Ugly words get in the way of education goals

Four anonymous elected officials reported to the media that Rep. Ralph Arza used a racial slur repeatedly to disparage the Superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools.
Equality Florida wrote to the legislature calling for a full investigation and appropriate sanctions if the allegations are shown to be true.

Dear Legislative Black Caucus Members,
I'm writing to find out who is leading the effort to get to the bottom of the allegations that a legislator repeatedly used racial slurs to attack the Miami-Dade Superintendent?

The court of public opinion should not convict a person without evidence anymore than a court of law should.
However, it must be made clear that there is no place in government for these actions or the attitudes they evidence.

If it is true this Representative should face consequences from the Legislature and those who spoke up should be supported.
If it is not, those who attributed the comments should be held accountable.

Either way the public must know that the Legislature did not shrug this off as business as usual.
I am posing this question to all legislators - everyone should find the allegations, if true, utterly repugnant- but I turn to the members of this Caucus first and foremost for leadership on this matter.
Please let me know what you are doing to get to the bottom of this and repair public confidence.

Nadine Smith
Equality Florida

Ugly words get in the way of education goals
In today's world of mean-spirited politics, it is commonplace for powerful people to use dirty tricks and unsavory tactics to gain an edge. But the win-at-all-costs mentality crosses the bounds of decency and moral turpitude when foes resort to racial slurs and personal invective. Those are the tactics of unprincipled, disreputable bullies -- and anyone who engages in them should suffer the consequences of their actions, including public condemnation and censure.

Officials confirm words

This is why it is important to have a definitive determination of the accusation by four public officials and Miami-Dade schools' Superintendent Rudy Crew that state Rep. Ralph Arza, a powerful education leader, used racial epithets over a period of months to denigrate Mr. Crew. Mr. Arza denies that he made the comments.

The four officials described Mr. Arza's alleged comments to Miami Herald reporters, but asked that their identities not be revealed. Some apparently fear possible retribution from a leader who wields considerable power in the Legislature and is close to Gov. Jeb Bush -- who has declined to comment. Nevertheless, we urge the four officials to take a public stand against what they themselves believe is hateful speech.

Mr. Crew says he is considering filing a complaint against Mr. Arza with the House Rules Committee. We urge him to do so, thereby formally requesting that the legislative body live up to its duty to review allegations of loutish behavior by members and mete out punishment when it is deemed appropriate.

In a telephone interview Thursday, Mr. Arza insisted that he would not and did not make the statements attributed to him. He spoke of his long record of contributions to African-American individuals and groups throughout his career.

No one should doubt that Mr. Arza has, indeed, made significant contributions to all communities in South Florida, including African Americans. The question, though, is whether Mr. Arza dishonored himself and his community by resorting to the tactics of a thug to discredit a rival for influence over school policy.

Mistake unlikely

It would be easy to dismiss the alleged comments as a mistake or misunderstanding if they had been uttered to a single person on one occasion. But the remarks described by the four officials were made over a period of a year and came at different times and in different places. For all of them to be mistaken in the same way would be an extraordinary convergence of ill will from people with nothing to gain, none of whom appears to hold any animosity or grudge toward Mr. Arza.

Mr. Crew and Mr. Arza are two of South Florida's most powerful education officials. Until this issue is resolved, however, their ability to act in unison for the good of South Florida schools and their pupils has been diminished.


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