Last April, the Journal New ran articles and hosted a sit down with students who they described as part of a grassroots effort to address gun violence: Student advocates hosting gun violence forum with Mayer, Killian
The Westchester Student Coalition Against Gun Violence formed in March to organize political events. The grassroots group — made up of about 20 students from 10 local districts — is hosting a public forum Monday with state Senate candidates Shelley Mayer, a Democrat, and Julie Killian, a Republican.
The event, being held at 7 p.m. at Trinity St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New Rochelle, is the latest example of the students’ organizing efforts. In March, they planned walkouts at their schools and local marches, both part of national initiatives to raise awareness about gun violence.
New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson played it off the same way; March for Our Lives on March 24th
I am even more proud that many New Rochelle High School students will travel to Washington, DC to make their voices heard. If you have been inspired by the remarkable example of student leaders, then please join us on March 24th.
In reality, “The Westchester Student Coalition Against Gun Violence” was and is an astro-turfed front organization financed by local taxpayers and Indivisible Westchester, an Anti-Trump group that describes itself as “resisting the Trump agenda on the local, state and national level”. The organization is effectively an arm of the Democratic Party and played a decisive role in electing George Latimer as Westchester County Executive.
In New Rochelle, City and School officials coordinated with Indivisible New Rochelle, the local branch of Indivisible Westchester to develop media narratives to counter the negative publicity New Rochelle experienced in the wake of the murder of Valaree Schwab and the stabbing by Bryan Stamps.
The starting point for the convergence between the City of New Rochelle, the New Rochelle Board of Education and Indivisible Westchester began when 5 Long Island school districts (Hewlett, Lawrence, Oceanside, Wantagh, and Seaford) publicly announced in February they would not attend a planned Model Congress event at New Rochelle High School.
The Principal of Hewlett High School expressed concern for the safety of their students and staff. “There is too much uncertainty at New Rochelle at this time,” he said.
City officials including the Mayor along with students, high school administrators, the Superintendent and school board members were furious at what most felt amounted to a gratuitous kick in the teeth – and a PR nightmare for both the City and School District along with real estate developers and realtors in New Rochelle.
Andrew Sorota, a member of the Executive Board of the New Rochelle Model Congress, began working with Noam Bramson, sharing strategy ideas to reframe the narrative in New Rochelle away from the twin-stabbings in January. The Parkland shooting offered just such an opportunity.
When Sorota came to terms with the cancellation of the Model Congress event at New Rochelle High School he saw an opportunity to pivot to Parkland and Gun Control, a topic of no particular relevance to the two stabbings in January.
“There is a silver lining to this,” wrote Sorota in an email to Bramson on March 2nd. “As we discussed over the phone last week, on March 24 (the Saturday of when our Model Congress was supposed to be), there is the March For Our Lives event taking place. Now that we will not be having a Model Congress, we have decided to focus our efforts on this march. We are working with Mr. Richardson and our advisors to get buses for students in Model Congress (and some others) who want to attend the march.”
Bramson eagerly jumped on the idea, forwarding an email to PR consultants at Risa Heller hired by the City for $40,000. Heller famously handled PR for disgraced Congressman Anthony Weiner.
Bramson proposed that the team from Risa Heller PR “figure out how best to communicate this to interested parties, try to support the alternative March 24th plan – and/or create a positive media narrative around NR’s participation and decide whether to do anything further with the SOBs on Long Island.”
Bramson copied in consultants from Focus Media, the District’s PR firm, along with senior leadership in the City government and the New Rochelle Board of Education.
Ten days later, on March 12th, Bramson was contacted by Kim Snyder and Margaret Bradbury, “Co-Leads” of Indivisible New Rochelle.
Snyder and Bradbury described how Indivisible Westchester was coordinating with high schools from Southern Westchester on awareness events on gun safety including school walkouts on March 14th and a “March for Our Lives Westchester” rally on March 24th, tied to events nationwide including the DC March that Sorota planned to attend as an alternative to the Model Congress event.
“Indivisible New Rochelle is helping sponsor the rally. As a logical next step after the awareness events, Indivisible New Rochelle and other Indivisible groups (adult and student) are considering the feasibility of a “Students’ Forum on Gun Violence – Questions for the Candidates.”
“The Westchester Student Coalition Against Gun Violence” organization was a front for the Democratic Party, through Indivisible Westchester, not a grassroots student initiative as it pretended to be.
Snyder and Bradbury specifically tied their events to the upcoming special election for state senate to fill the seat vacated by George Latimer.
“Since the special election for state senate would have an impact on state policy, we thought the kick off event would be a great time to have the students ask questions of the NY Senate candidates, Shelley Mayer and Julie Killian,” the pair wrote.
While the students would write questions “the adults help in the concrete logistics,” they said.
“Indivisible New Rochelle lead for gun safety legislation, Jin Whang, is in touch with the NRHS Student Body President,” they wrote. “Indivisible New Rochelle is co-sponsoring the group at the March 24th rally.”
“She will be reaching out to that student about the Forum as well. Our other members are in similar interactions with kids and adults at Mamaroneck and Yonkers HSs.”
They went on to describe the true purpose of the gun forum.
“We would like the forum to strike a balance of needing to bring safety to our schools with the potential for the solution being inequitable based on race and address.”
In other words, the goal of Indivisible Westchester was to co-opt the community discussion about school safety then occurring in New Rochelle into a national discussion on racial-economic equity. Which is precisely what they did. Which is why the New Rochelle Board of Education has failed to act on any of the key recommendations in the Brice Task Force.
“Understanding our concerns, would you be able to put us in touch with teachers or other student group leaders, as appropriate, at NRHS who would be interested in participating?”
The following day, Bramson forwarded the Indivisible Westchester email outlining their intentions to New Rochelle Board of Education President Rachel Relkin who readily complied.
“Rachel, Please see the email below”, wrote Bramson. “The request is for someone within the School District who could help identify a diverse group of students to participate. Are you able to assist directly? If not, could you recommend someone who might?”
Relkin replied by recommending Grace Turkowitz, a New Rochelle High School student.
From this point, the City and School District devoted financial resources, staffing resources, consulting services, PR support, logistical support, transportation, all to advance the agenda of Indivisible Westchester using taxpayer money. And most importantly, to insure full participation in the kick-off awareness event on March 14th, an official statement from school officials that there would be no disciplinary consequences to students for staging and participating in an illegal mass political event designed to disrupt the high school during the middle of the school day: a school supported walk-out of the entire student body that was intended as a first step in a broader political strategy designed to elect Democratic candidates for public office using taxpayer money and public resources.
Email exchanges between New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson and various School and City Officials, Consultants and Political Activists from March 2018
From: Andrew Sorota
Subject: Re: Thank You & Questions
Date: March 2, 2018 at 2:20:31 PM EST
To: Noam Bramson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I wrote up the change.org petition, but decided not to post it. We have created a certain narrative in the media, saying that all of the students from the other schools really want to attend our Model Congress, and by not allowing their students to attend, the other school districts are depriving their students of this opportunity. Although I still believe that this all holds to be true, I worry that not enough students from other schools will sign the petition to make a significant difference. If students from other schools do not sign it, it contradicts the narrative we previously made. As expected, the students who care most about this issue are students from New Rochelle. Although there are a few students from other districts who feel strongly, they have already voiced their opinions to their schools’ administrations, and the schools’ positions remain stagnant. Besides these few students, many may want to come, but don’t feel strongly enough that they would sign a petition condemning their school administrations. After discussing with our advisors, it seems that there is little left we can do to change the minds of these other districts, so as of now it seems like the event will be cancelled (although this is not yet official, and many of us have not given up hope completely).
However, there is a silver lining to this. As we discussed over the phone last week, on March 24 (the Saturday of when our Model Congress was supposed to be), there is the March For Our Lives event taking place. Now that we will not be having a Model Congress, we have decided to focus our efforts on this march. We are working with Mr. Richardson and our advisors to get buses for students in Model Congress (and some others) who want to attend the march. Rather than running a simulation of Congress, we are now trying to make an actual impact on civic life, which is quite exciting.
Please let me know what you think of this idea. I will keep you updated with any progress we make with this new plan, and any changes with the status of the other schools. Thanks again for your consistent efforts for our club, we all appreciate so much.
From: Noam Bramson <email@example.com>
Subject: Model Congress
Date: March 2, 2018 at 4:28:44 PM EST
To: Linden Zakula <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Avi Small <email@example.com>, Rachel Relkin <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Brian Osborne <email@example.com>, Chuck Strome <firstname.lastname@example.org>, “Gill, Kathleen” <email@example.com>, Kathy Gilwit <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Ken Valenti <email@example.com>, Mike Bieger <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Josh Sommers <email@example.com>
See below from Andrew Sorota, with an update on the status of the Model Congress situation. Let’s discuss during our next call. We should:
1) Figure out how best to communicate this to interested parties.
2) Try to support the alternative March 24th plan – and/or create a positive media narrative around NR’s participation.
3) Decide whether to do anything further with the SOBs on Long Island.
From: Kim Snyder <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: New Rochelle High School – Student Forum on Guns
Date: March 12, 2018 at 10:08:55 PM EDT
To: Noam Bramson <email@example.com>
Cc: Margaret Bradbury <firstname.lastname@example.org>
We are coordinating with several high schools, primarily from Southern Westchester, on some key events as they relate to gun safety. As you know, local students across the county are organizing the March 14th walk ins/outs as well as the March 24th “March for Our Lives Westchester” rally; Indivisible New Rochelle is helping sponsor the rally. As a logical next step after the awareness events, Indivisible New Rochelle and other Indivisible groups (adult and student) are considering the feasibility of a “Students’ Forum on Gun Violence – Questions for the Candidates.”
In this era where it seems we have students teaching the adults, we thought it would be great to have students ask elected officials and candidates about the balance between gun ownership rights and gun safety as it relates to current and planned legislation. Since the special election for state senate would have an impact on state policy, we thought the kick off event would be a great time to have the students ask questions of the NY Senate candidates, Shelley Mayer and Julie Killian. Knowing the kids we have met, the students will tackle the intellectual parts and their own social media whirlwind while the adults help in the concrete logistics.
Our current status: Our Indivisible New Rochelle lead for gun safety legislation, Jin Whang, is in touch with the NRHS Student Body President, as Indivisible New Rochelle is co-sponsoring the group at the March 24th rally. She will be reaching out to that student about the Forum as well. Our other members are in similar interactions with kids and adults at Mamaroneck and Yonkers HSs. In the current early stages, the forum is planned for Trinity St. Paul’s Church on Tuesday, March 27 at 7pm. There is flexibility in the date at the church to maximize candidate participation (and student participation for that matter).
Our concern: If the students are willing and able to get this forum done under their appropriate direction, the logistics should fall into place. Frankly, our concern is to ensure that this forum represents the diversity of the student bodies as much as possible. Against the backdrop of community safety and individual freedoms, we would like the forum to strike a balance of needing to bring safety to our schools with the potential for the solution being inequitable based on race and address. When I (Kim) attended and I (Margaret, with some moist eyes) watched your State of the City speech, we were struck by your direct and honest way of approaching the recent violence that created a cloud over NRHS. It was an expansion of the heartfelt address you presented at the NRDC meeting in Feb. The students who stood as you told their stories were striking, for their incredible talent and diversity.
We would very much like the Student Forum on Gun Violence to reflect that diversity as well. Understanding our concerns, would you be able to put us in touch with teachers or other student group leaders, as appropriate, at NRHS who would be interested in participating? If this thing really happens, could you be on our panel to help shape the event? Of course, if you have any questions/concerns/suggestions, please let us know.
Kim and Margaret
Kim Snyder | Margaret Bradbury
Indivisible New Rochelle
On Mar 13, 2018, at 8:38 AM, Noam Bramson <email@example.com> wrote:
Please see the email below. The request is for someone within the School District who could help identify a diverse group of students to participate. Are you able to assist directly? If not, could you recommend someone who might?
On Mar 13, 2018, at 8:51 AM, Rachel Relkin <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
Grace Turkowitz, Jane and Eric Turkewitz’s daughter. I dont have her contact info-
President, Board of Education
City School District of New Rochelle
From: Noam Bramson <email@example.com>
Subject: Re: New Rochelle High School – Student Forum on Guns
Date: March 13, 2018 at 9:16:18 AM EDT
To: Rachel Relkin <firstname.lastname@example.org>