The Dean: Mike Russo’s library card and HHS’ PHAT Theater

The following is a submission from eternal friend of Hoboken, Dean Kemph:

Russo Redux and The Curtain Comes Down, Part One

Darn you, Hoboken.  Here I sit, enjoying my semi-retirement as an informal and sporadic pseudo-blogger, and you go and have one of those weeks.  So I’m forced to the keyboard to unclog my inbox and clear the voicemail.

First, kudos to Mike Russo for providing confirmation to the legions of believers that this particular acorn hadn’t fallen far from the tree.  It was a veritable Cammarano replay, minus Michael Schaffer’s open trunk in the parking lot.  The surveillance tapes were a lot of fun as long as you fast-forwarded through Dwek’s treks to the men’s room.  We listened to the fascinating tale of how Mike selected the ardently beseeching Beth Mason’s puzzling array of 2009 running mates.  We became privy to his simplistic, yet eloquent life philosophy – “I do for you, you do for me.”   We heard about, for the very first time, Michael’s innovative appetizer/salad/dessert rotation system for the literally hundreds of lunches he attends.  And, speaking of those hundreds of lunches, wouldn’t it just be Mike’s luck that the FBI decided to tape the ONE in which he, maybe out of boredom or indigestion, implied that he’d happily accept a bribe?  The FBI, apparently abandoning Michael for bigger fish, never came up with the money and Michael was left with consommé in lieu of consummation.  On the bright side, Dwek picked up the tab and Mike didn’t have to go to jail.

Dean Kemph wonders did Beth Mason and Mike Russo confer on a possible one week ban on Mike’s library card?

Naturally, the City Council had to address this seeming transgression.  First ward councilperson Theresa Castellano, Mike’s aunt/godmother, to whom this incident was a relative yawner in the annals of familial corruption, didn’t see the big deal.  Her argument seemed to consist of “OK, he agreed to take money in exchange for favors.  He never GOT the money.  What’s the matter with you people?” as Nino and Tim nodded approvingly.  Beth, who at one time had beaten the strikingly similar Cammarano affair to a protracted pulp, couldn’t wait for this one to be over.  One can only imagine the whispery pre-meeting pillow talk between the devoted political bedmates – “Do you think if I revoke your library card for a week it will be enough? Maybe we should pass a resolution that Dwek may have talked to EVERYBODY, even though it was only you and me…”  At the council meeting, Beth sternly insisted that Michael extend his wrist for a ceremonial slap before unilaterally declaring that it was time for everyone to move on. “Let’s move on”, because, you know, that’s what’s best for you, the people.  Newt Gingrich wants to “move on” from his many sordid liaisons.  Mitt Romney wants to “move on” from his support for universal health care.  Sarah Palin wants to “move on” from everything.  Michael Russo, head briefly bowed as he acknowledged the arrogance of a “young” man who had betrayed the trust of everyone he could think of, intended to fret over his shortcomings for the entire remaining evening before he would (head now courageously raised) “move on” the next day.  

With the third ward councilman floundering in his own muck, the administration could have, of course, sidestepped the fray as they went about the people’s business with a disappointed but detached dignity and allowed the populace to draw its own conclusions.  Typically, Zimmer opted instead to throw Mike the politicization lifeline with a relentless Soares-styled overspin assault complete with an inappropriately placed detailed attack piece on the City website – the perfect elixir for a rattled council majority trying to create alternative targets and obscure issues.  Perhaps the administration will yet shift gears to a strategic restraint, allow sleaze to have its own say, and let Greg Lincoln carry the colors from here on out, but that probably makes too much sense.
Moreover, Dawn now has to deal with the Ro-Markleable happenings across town, as it appears the leaders of the Kids First faction of the Board of Education have become a little bored with education.  Ro Markle and Theresa Minitullo were shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that gambling was going on in this estab…er…I mean, to learn that beloved icon Paula Ohaus had resigned, despite their long-time poorly disguised endeavors to effect that result.  Bad luck on the timing, though.  And now come the wide-eyed protestations that Carter is gone, there was no problem with Carter, we love theater, no one wanted to Paula to resign, etc., etc., etc.  As Dr. Frankenstein learned, sometimes your monster breaks his shackles at the most inopportune moment.  The now departed Dr. Carter left a few back-breaking straws on the desk of his leftover, Mr. Rusak, and the legendary, life-changing Paula Ohaus is now history.  I talked to a lot of people on this one, and even the Board’s most ardent defenders acknowledge that yes, Carter was a bully boy, and yes, Ro Markle and Theresa Minitullo really, really didn’t like Paula, but you know, that’s probably all coincidence.       

I’ve always been curious about why Markle and Minitullo felt this way, and why they felt such apparent disdain for the needs of the charter schools.  There is a common thread between the charters and the HHS theater program – both were wildly successful before the arrival of the intrepid Kids First forces.  When you ride to power on a wave of threatening to totally dredge the seabed, the last thing you want to see is a few inconvenient pearls in those dirty oysters, and it seems that Ro and Theresa found such nuisances particularly nettlesome. In Paula’s case, I won’t take issue with the BOE apologists’ contentions that she needed to abide by more defined operating parameters.  She’s a theater person, and artistic temperaments can tend to ignore some of the administrative niceties in the rush of production.  But with a treasure such as Paula, it’s the District’s and the BOE’s responsibility to help her find a way.  Instead, in Markle and Minitullo’s only nod to theater appreciation, they directed Carter to play Javert to Paula’s Jean Valjean for a year and a half.  Weehawken just had its high school musical production, and the comparative gulf in administration/board support between the towns was telling.  We received calls from both the principal and vice-principal reminding us to attend.  They ran shuttle buses from the public schools to the high school.  Contrast that with the parent who some time ago noted the odd  support vacuum in Hoboken and tried to take on a promotion role for the theater department,  receiving a threatening admonishment from Carter for his troubles.  So please, Ro and Theresa, spare us your horrified expressions.   I remember when, in Ohaus crisis number one, my puzzled and innocent query, “Gee, how about a superintendent who effects positive change unencumbered by petty vendettas?” elicited the solemn culmulative rejoinder from BOE loyalists: “That would be great, Dean. But not possible. Carter did a lot of good things, and you’ve got to take the bad with the good.”  On the bright and transparently hypocritical side, this is exactly the opposite approach that Markitullo embraced when it came to Paula.  

I feel badly for Zimmer on this one – it’s a headache she certainly didn’t need.  As for Ro and Theresa, one last thought.  As you know, Paula was a recent recipient of the prestigious “Jimmy” Award (named for James Nederlander), which designated her as the Outstanding Theater Educator in America at the National High School Musical Theater Awards.  Given tonight’s anticipated crowd, you might want to bring along your “Best School Board Member in the United States” plaques, if they’re handy, so you can strut a little of your own stuff.

Best of luck to my beloved and adopted Hoboken,
Citizen Dean

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