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NY State Senator Stewart-Cousins on Success Academy chair’s racial barb: ‘I was in shock for quite some time’

Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins appeared at a rally in Harlem on Monday.
Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins appeared at a rally in Harlem on Monday.
Alex Zimmerman

New York State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the target of an incendiary post from Success Academy chair Daniel Loeb, called his comments “extremely hurtful” but stopped short of demanding his resignation.

In one of her most far-reaching responses to date, Stewart-Cousins described her reaction to Loeb’s Facebook comment last week. He wrote that her stance on education had done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood,” an apparent reference to the Ku Klux Klan.

In the media frenzy that followed, many of New York City’s top officials sprang into action, insisting that Loeb resign from Success Academy’s board — calling his words “despicable” and “an affront to all people of color.”

But in an interview at a political rally on Monday, after a weekend of violence in Charlottesville, Stewart-Cousins took a more measured tone. She also said she doesn’t have strong views about Success Academy, which has attracted criticism for its openness to the Trump administration.

“I’m sure I was in shock for quite some time,” Stewart-Cousins said of Loeb’s remarks. “I’ve obviously moved on.”

Chalkbeat briefly caught up with Stewart-Cousins — what follows is a lightly edited transcript of the conversation.

When you heard about the post, what was your initial reaction?

It was late in the evening when I heard it, and I was shocked. First of all, how do you say that? That is extremely hurtful given the legacy, certainly, of people of color — my ancestors. If you didn’t know, we all got a chance to see it in Charlottesville, what that represents.

To somehow find yourself compared to something that is worse than this terrible, despicable organization of haters, white supremacists — it made no sense to me. I’m sure I was in shock for quite some time. I’ve obviously moved on and I think everybody has.

I’m wondering if you have any comment on how Success Academy has responded? They’ve said they’re going to keep Loeb on as chairman of their board.

I think they have to, as a board, make a decision. And if that’s the decision they made, I’m concerned because I think that everybody is looking for leadership that will continue to push education forward — and I was just very, very surprised at the diatribe. But if they feel that this is a good way for them to continue, it’s certainly up to them.

How do you feel about Success Academy as a charter network?

I am interested in making sure that children regardless of their zip code get a good, great education — an education that is going to take them to where they need to go. That’s all I’m interested in. I don’t know this gentlemen. I do know — I’m a product of public education. My kids went to public schools. I taught in public schools. And by the way, the vast majority of children are in public schools.

But it doesn’t mean that I don’t think improvements can be made. So I’m here working to make sure our children have the opportunity to compete with every other child in this global economy.

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