Gentle Blog Readers:
News: Political Whore
I ran across the column below that commented on my La Gaceta columnist days.
I thought some of my current readers may not have read Mr. Garcia's comment on my exit from La Gaceta. What he writes about my departure from newspaper work is accurate. And today I see it as propitious because as a blogger I don't have an editor. As nice as Patrick is, he was a stickler for allusions in my column that he saw as marginal in his paper's ethos. It's his paper: his grandfather founded it. His father continued it. Now he is in the driver's seat.
I imagine Ms. Elia may regret my departing from La Gaceta. Bloggers are their own editors. As a free-at-last blogger, I revealed Jennifer Falliero's school-grounds adultery that caused the administration to fire Marc Hart, the head of Public Affairs, to protect Ms. Falliero's reputation. I got a rebuke from the Godfather school-board attorney Gonzalez for calling Falliero "Pole Girl" in my blog. She will be forever "Pole Girl" to me. She wrecked a marriage and caused two little children to have their psyches distorted by a father's desertion of their mother for an adulteress. Nobody can shut me up from featuring the seamy tale on my blog and what it says about the calibre of people running for the school board and the thugs who run the schools.
I also revealed that rumor says that Elia uses the "f" word constantly in her officed harrangues in her employee conferences. I doubt Patrick would have let that revlation pass editorial scrutiny.
One of the best First-Amendment lawyers in town told me that people don't sue bloggers because bloggers have no money and no insurance against lawsuits. Newspapers do. That is what makes them targets for people trying to milk money from a lawsuit with them on First-Amendment grounds. The people who sue the newspapers usually lose. Judges are not fond of getting tarred with anti-First-Amendment decisions. That stops their climb up the bench. But the adventurers in First-Amendment suppression blackmail newspapers with the incipient threat of a lawsuit for libel. It hamstrings the timid press. But its members allow themselves to be hamstrung. The Crusading Press is a shopworn myth. It has died and been buried in prime graveyard real estate amongst the other community muckety-mucks. When it comes to fighting the thugs' takeover of the county schools as is the case in Hillsborough, the press is timid or silent.
Taking up blogging instead of being a columnist freed me to write what I want to write. I would be proud to sit in a jail cell working on one of my granddaughters' needlepoint rugs to vindicate the First Amendment. My ten grandchildren would go mad with glee that granny was in jail. I would become a legend in the family history, a subject of celebration at all Thanksgiving dinners. I would make my family proud of me in perpetuity.
What more could a granny want? lee
News: Political Whore
Reading Between the Lines
By Wayne Garcia
For those who read the tea leaves of local politics, two recent newspaper columns provide some clues to the condition of Tampa Bay's two school superintendents.
First, the case of the disappearing columnist.
A few weeks back, columnist Lee Drury DeCesare left La Gaceta, the highly political trilingual weekly that is an important tout sheet for local political insiders. For those who've never read DeCesare's column, here is an excerpt that captures her acidic and highly stylized approach, in this case a complaint to Gov. Jeb Bush about DeCesare's favorite target, Hillsborough Superintendent MaryEllen Elia:
"La Elia et al do not deal with school problems such as non-performing schools, hiring irregularities, or real-estate cheats with alacrity but react with dispatch when any source threatens their right to abuse power and manipulate tax dollars for administrative bloated salaries and delusions of éclat."
DeCesare is, to be sure, infuriating for those who found themselves in her sights. (She has on at least one occasion, I confess, criticized Political Whore for saying nice things about Pinellas Superintendent Clayton Wilcox.) She harangued and nitpicked journalists and school officials for grammatical lapses. She wrote with an almost Victorian density. She was the woman who rose from her seat at a Tiger Bay Club meeting to ask Charlie Crist if he was gay.
Her column was often a parody of muckraking and her reporting loose -- at best. But she is also that rare breed: a hellraiser. The former teacher and labor union organizer remains a hard-core feminist and education advocate. She is the only voice questioning administrators on both sides of the bay with a consistently pro-teacher, anti-administration take that you just don't find in the mainstream dailies.
So it is not surprising that she cheesed off the Hillsborough school system pretty good. A few weeks back, her boss, La Gaceta publisher Patrick Manteiga, found himself at a meeting with Elia. He says he didn't know the subject of the meeting would turn to his columnist DeCesare.
"I was having a meeting for one purpose, and I guess she was having the meeting for another purpose," Manteiga relates. "She was encouraging employees to sue the paper for stepping over the line" in one of DeCesare's columns.
DeCesare had been dogging two female bureaucrats in the Hillsborough school system, and in one column, she questioned how they got their high-paying jobs, writing that tax dollars "shouldn't subsidize any casting-room-couch-employment protocols."
Manteiga said Elia had counseled the two employees that they could have a libel suit and asked the publisher to back off the criticism. Did she juxtapose that request with, say, the $11,388.62 in advertising that the school system spent in the past 12 months with La Gaceta? "No comment," is all that Manteiga will say. DeCesare, however, doesn't demur.
"That's extortion. That's a classic ACLU case," DeCesare says. She wishes Manteiga had told Elia "to go to hell." But she concedes that a small weekly is in no position to defend libel lawsuits, and it's not in Manteiga's nature to pick a fight with Elia. "He's a sweet, good man. But he's not a fighter. I'm a fighter."
Elia, for her part, is a bit mystified by the dust-up and said she never asked for DeCesare's departure; she felt a responsibility to tell the publisher of the possible lawsuits to come. "I told Patrick, you and I know we've had a long relationship with your newspaper," Elia says. "What I said was, this was unacceptable. I am telling my employees they have the option to go forward and move on a lawsuit against the newspaper for printing that." She vehemently denies any hint of threatening La Gaceta's advertising.
Manteiga says DeCesare's column did go too far, and he adds that he edited out at least five previous sexually related allegations in her work. "Casting-room couch" got by his editing. "She kept throwing the same stone, eventually I missed it." When he asked her to tone it down and avoid libel, she resigned instead.
"Outside of that, Lee brought us a lot of readers, and that's not bad for a little newspaper," Manteiga says. "I love the First Amendment, and this was a real test of how much I love it. I read things about people I like [in DeCesare's columns] and it was real tough to put those comments in my newspaper." But despite unending criticism from Tampa's powerful, he kept her around, figuring that "just because I don't like what you say is an awkward reason for getting rid of someone."
No one should have to bear being libeled. But what happened to DeCesare does smack of press intimidation -- like killing a gnat with a cannon.
Hillsborough schools have plenty of room for self-examination. The St. Petersburg Times earlier this year wrote with painstaking detail how the school system used no-bid, handpicked real estate brokers to buy land for schools, paying high prices and fees to brokers who, in some cases, may have flipped properties to inflate values. Those problems came on Elia's watch. Elia promised quick change and delivered some.
Those issues, among others, are no doubt fodder for the fall elections; 10 candidates are running for three seats on the School Board, with incumbents being challenged in two of those seats.
Turning to the other newspaper column now, this one bodes poorly for Elia's Pinellas counterpart, Wilcox.
A week ago Sunday, May 21, the St. Petersburg Times ran a most unusual editorial, with a editorial sidebar from President and Editor Paul Tash. The Times had previously done some excellent work surveying local teachers and reporting on how professionally unhappy they are. The main editorial's headline on this Sunday was: "A crisis of morale in Pinellas schools."
That was quite a distance from the editorial board's unbridled enthusiasm for Wilcox just a year and a half ago, when the Sunday headline read, "Wilcox brings in winds of change."
Tash's sidebar column, which ran with his picture, made the editorial page disapproval that much more devastating. Tash related how his wife is a teacher and his parents were teachers. "So for me, our stories last week hit a particular nerve," he wrote.
The sea change in the Times editorial stance toward Wilcox doesn't bode well for his future. He has infuriated a renegade teacher group and the two school board members they elected; disappointed the union that represents the bulk of the teachers by failing to deliver real reform; and hangs by an often 4-3 vote on the school board. There aren't too many constituency groups still on board the Wilcox train; the Times support for him as an agent of change tended to compensate for that. Before a week ago Sunday.
Lee DeCesare's writing can be found online at grammargrinch.blogspot.com. Political Whore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, by telephone at 813-739-4805 or on our blog at www.blurbex.com.
From: Anonymous [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:16 PMTo: email@example.comSubject: [Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch] New comment on As the World Turns.
Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "As the World Turns": It is not surprising that Elia bullied Manteiga. She bullies anyone who gets in her way of her bonus money or who shines a light on her shenanigans. The woman is a menace, yet the school board allows her to rake in taxpayer dollars so she can continue to bully all her employees. Posted by Anonymous to Lee Drury De Cesare's Casting-Room Couch at 6:56 PM