- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 17, 2009

ACORN advisers

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) announced it was suspending operations after “indefensible actions” by some of its employees were exposed by conservative filmmakers and said it will rely on high-profile advisory board members to help the organization reform its ways.

One of those advisory members is John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress (CAP). This could pose a burden to CAP, a group under fire from conservatives for giving former White House “green jobs czar” Van Jones a job after he resigned from the Obama administration.

Mr. Jones stepped down after his signature on a 9/11 “truther” petition, a statement about communism, and other questionable ties to various organizations became public. Videos secretly taped by activists James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles show ACORN workers giving advice on how to obtain federal funds in order to run a brothel and hide income from the Internal Revenue Service, among other things.

ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis spoke for her advisers, saying: “I must say, on behalf of ACORN’s Board and our Advisory Council, that we will go to whatever lengths necessary to re-establish the public trust.”

Her statement noted that the advisory council was created to help ACORN regain its footing “after disclosure of a set of improper management decisions by the founder of the organization” last year.

Mr. Podesta posted a message on CAP’s blog Think Progress, applauding ACORN for acknowledging its problems.

“Accountability starts with knowing all the facts,” he said. “ACORN, which is doing important work in advocating for lower-income Americans all across this country, is taking an important step today by acknowledging its need for reform and demonstrating its desire to take corrective action.”

Other members of the advisory council named by ACORN in its statement were Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Maryland lieutenant governor; Andrew Stern, international president of the Service Employees International Union; and Henry G. Cisneros, executive chairman of CityView and a Clinton administration secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Mrs. Townsend immediately gave support to the troubled organization, saying: “ACORN has a long history of serving those who most need help, and giving voice to those who have been left behind. We will take the necessary steps to ensure that ACORN functions with the highest levels of ethical standards and competence.”

A TV special

Independent Women’s Forum President Michelle D. Bernard knew she needed to recruit a well-known and respected national figure to help promote her ideas to empower the poor and break the cycle of dependency on broken government programs.

So when Mrs. Bernard, also a political analyst for MSNBC, saw comedian Bill Cosby in the halls of NBC’s Washington bureau last spring, “I literally begged him to work with me,” she said.

Not long after they met, Mr. Cosby agreed to co-host a two-hour town-hall special about the state of the nation’s poor and how to help them. The special will air on MSNBC at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Although Mr. Cosby is best-known for his comedic performances, he has gained a strong following among many reformers, like Mrs. Bernard, for publicly demanding that poor blacks take responsibility for social ills within their communities, such as high teenage-pregnancy and crime rates.

But this isn’t a program targeted toward blacks, Mrs. Bernard noted.

“This is a program for all Americans - it will be about problems, choices and solutions,” she said. “I hope that on Monday after the show, we will see people uprising and saying, ‘Give me back my tax dollars so I can put it into schools that have a proven ability to help children.’ I hope they say, ‘Give me back my money to get the help that me and my children need so I don’t have to go the Department of Health and Human Services, where no one will help me,’ or they demand they get people in there who will.”

The TV program also will kick off a new IWF campaign called “About Our Children.” The television special and the campaign are focused on three areas in hopes of empowering low-income Americans to give children “their shot at truly achieving the American dream.” Those areas are personal responsibility, education and health.

During the segment on education, school choice will be discussed as a means of helping the poor and diversifying schools.

Mrs. Bernard calls it “the civil rights movement of our time.”

“If Thurgood Marshall were alive and looking at the state of K-12 education, he would be enraged at the fact our schools are so abysmal,” she said of the late Supreme Court justice, who was black. “They are still largely separate and unequal.”

The education panel will include several experts, including a labor union official, charter school advocates, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, and others.

Amanda Carpenter can be reached at acarpenter @washingtontimes.com

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