Racial bias questioned in school board endorsementsWritten by Michael Brooks | | email@example.com
The endorsement of three candidates for school board by the Toledo Chamber of Commerce Commerce’s Leadership Fund has some Toledoans angry. The Chamber did not endorse the incumbent candidate — board member Steven Thomas — and this refusal has raised the question of racial bias among the Chamber’s Leadership Fund, a political action committee.
The Fund instead decided to endorse the group known as ”Three for Change” — Chris Meyers, Darlene Fisher and Robert Torres.
Thomas is African American; none of the endorsed candidates are black. The district, according to federal statistics, is 46 percent black. Last election, the Leadership Fund chose not to endorse two other black incumbents, Larry Sykes and Deborah Barnett.
A widely circulated letter to the Chamber from outgoing board member Pete Silverman warned, ”the Chamber’s endorsements are a terrible decision that will hurt this community for a very long time.”
Contacted by phone, Silverman defended his letter.
”The Chamber needs to know what people are saying in the community,” he said. ”The actions of the Chamber do not exist in a vacuum, and there are likely to be repercussions beyond the election itself.”
Board President Larry Sykes said he was not surprised by the tone of Silverman’s letter.
”There are a lot of people in the African-American community who are unhappy with the Chamber,” he said, noting that several ethnic groups have formed their own Chambers of Commerce in the past few years. ”The Toledo Chamber of Commerce is not addressing the needs of the community as a whole.”
Sykes found it particularly ironic that the Chamber would refuse to endorse Deborah Barnett.
”They recently honored Deborah for her commitment and service to the Chamber,” he said. ”How can they honor her and then turn around and withhold the election endorsement?”
The perceived pattern of racial bias extends back several years, Sykes said.
”In 2004 there were two spots open on the Board of Education,” he said. ”They nominated a white man — Stephen Goldman — for one of those seats, but refused to even recommend another candidate — the rest of whom were black — for the remaining seat.”
Mark V’Soske, president of the Toledo Chamber of Commerce, disagreed with the assessments of Silverman and Sykes.
”People are entitled to their opinions, but the facts speak for themselves,” he said, noting that the committee is multi-racial. ”Since 2001 the Leadership Fund has endorsed 33 candidates for a variety of positions.
24 percent have been minority candidates, 42 percent have been women, 57 percent have been men, 51 percent have been Republicans, 42 percent have been Democrats, and 6 percent have been independents.”
V’Soske said he did not wish to speculate on any political motivations behind the Silverman letter.
”The Chamber has been a supporter of the Toledo Public Schools for many years,” he said. ”In the end, we wish to see this community noted for its excellent public school system and to not only provide successful students, but become a draw for new residents and increased enrollments.”