Lieberman Says Lamont Not Really a Teacher

Ned Lamont touts himself as a teacher of inner city kids. The Lieberman camp says that’s stretching the truth.

On the campaign stump, Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont often tells audiences that he teaches at Harding High School in Bridgeport. On his Web page, Lamont states, “I teach in a 50-year-old inner-city public school,” referring to Harding. In a July Connecticut Post article, Lamont said, “I’m a guy that started a business from scratch. I’ve been involved in education and technology. I teach at Harding.” And in advertisements running on radio and television, Lamont extols his time at Harding. Students who appear in the ads call him their “teacher,” and urge him to run for the Senate.

Rival Senate candidate Joe Lieberman, a lifelong Democrat who is running as an independent after losing a primary battle to Lamont, is taking issue with Lamont’s portrayal of himself as an inner-city schoolteacher, saying he’s “misleading” the public.

The Lieberman campaign points out that Lamont is a multimillionaire from Greenwich who volunteered to help with a business class at Harding High School. “The reality is Ned Lamont has trouble with the truth,” said Dan Gerstein, Lieberman’s communications director. “Ned Lamont has loudly and widely trumpeted his credentials as an educator and in doing so has unequivocally given people the impression that he is currently a teacher in the Bridgeport public schools. Since Mr. Lamont is touting this credential, there are legitimate questions,” Gerstein said. “He has distorted Lieberman’s record and he has a habit of mischaracterizing his own positions on Iraq. If he is not teaching, why does he continue to mislead the voters about his role in the Bridgeport public schools?” Gerstein said.

The Lamont camp said Lieberman’s complaints are nonsense. “By any measure you apply, Ned was a teacher to those kids,” said Liz Dupont-Diehl, a spokeswoman for the Lamont campaign. “This is a sad attempt by Senator Lieberman to divert attention from his failure to represent the people of Connecticut and hold the Bush administration responsible for a badly managed war,” Dupont-Diehl said.

The facts surrounding the issue are clear. During the 2004-05 school year, Lamont served as a volunteer teacher at Harding. He helped a certified teacher lead two classes on how to start a business and brought in outside experts to bolster the course. Hector Sanchez, Harding’s principal, said Lamont helped teach once a week, on Mondays, for two periods, which amounts to 1.5 hours for the day. The effort lasted the school year, Sanchez said. In 2005-06, Lamont volunteered to help teach a similar class at Bassick High School. Lamont’s campaign staff said he has done some teaching this year, but admitted that effort has been occasional.

So does that give Lamont a right to portray himself as a teacher? “That’s stretching it,” said Sanchez, who said he admires Lamont’s commitment to his school. “He’s not a certified teacher. It was as a volunteer. He arrived once a week for two periods every Monday. He partnered with the certified teacher. I can vouch for him coming here,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said that not many people volunteer as much time at Harding as Lamont has. “I have people who come in,” he said. “But to do it for the whole school year, I don’t have anyone that gives that type of commitment.”

[…]

Dupont-Diehl said Lamont uses the term “teacher” in a conversational way, not a technical one. “His is using ‘teach’ in a common-sense version. He has never claimed to be a certified teacher. But he has been endorsed by Connecticut’s two teacher unions,” she said. “There has never been any inconsistency in how he describes it. He is a teacher. He stands up in front of a class. It’s too bad Lieberman does not have similar volunteer activities. I think that’s significant,” Dupont-Diehl said.

Gerstein said Lamont should explain his activities more accurately, and contends that many across the state have been led to believe that he’s an inner-city teacher.

Here’s the commercial in question:

Ned Lamont Students Commercial

(The YouTube version has been “removed due to terms of use violation.”)

Does the ad imply that Lamont was more than some guy who volunteered an hour of his time a week to work with kids? Yeah, I think it does. Is making something that consumes such a small fraction of his professional life the primary focus of his ads and campaign literature somewhat misleading? I’d say so.

Lamont employee David Sirota thinks the Lieberman camp is the one who should be ashamed. He argues that Lamont has been totally honest in his portrayal, citing this July 29 press release highlighting the ad:

After calling the schools, looking for an opportunity to volunteer, Lamont was paired with an accounting teacher. Since then, Lamont co-taught the class regularly, bringing other national business leaders to address students, and leading exercises such as how to create a business plan. Ned’s experience in the Bridgeport Public Schools, and the Federal government’s failure to meet the needs of 21st century schools, is part of what drove him to run.

But even this is, to say the least, misleading. As Lamont now admits, he has not taught the class regularly this year. That’s hardly surprising; he’s got a business to run and is campaigning for the Senate. But to put out a release in July–after a 2005-6 school year in which by his own admission his teaching was “occasional”–saying “Since then, Lamont co-taught the class regularly” is inaccurate.

The commercial itself, as Sirota points out, has all the facts:

The students say that Lamont was their teacher, despite having another job running his own business. ‘But he learned from his parents, the value of giving back to the community,’ the students say. ‘So I guess being a volunteer teacher was something Mr. Lamont felt he had to do.’”

Yet, a guy who gives a couple guest lecturers and recruits some other guest lecturers to fill out the rest of the term–in a course being taught by another teacher–is not a “teacher” in any meaningful sense.

The word Lamont is looking for is “mentor.” That’s what he was doing. Mentoring is an honorable thing and I’m sure these kids got a lot out of Lamont’s life experience and the fact that he gave a damn. Not many people, let alone many millionaires, volunteer their time to help those less fortunate. I’m sure the kids in the ad are genuinely grateful. Lamont’s service is quite honorable. The touting of it in this manner, though, is questionable.

Full disclosure: My wife’s firm does polling for Lieberman. I stumbled on the story via Memeorandum

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. slickdpdx says:

    I’m not a Lamont booster (far from it) but I thought the commercial was absolutely fine.

  2. Tano says:

    “Mentor”, to me, means one-on-one, or small group personalized guidance. I think “teaching” is a perfectly appropriate word for what Lamont was doing.

    It seems that Joe is really imbibing his lessons from the Republicans. Use the ol’ character-assasination, negative campaign approach. But I guess it is understandable, being that there aren’t really any substantive issues of great import that might be relevant to a Senate campaign.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Tano: Is it really your contention that Democrats don’t engage in negative campaigns and character assassination?

  4. Wayne says:

    The ad struck me that he was some sort of regular base substitute speaker not a quest lecturer. So the ad was misleading. They should have just said he has been a quest lecturer instead of trying to make him look like a teacher.

  5. anjin-san says:

    Reaching this far is one more symptom of Lieberman’s desperation…

  6. Tano says:

    James,

    No, but its a matter of degree. Republicans tend to do much more of it. We’ve seen in the past few days reports of how they, proudly, are declaring that negative attacks will form the core of their approach to saving the House.

    Its not surprising. Polling shows rather consistently that significant majorities of Americans tend to agree with Democrats on most all of the issues that are actually relevant to the types of decisions that elected officials will need to deal with. Which leaves, for Republicans, the options of hyping phony issues (flag-burning, pledge of alleigance, “protecting” marriage), or ad hominem attacks on the character of their opponents. We can call it the “swiftboat” paradigm, although it obviously greatly predates that sordid episode.

  7. James Joyner says:

    Tano:

    The cultural issues clearly work. While we both think most/all those issues are silly, most Americans disagree. Successful campaigns target the center while also finding ways to activate the base. Those kinds of issues do both for Republicans while forcing Democrats to do one or the other.

    I condemned much of what the Swift Boat guys did but Kerry left himself open to it by relying so much on the phony issue of his Vietnam heroism. (Not that the heroism was phony, just that it was largely irrelevant to his ability to govern.) Plus, Kerry’s inconsistency and hypocrisy on the surrounding issues resonated.

    Don’t forget, too, that the Democrats and their constituent interest groups have managed to spend the last 25 years or so portraying Republicans as racists, anti-poor, anti-elderly, etc. in some rather vicious smears. It’s unfortunate, but negative campaigns that play to existing stereotypes is incredibly effective.

  8. Steve Verdon says:

    Wasn’t it Clinton’s press secretary who said Republicans want the elderly to go off in a corner and die? Wasn’t it the Democratic cartoon that depicted Bush throwing an old lady out of her wheel chair and over a cliff? I’m sure we can come up with various examples all day, but the bottom line is that both sides use some pretty dirty tactics when they are felt needed.

  9. This is a bit of a tempest in a teacup. It is very similar to resume ‘puffing’ you see in business. And just as when it happens when you are interviewing someone, it doesn’t disqualify the candidate, but it does make you question where else the truth was stretched.

  10. James Joyner says:

    yaj: I think that’s exactly right. Indeed, I don’t think Lamont was trying to fool people into thinking that he was a full-time teacher rather than a cable television magnate. He was, however, overselling just how much time he spent teaching inner city kids.

  11. Tano says:

    James,

    I am certainly aware that negative ads are effective.

    And I certainly agree that Democrats use ugly negative ads as well. But I do think there is a difference. Just look at the two great outbreaks of Derangement Syndrome that we have seen in the past two decades.

    Although huge amounts of offensive crap is hurled at Bush, it is all grounded in, and focussed toward, specific policy decisions. War, torture, corruption, favoring the wealthy etc.

    Equal amounts of crap was hurled at Clinton, but most of it was personal, and a good chunk artificial. Phony real estate scandals that turned out not to be scandals, accusations of drug running and murder (by very prominent Republicans, not just nutjobs), and the obsession with his sex life.

    After a rocky start, the American people gave Clinton approval ratings in the 50s and 60s for most of his second term, based on policies. Why didnt the Republicans just focus on coming up with better policies?

    With Bush, we have unpopular, and, I think, disastrous policies. Democratic negativity can get nasty, no doubt, but it is based on real problems with real policies.