Beside the Point: When You Assume ...
Yep, we're the assholes here
I depart Austin for my native Baltimore in two weeks, yet have managed to attract a few new critics on my way out. In last week's issue, as a tack-on to our election coverage, I published a list "remembering some assholes" that included outgoing Austin ISD District 1 Trustee Ted Gordon, saying that even he would likely admit that he can sometimes be an ass. In print, this ran alongside a similarly constructed list that recognized some of the good people who waged noble campaigns and lost, which also included Gordon ("He really cared about those kids," it read). Those lists were not uploaded together online, which meant the attempt at political humor was lost on all who came upon the "asshole" list independently, and we've since made that change.
However, it would be irresponsible of me to concede only that I failed to land a joke, and not to consider how calling a black man who advocated for an underrepresented group of Austinites an asshole could be offensive to him or his supporters; or to overlook the meaning of words and how they're used. Even colloquially, it was careless to include him with the other names on that list: those of state legislators and congressmen who wished to roll back human rights, sham judges who'd do the same, and a proposition geared toward cutting into Austin's local control. The five entities that accompany Gordon are there because their intent is to inflict harm on Austin's people, and particularly those who are disenfranchised. Ted Gordon's was a comment on his demeanor. He fought for the opposite outcomes of those he's listed alongside.
Nothing Positive About It
Gordon served one term on the AISD board before losing by 23 points to LaTisha Anderson; he will depart with recognition as a committed figure who carried noble, oppositional, and often unsuccessful ideas to the dais concerning ways to improve public education for the city's black and brown children. He was the only African-American trustee throughout his term, as Anderson will be now.
He lost despite the Chronicle's endorsement (often more influential for these down-ballot, nonpartisan races) but possibly in part because of our coverage. We have often cited how unsuccessful Gordon has been while also praising the virtues of his ideas and plans. We reported on his East Austin Manifesto, the hallmark 15-point proposal he put forward with allies to improve education for minority students, but also reported the rhetoric from his colleagues about their problems with how Gordon made the plan public as a call to action. Even in our endorsement of him, we led with the clause, "Although Dr. Ted Gordon has not appeared to enjoy his time as an AISD trustee – or even proven effective in enacting policy goals ..."
One of the more personable aspects of Gordon's tenure was his acute understanding of those dynamics. During our endorsement meeting with him and Anderson in October, he spoke repeatedly of his isolation on the dais and of his troubles, failures, and frustrations. Asked why he wanted to run for another term, he responded: "I ran for the first time because people asked me to do so, and I'm running again because I feel like I represent a group of people who spend a lot of time trying to get things changed in the city, particularly in the school district. They insisted that my participation in this capacity is important.
"I don't like being a school board member. There's really nothing very positive about it. And running for office ... is worse. But it is an honor. In other words, it is positive to have people think that you can actually do things that they want to see happen. And it's a responsibility: I feel responsible for the community and try to address the things that I see that are going the way they shouldn't. ... So I'm running again. I don't have the time to do it, I don't really like it, but I'll do it."
Takes One to Know One
That job now falls on LaTisha Anderson, who decided to run after her nephew was handcuffed at Clint Small Middle School following a false accusation from a fellow student. The two are ideologically similar, and Gordon expressed optimism throughout our meeting that Anderson will continue advocating for many of the issues he would support.
Gordon and I spoke on Saturday, just hours after a storm began to brew online about my list. He hadn't seen it but was unsurprised by the generalization, and we spoke candidly and, I believe, constructively about the ramification of his inclusion. He made clear that his specific frustration last week concerned the result of Tuesday's election. There is important work to be done, he said, and it will no longer be tended to by him.
Paul Workman can get lost and so can Konni Burton, and a judicial victory for Gisela Triana over Mike Toth should evoke celebrations throughout Central Texas. But Ted Gordon wanted to do good things for people in need of them, and despite having no time and no compensation for the position, he had committed himself to another four years because there was more work to be done. He lost and was beaten up about it, and yet I included his name on this list when I should have remembered that you don't kick a good man when he's down. Even an asshole should know that.