Hakeem Jeffries and DFER

And a note about reporting

Last week, Hakeem Jeffries, a Congressman from New York City, won a competitive race against Congresswoman Barbara Lee, to become the next Democratic House Caucus chair. This is the 5th most powerful House leadership position, and it’s recognized as a good launching pad for Speaker of the House, the top post.

On Friday I published a story for the Intercept about Hakeem Jeffries’s relationship with the Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that helps elect candidates supportive of charter schools. Among other things, the piece looks at DFER’s history supporting Jeffries—he was one of their earliest backed candidates way back in 2006, and later to Congress in 2012—and Jeffries’s record supporting charters in New York.

I reached out to DFER for comment on Jeffries’s win and we included this statement in our story:

Jeffries “embodies the Obama education agenda we support: greater investments in public education; strong standards to ensure our children are ready for the global economy; and diverse, high quality public school options for our parents to choose from,” DFER president Shavar Jeffries told The Intercept. (The two Jeffries are not confirmed blood relatives, but identify as cousins.)

“Alongside the election of reform-supporting governors and state and local officials around the county,” Shavar Jeffries continued, “his ascendancy into greater leadership in the House signals that the Obama reform agenda remains strong.”

Several hours before we published our story I also reached out to Rep. Jeffries’s office with questions. I was instructed to send my questions over email, along with my phone number, to a press assistant. I sent these questions:

  1. Does Hakeem Jeffries intend to continue his relationship with the Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER, and advocate for charters and/or education reform policies as caucus chair?

  2. I know in 2012 Hakeem Jeffries turned down independent expenditure funds from StudentsFirstNY when he was running for Congress. Since that race, has the Congressman continued to refuse independent expenditures, and does he have any further comment on this campaign finance issue?

About 15 minutes after sending my email, my cell phone rang from a DC-area number I didn’t recognize. I answered, and the caller asked to speak with Ryan Grim, one of my Intercept editors. I said this was my cell phone, but I could put him in touch with Ryan. I asked how he got my cell number and he said “someone shared it with him.” I asked who was calling, and he wouldn’t identify himself. He soon hung up.

I told Ryan about this odd exchange, and he asked me for the number so he could call them back. Ryan called, and it turned out it was someone named Michael Hardaway, a spokesperson for Hakeem Jeffries. Hardaway was mad that Ryan hadn’t contacted Jeffries’s press shop about a Jeffries-focused article he had published the day before. (But Ryan had interviewed Jeffries himself, who was quoted in the piece.) Time was ticking on my noon deadline, and I hadn’t heard anything back from Jeffries’s office. But I knew they had received my questions, as that is how they got my cell phone number, which they called in search of Ryan.

I then texted and called Hardaway, now knowing that it was his number. I got no response.

We published our story at 12:43 PM on Friday, and noted that a spokesperson “did not respond to questions on Jeffries’s relationship with DFER, his plans for education reform advocacy as caucus chair, and his current views on independent expenditures.”

A little over an hour later, Hardaway called my cell phone. I figured he was calling about my piece, but when I answered he said he was calling to thank me for connecting him with Ryan, and explained he had had issues with Ryan’s story. I asked him if he had concerns or wanted to comment on my story. He said he hadn’t read it yet. I said okay well if you want to comment later today we can update the piece.

He later called me back, I missed his call. I called him back, he missed my call. Finally we connected around 3:45 PM, and Hardaway began talking about the story I published, repeatedly emphasizing that he doesn’t get why it was written or the point of it. He said Jeffries is “absolutely not involved with [DFER] in any capacity” and that they “haven’t given us a dime in two cycles.”

I then emailed him, saying we planned to report what he just told us, and I asked if his office wanted to add anything else. He texted me and accused me of having “no integrity” and claimed our phone call—which he had initiated after I said call back if he wants to comment—was off-the-record. Over the next hour, he continued to send me emails and texts, repeating the accusation that I had “no integrity” and was mischaracterizing him. I repeatedly asked what then is the correct characterization of the Congressman’s relationship with DFER, and he ignored those questions. He then called my phone, and I emailed him:

“Your insults over email and text are not acceptable. I am wary to get on the phone with someone who is speaking to me with such abusive language. 

I am still inviting your office to comment for the story on the Congressman's relationship with DFER today. If you want to talk on-the-record about them on the phone, I will call you back immediately. However if you want to continue to insult me, or avoid answering my questions directly, then we will stick to email.”

He didn’t respond. Today I emailed and texted Hardaway again, inviting him to comment on my original questions, and his Friday afternoon comments. He did not respond, so we updated the story at the bottom to include this whole back-and-forth.

There are just a few cardinal rules in journalism, and not publishing things said in off-the-record conversations is one of them. But if you're invited to comment on a story, and you call and proceed to talk without saying "this is off the record" — I will publish any and all newsworthy items.

New DC-focused newsletter!

I am proud of the diverse kinds of people who subscribe to this newsletter, and I know people sign up to read for different reasons, with different interests in mind.

That said, one local reader suggested to me recently that there might be interest in a newsletter primarily for those who prefer the local DC coverage, which was intriguing because I do worry about boring my non-DC based readership with details they care less about.

Solution: a second newsletter—DC Notebook—for those most interested in reading local DC news, and funding local DC coverage. Also a way for me to keep this newsletter appropriately generalist. I’ll still share my DC stories on here, but with more local context/analysis on the other one. That one will also be primarily for paid subscribers only.

If you are already a paying subscriber here, and you want access to the new D.C. newsletter, let me know, and I’ll gift you a free subscription! If you’re not already a subscriber to this, and you become one, I will also gift you a free subscription if you want that. Or you can certainly stay as a free subscriber here, but become a paid subscriber on the local-DC one. Just no one need to pay for both, if you want access to both.

Thanks, and I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving

Infants & Toddlers, Post-Midterms, Amazon

I am excited to share a piece I published today in DCist about Washington D.C.’s new “Birth to Three” Act — it’s the most progressive legislation in the nation dedicated to infants, toddlers and those who care for them.

While a lot of states can’t even afford to provide full-day kindergarten, in 2009 D.C. became one of the first places to start offering universal preschool for three and four year olds. But the cost of childcare for infants and toddlers is still notoriously high here (and everywhere) — and demand far outstrips supply.

This Birth to Three Act, which has been signed into law but has yet to be funded, is a pretty tremendous bill, that not only targets new health services to the poorest young families in the city, but also seeks to expand early learning opportunities, reduce the cost of childcare for all families in D.C., and raise the paltry wages of early childhood workers.

I write a lot of education stories that are not always capturing, shall we say, good moments. Transparency issues, accountability lapses, that kind of thing. This is different, legislation that really is pretty great and innovative, and if D.C. can get this funded, I think it will be a BD here and hopefully for other jurisdictions as well.

My personal opinion is that if we’re talking about big social programs that would dramatically impact one’s financial situation and that maybe politicians should run on, then I think we should certainly be talking about universal childcare. (And perhaps universal senior care —something advocates tried to pass this year in Maine.)

Ah, a good segue to the election:

Congrats, we’ve made it two weeks past the November midterms! With the exception of a few high-profile losses in Florida, Georgia and Texas, it was a big night for Democrats, picking up at least 37 House seats.

An extremely inexhaustive list of election takeaways for those who read my earlier stories:

  • Voting rights restoration in Florida passed with 63 percent of the vote. Definitely one of the brightest things of the evening — impacting 1.5 million (!) people.

  • The independent redistricting commission passed in Michigan, just in time for 2020. Michigan is presently one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.

  • Scott Walker lost his election in Wisconsin, which is fun.

  • Keith Ellison ended up winning his AG race in Minnesota

  • Tony Thurmond won his state superintendent race in California

  • The Massachussetts nurse-staffing ballot measure failed

  • None of the Maryland Green Party candidates I wrote about won their races

And I wrote a longer post-mortem for the Intercept on why Ben Jealous lost his Maryland governor’s race.


I published a review in the fall issue of Jewish Currents on a new book examining black-Jewish relations in the U.S.

And I co-authored an Intercept piece with the inimitable David Dayen on the public subsides being showered on Amazon for their new NYC and Northern Virginia headquarters. Spoiler: it’s far more than Amazon has claimed.

Sorry for cramming this newsletter with more than I usually do, I fell a bit behind this month. I’m very grateful for your support and readership. If you are not already a paid subscriber and would like to help me continue doing this whole freelance hustle thing, do please consider! Or consider sharing this with a friend. Thanks, as always.

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Election Time

This is an exciting, nerve-wracking, and consequential moment, with the 2018 midterms just five days away. It’s also a harried period for people writing about politics, and I have several new stories to share this week:

  • In the Nation I wrote about non-citizen voting in the United States. This year, for the first time, undocumented immigrants and permanent legal residents in San Francisco will get to cast their ballot for school board elections. (This was in response to a ballot measure SF voters approved in 2016.) As you can probably imagine, this new voting right is inspiring its own right-wing backlash, and with the ramp-up of deportations, many immigrants are understandably fearful about registering to vote. But non-citizen voting, though generally forgotten, actually has long, interesting roots in American history. I looked at other cities considering bringing the practice back in the age of Trump, and the implications of doing so.

  • In the Intercept I have a story about a race for California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, a contest between two Democrats that typically would go under the radar but in this case is raising more money than all U.S. House races and nearly all Senate races, too. More than $50 million has flown in, in a proxy war over the future of public education in California, and specifically charter schools.

  • In The Washington Post I wrote a story about the Maryland Green Party, which is running 24 candidates on the ballot this cycle. The majority of Maryland Greens are running in deep blue and deep red parts of the state, places where there normally would be no real general election challenge at all. Whether they can make a third party really viable in Maryland remains to be seen, but in their ideal world, they would elect 10 Greens to the state legislature by 2026. “It could work like it does in British Columbia, where the Greens often hold the tie-breaking vote in parliament, and therefore have lots of leverage,” one candidate told me. “That’s a good model of what we’re trying to do.” (The picture is amazing.)

    In other news, The Intercept is launching a new journalism fellowship in honor of a great progressive activist named Ady Barkan who is currently dying of ALS. They’re crowdfunding it so feel free to contribute here. As a fortunate beneficiary of a journalism fellowship, it’s hard to understate how helpful these opportunities are for young people hoping to break in.

    I hope you all have plans to vote on Tuesday, and plans to nudge any reluctant friends and family members you have to the polls, too. This is a week where a man mailed bombs to many Democratic officials, news organizations and George Soros, a week when the president announces he’d like to end birthright citizenship, a week where a man walks into a synagogue and murders Jewish worshipers on Shabbat, and a week where Brazil elects a fascist leader who threatens to destroy the Amazon rainforest, an unbelievable threat to our world’s ability to contain climate change. So please, vote.

Corrected link*

Sorry - for double email, a reader informed me I linked to the wrong story for Keith Ellison in my last one. Apologies! Better link here.

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