One of the hardest-fought, most intrigue-laden local political races of the year took a hairpin turn over the weekend. Minneapolis School Board candidate Josh Reimnitz was contacted by several voters asking about calls they had received from phone bankers asserting that he supported spending public money on private schools.

Josh Reimnitz
Josh Reimnitz

A Teach for America (TFA) alum, Reimnitz is running against Patty Wycoff in the board’s newly created District 4, which encompasses Bryn Mawr, Uptown, downtown, East Isles and Whittier, among other neighborhoods. The only school-board race with a serious contest this year, the campaigns have thrown divisions in Minneapolis’ education community into unusually stark relief.

On Monday, Reimnitz posted a note about the phone bank on his campaign’s Facebook page. “I do not support the use of public funds to support private schools,” he wrote. “I am an ardent supporter of adequate funding for public schools, and I am running for school board precisely to strengthen Minneapolis Public Schools.

“I appreciate the voters who took the time let me know about the calls and to ask clarifying questions,” Reimnitz added. “This kind of campaigning is inexcusable, but it does serve to show the success of our work thus far.”

The following morning, Wycoff posted a message in the ensuing thread. “Josh, call people on their lies,” she wrote. “This is what I did when Lynnell Mickelsen sent an e-mail saying I was recruited by MFT and she apologized. She also agreed to send a new e-mail stating that she had been wrong. Good luck to you and let’s have a beer when the madness is over.”

“Hey folks, Reimnietz replied, “to clarify, I do not believe Patty is responsible for this. I think others are acting on her behalf.”

Mickelsen is a Reimnitz supporter and co-founder of Put Kids First Minneapolis, a grassroots group pushing for reform to Minneapolis Public Schools’ contract with its teachers. The MFT is the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, which has historically wielded great influence in school-board elections and which commissioned the phone banking in question.

A few “shares,” “likes” and comments later, Facebook was ablaze, with innuendo from an earlier phase of the campaign seeping into the threads.

MFT says calls were based on answer in candidate questionnaire

If the interpretation of the dust-up depends on one’s vantage, the facts seem undisputed. The union local made the independent expenditure, according to MFT President Lynn Nordgren, who said Wycoff’s campaign was neither alerted nor asked about it. The callers’ statement referred to a candidate questionnaire completed by Reimnitz and dated April 26.

“We thought it was an important issue for voters to know about,” said Nordgren. “Josh made the statement in writing in a document he signed and turned in.” In addition to the phone banking, the MFT mentioned the issue on one of three mailers it sent out to voters in the district.  

“To be clear,” Reimnitz posted yesterday in a second Facebook note. “I do not and have not ever supported vouchers or public money going to private schools.”

Patty Wycoff
Patty Wycoff

Wycoff shot back quickly: “Why should voters believe you Josh? You learned at 10 a.m. this morning that there was a document you signed and completed stating you support public funds for private education. Whose fault is it that you do not know the difference between private and charter? Nobody on my side has done anything wrong yet you were comfortable letting so many believe you were a victim to smear campaigning. Here’s one difference between you and I, I know how to say I was wrong and I am sorry. This comes with age and experience. I hope you get there one day. Good Luck because you will need it.”

Apocalyptic portrayals

How did a hyper-local race get so tense? Each of the candidates has been portrayed by the other’s supporters as a horseman of the educational apocalypse.

Reimnitz has been painted as a carpetbagger enlisted in a campaign to give TFA power over MPS, which, the thinking goes, it would then privatize. Wycoff has been depicted as an anti-equity candidate hand-picked by the MFT in an effort to maintain control over the board that votes on its contracts.

Last spring Reimnitz, whose chief opponent at that time was a man named Darrell Washington, filled out a Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation AFL-CIO candidate questionnaire. The Q & A, which no one has yet posted to the viral debate, asked to what extent public funds should be used for private schools.

Reimnitz said in an interview yesterday he thought the question referred to charter schools. His reply: “If the private school is open to all children regardless of background, and the staff is well-treated, I believe public money can fund such an endeavor.”

The labor group shared the questionnaire with the MFT, which endorsed Washington. Historically, that stamp of approval virtually guarantees MPS board candidates an easy ride through the city DFL endorsing convention, but during the last two election cycles a number of community groups interested in education reform and its attendant hot potato, teacher contract reform, have become active.

Washington dropped out; Wycoff filed on last day

Washington received the DFL endorsement in a squeaker. Shortly after the May convention, Washington dropped out, saying he had been warned that his candidacy could violate election laws because he is a city of Minneapolis employee.

Wycoff filed for the seat on the last day to register and quickly won the MFT endorsement. Within weeks, some of her supporters were circulating a document they claimed asserted that Reimnitz had been caught up in a test-cheating scandal in Atlanta, where he taught fourth grade with TFA.

Asked about it in September by MinnPost, Wycoff was quick to say that the auditor’s report in question “exonerated” Reimnitz and that some of her backers, while well-intended, weren’t helpful. She repeated that note Tuesday on Facebook, asking her supporters to refrain from name-calling.

Tuesday afternoon, angry that Reimnitz had not taken down his post complaining that the phone banking was “inexcusable,” Wycoff put up her own post, complaining that Reimnitz was allowing a false impression of her to stand un-rebutted: “You are not a victim Josh and nobody did anything negative towards you. It’s unfortunate you are not able to recognize this and learn from it.”

‘I am so very disappointed’

“He’s perfectly comfortable leaving it up there that I am running some kind of dirty campaign,” Wycoff said in an interview yesterday. “I am so very disappointed in how people have taken it and run with it.”

It’s uncertain whether the fracas will have an impact at the ballot box Tuesday. Each side has endorsements from a string of prominent backers. Wycoff won the DFL primary in August in a landslide, but the Star Tribune recently endorsed Reimnitz.

Incumbent Kim Ellison is running unopposed in the new District 2, as is Tracine Asberry in District 6. Incumbent Carla Bates is expected to easily best perennial dark horse Doug Mann in a citywide contest.

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Garrett Peterson on 11/01/2012 - 10:29 am.

    Darrell Washington was endoresed over Reimnitz by DFL

    You are wrong when you say that there was no District 4 endorsement by the DFL. Darrell Washington WAS endorsed by the DFL at the convention.

  2. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 11/01/2012 - 11:36 am.

    You’re correct, Garrett

    We’ve tweaked accordingly. Thanks!

  3. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 11/01/2012 - 12:11 pm.

    The flaming is actually awfully one-sided

    …….if you look at both campaign Facebook pages.

    Josh Reimnitz has responded to this dust-up in his usual stand-up, accountable, humble way. It’s the way Josh has acted this whole campaign. For me, it’s been as privilege to volunteer with a candidate with his kind of integrity, positive mindset, lack of drama, and work ethic. He keeps his focus on the students and larger community. He doesn’t get personal. He’s an amazing guy.

    So forget the drama. Here are the four reasons why I’d like to see Josh on the school board.

    1) Josh gets it. He’s taught in urban schools. He is fiercely committed to closing the achievement gap and has pragmatic experience in dealing with it.

    2) He’s committed to putting the best teachers in every classroom and the best principals in every building. He’s open to modifying rigid seniority rules so school site teams have the freedom to make more decisions based on classroom performance. Josh also supports performance-based evaluations for principals.

    (In contrast, his opponent told the Star-Tribune that she sees no benefit for students in modifying the rule of seniority in district layoff decisions. And on a different note, she also told the Strib, she found it “frightening” that so many Teach for America teachers were in a north side school. “If either one of my children were put in a classroom with a Teach For America teacher, I would not rest until they were moved,” she said. For the record, Josh is a Teach for America alum. )

    3) Josh has experience dealing with both multi-million dollar budgets and board governance. As the co-executive director of Students Today Leaders Forever, he manages an organization with 23 chapters in 12 states and manages a multi-million budget. He works with a board. He understands board governance and is committed to transparency.

    (In contrast, just last Thursday, his opponent told the League of Women Voters’ forum that she has no background in finance or managing large budgets.)

    4) He’d bring a much-needed fresh, diverse perspective to the board. All of our current eight board members are middle-aged or older. Seven out of eight are either current or former MPS parents. We need someone to represent the 80 percent of the voters who don’t have kids in the schools as well as someone to represent the next generation of parents, who are wide-open to technological changes and other innovations.

    This is the first open skirmish on education between two Minneapolis DFLers: one who I think represents change and reform; the other who I think represents the old-guard and the status quo. I don’t know what will happen on Tuesday, but it’s been great to work with Josh.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/01/2012 - 02:16 pm.

    “Forget the drama,” says a Reimnitz supporter who, herself, was the author of an inaccurate slur on his opponent, and had to apologize for it. The slur related to an important campaign point, re taking money from public district schools in Minneapolis and giving it to private and/or charter schools. To “forget the drama” in the present case, too, would be to sweep under the rug a major negative about Reimnitz’s campaign.

    We are not convinced, Lynnell, that we should forget this campaign flap and its dramatic wake. As you well know, it’s revealing.

  5. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 11/01/2012 - 04:39 pm.

    My alleged slur

    For all of you watching from the bleachers……..my inaccurate alleged “slur” was to say in an email that the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers recruited Patty Wycoff to run at the last minute against Josh, after their previous endorsed candidate dropped out of the race.

    When, in fact, former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher recruited Wycoff to run at the last minute, after which the MFT then immediately endorsed her.

    I honestly don’t understand why Wycoff or her supporters would consider being recruited by the MFT to be a “slur.” The MFT was one of Wycoff’s first big endorsements. The MFT is paying for mailings and phone calls on Wycoff’s behalf. Nevertheless, I regret this small error and was happy to correct it immediately.

    As to what Connie calls “the slur related to an important campaign point, re taking money from public district schools in Minneapolis and giving it to private and/or charter schools,” …….as both Beth Hawkins’ reporting and Josh’s statement should by now make clear, Josh DOES NOT support public money or vouchers going to private schools.

    Charter schools are public schools. District schools are public schools. Josh supports adequately funding all public schools, whether district or charter-run.

    Connie writes as if private and charter schools are the same. They are not. But opponents of public charter schools often link the two together or refer to them interchangeably, perhaps to cause this confusion.

  6. Submitted by Joe Nathan on 11/01/2012 - 04:59 pm.

    Is the questionnaire available

    Is the questionnaire that Josh wrote on available for review? That would be good to know.

    Do Josh’s current statements clarify the situation? At least to me (and I’ve stayed out of this race), it appears his recent statements do explain his views.

    Will people continue to call with inaccurate information about his views? I hope not.

  7. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 11/01/2012 - 05:20 pm.

    Joe;

    I could not obtain a copy, which is why I wrote around the exact question Reimnitz was asked. The answer he told me he made in error was exactly the answer posted to Facebook by Wycoff and on the MFT’s site–Lynn Nordgren told me she’d seen it, too–so I decided to chalk it up as undisputed.

    Was the question confusing or public charters somehow conflated with private schools? I don’t know. I do know that in the fallout, Reimnitz’ campaign clarified that he would not support funding for charters operated by for-profit companies.

    Social media has thrown more than its share of curveballs at political campaigns at every level this cycle. It’ll be interesting to hear what either side has to say once the counting’s done.

  8. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 11/01/2012 - 06:23 pm.

    Here’s a question for Joe Nathan and Beth…

    Are for-profit charter schools even allowed in Minnesota? I thought they all had to be non-profit.

    • Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 11/01/2012 - 07:28 pm.

      There are online charters operating here that are actually publicly traded and headquartered elsewhere. Some of the corporations in question spend a lot of money trying to influence policy. An astonishing number belong to ALEC. Whether there is some arms-length arrangement in which the individual “school” is a nonprofit I don’t know. Joe?

  9. Submitted by Lynnell Mickelsen on 11/01/2012 - 11:11 pm.

    Thanks, Beth. The concept of for-profit charters

    makes me very uneasy. Especially for-profit charters that belongs to ALEC.

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