Wednesday, May 26, 2010 will go down in history as a sad day in DeKalb County. It’s the day District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming made the announcement that long-time educator and former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis was indicted on racketeering, bribery and other charges along with Chief Operating Officer Pat Reid, her former husband Tony Pope, and her secretary Cointa Moody.
The indictments culminated an 18-month investigation that included raids on the school system offices and Lewis’ Stone Mountain home. Lewis, Pope, Reid and Moody will have their day in court. Our system of justice dictates that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. That said, bear in mind that prosecutors rarely bring charges of this magnitude unless they’ve got a good case.
To say news of the former superintendent’s indictment was shocking is an understatement. DA Fleming meticulously spelled out the charges of deception and fraud. Bloggers and other opinionators have been working overtime with comments like: “It’s racism. Clueless Lewis wasn’t doing anything the other superintendents didn’t do. He just got caught.” “Lewis doesn’t have the brains to have masterminded this scheme.” “Stuck-up Pat Reid is getting what she deserves.” “Wonder how Paul Nowak feels now about giving Lewis a big pay raise?” “It’s the board’s fault. All of them except Gene Walker need to be voted out of office.” “Black people don’t make good leaders, look at Atlanta, Clayton and Grady Hospital before the business community brought in the new guy to straighten it out.” These quotes are just a sampling of comments heard and read in the wake of the charges.
Consider this: Several years ago back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s a number of African-American elected officials were being indicted for kickbacks and bribery. A high-ranking White prosecutor shared his thoughts on the notion that Black elected officials were being unfairly targeted. His words became the kind of powerful nuggets that stay with you. He said three things were at work. First, he said African Americans had only held elected offices for a short time in short, inexperience. Secondly, he said they were trying to do things “the way their White counterparts had done 10 to 20 years earlier,” but that the corrupt White elected officials had moved on to more sophisticated methods of funneling money. Thirdly he said we have a more zealous press corps post Watergate.
Watergate, for those too young to remember, is the name of the Washington, D.C., complex where Democrats had their national headquarters in the early ’70s. The so-called Republican “plumbers unit” burglarized the office and the subsequent series of cover-ups ultimately led to the 1974 resignation of President Richard Nixon. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were largely responsible for bringing the crimes to light. News coverage after Watergate changed dramatically. Investigative units were started up to ferret out public corruption. Before Watergate many in the press had cozy relationships with government officials, and they often looked the other way at situations that today make headlines or the lead story on the evening newscast. Such was the way of politics.
The landscape has changed. So when the case is tried, those pearls from the prosecutor back a couple decades ago just might apply. Not racism, but greed and a lack of experience covering their tracks. Finally, the press and public are intolerant of hard-earned tax dollars being used for fancy vacations, mistresses, cars, homes, gambling junkets and lining the pockets of crooked cronies. The news about our school system is far worse than that concerning Clayton County. Our neighbors to the Southwest were guilty, as it turned out, of gross ineptitude. Stupidity can be forgiven far quicker than the theft of public dollars and the public trust. The leveling of these charges makes it a sad time in DeKalb.
Steen Miles, The Newslady, is a retired journalist and former Georgia state senator. Contact Steen Milies at Steen@dekalbchamp.com.