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Ananda Mirilli

It was a blistering blog last week by conservative David Blaska about the Madison School Board race that also-ran Ananda Mirilli says prompted her to protest that her campaign was a victim of political shenanigans long before Sarah Manski’s jaw-dropping withdrawal from the race.

Blaska called Seat 5 primary winner Manski's pullout from the School Board race 48 hours after the primary “so cheap and tawdry it defies explanation” and skewered the local liberal “Tammany Hall” that endorsed her.

Negative reaction to Manski’s move isn’t just coming from the right: “Has Madison politics ever seen such high-handed, self-absorbed behavior as that of leading vote-getter Sarah Manski?” asks former Isthmus editor Marc Eisen in a column.

In the aftermath of Manski’s withdrawal, people have questions. Some are speculating whether there was a conspiracy to recruit Manksi to run, knowing she might drop out, and then replace her on the School Board with a union-friendly pick. "Now we might have a conspiracy of  liberals putting a person of color down … what about other conspiracies that people were pegged in to?" asks Mirilli, whose third-place primary finish keeps her off the April 2 ballot.

Mirilli said she doesn’t know what to make of the timing of Manski’s withdrawal: “It’s a coincidence — who knows who is telling the truth? But without a doubt, there was a conspiracy to say that I was pro-voucher,” Mirilli told me Wednesday. “But no one is investigating that.”

Mirilli shared an old email exchange Wednesday, before announcing that she would not pursue a write-in campaign, as many observers had been urging.

The emails date back to December, when Ben Manski, Sarah Manski’s husband and fellow liberal activist, tried to solicit support for Manski’s School Board run from Latinos United for Change and Advancement. In an email to Salvador Carranza, president of LUChA, Ben Manski described Mirilli as having been recruited by “the former head of a Bradley Foundation-founded group that promotes the corporate takeover of public education.”

Sarah Manski was recruited to run to offer an alternative to Mirilli, Ben Manski wrote in the email, which circulated on an email network subscribed to by many in the local Latino community. (The second-place finisher in the School Board Seat 5  primary, educational blogger and Edgewood College instructor T.J. Mertz, had filed his declaration of candidacy just a few days earlier.)

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to figure out that the Bradley Foundation’s supposed functionary allegedly behind Mirilli’s candidacy is Kaleem Caire, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison and architect of 2011’s controversial Madison Preparatory Academy proposal for a charter school aimed at African-American children. Caire proudly claims his stint of more than a decade ago as CEO of the Bradley-funded Black Alliance for Educational Options, which supports greater parental choice options to improve education, especially for students of color.

Mirilli told me her campaign was haunted by the idea that she was pro-voucher and anti-union, even though she says she is doubtful of the efficacy of vouchers and was not recruited by Caire as the local grapevine seemed to have everyone convinced.

“I don’t see that giving 50 families vouchers to go to private school is going to help the high number of students not achieving” in the Madison Metropolitan School District, she said. “I’m looking for solutions.”

Mirilli, a Latina, adds that she was encouraged in her run by a trio of former School Board members who filled her in on what it requires. She was not convinced that Madison Prep was the answer to the district’s woes, she says, but stresses that Caire’s putting the achievement gap issue on the public agenda has been incredibly valuable.

“We have to talk about a racial analysis; when we are looking at a curriculum or a strategy or a program, we need to look at whether it is culturally specific to the group we are targeting,” Mirilli says.

And it’s around the influence of race in student achievement that Mirilli’s story gets really interesting. She says that Sarah Manski told her days before the primary that she had concluded  Mirilli was pro-voucher from a post I wrote in January 2012 that quotes Mirilli’s supportive remarks on Caire’s assessment of the role of race in Madison schools.

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"There's racism in every school in Madison, and a lot of the achievement gap is about racism. It's ridiculous to see how long it's been going on. The question is: what are we going to do about it? How do we hold elected officials, and ourselves, accountable?" Mirilli said then.

Confronting the role of race in academic achievement got her labeled as pro-voucher and anti-union? How does that add up? Mirilli asks. No one labeled former Superintendent Dan Nerad pro-voucher and anti-union when he told the Madison community it's about race, she points out.

I made repeated unsuccessful efforts Wednesday to reach both of the Manskis to get their version of events.

Mirilli says the whole exhausting experience of running in what she says has proved not to be a truly democratic process has her wondering how she can encourage other people of color to run for local office and take on a larger civic role.

“How do I go back to the community and say let’s continue to work within process; you have a fair chance of winning?” she asked, when her own experience instead has been: “People do crazy things to make sure you do not make it.”

This post has been corrected in reference to T.J. Mertz's filing of candidacy.

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