Michelle Rhee has hired the one-time spokesman for the Democratic National Committee to join her education advocacy organization, StudentsFirst.
Hari Sevugan will leave his post with the committee to work as vice president of communications at Rhee’s organization. Sevugan is a 36-year-old lawyer who formerly taught in Manhattan public schools and has broad connections across the party, according to Politico. The publication suggests that Sevugan’s hiring (which Students First has confirmed) is a sign that Rhee, a Democrat, is trying reach out to members of her party whom she’s antagonized through her close work with Republicans.
Members of the GOP who have received Rhee’s counsel, or worked with her in some regard, include Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Rhee also appeared at a showing of the film Waiting for Superman with Ohio Gov. John Kasich on the same night he signed into law a measure that severly restricted teachers’ collective bargaining powers. The law, which also barred protecting teachers from layoffs based solely on seniority and implemented performance pay, was reviled by many teachers and the unions that represent them, and is now the subject of an effort to overturn it at ballot. (Rhee and Kasich, it should be noted, have reportedly said they disagree on some issues.)
Says Politico of the hiring:
[T]he move also sends a political signal: Michelle Rhee's push to weaken the hold of teachers unions has won her enemies in the labor movement and among some Democrats, and allies on the Republican right, and Sevugan will aim to clarify her attempt to establish a bipartisan profile, the source said; he has already begun to reach out to some of the group's progressive critics. ...It's also, a more skeptical Democrat said, a sign of the damage that's been done to her image since she left her post in Washington after last year's mayoral election."
Reaction from some liberal-leaning groups was skeptical, to say the least.
But winning over critics is what communications teams are for, right?
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.