Lafayette superintendent criticized over ‘black mafia’ remark _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- Lafayette Parish Schools Superintendent Pat Cooper at a School Board meeting in 2014.

School Superintendent Pat Cooper said Tuesday his use of the term “black Mafia” at an event earlier this month was an “off-the-cuff” remark now being unfairly used to paint him as a racist.

“It’s just a lot of misleading social media stuff out there that is portraying me particularly as a racist, and I felt like I needed to step up to the plate,” Cooper said of his decision to address the issue after initially declining to elaborate on the remark for a story in The Acadiana Advocate on Saturday.

Cooper, who never denied using the term, also said he did not want to leave his black supporters in doubt about his feelings and intent. The superintendent has been locked in contentious battles with some members of the Lafayette school board for more than a year, with a majority recently voting to hold a disciplinary hearing for him on Nov. 5.

Patricia Colbert-Cormier, a 49-year teacher with the Lafayette Parish School System and former chapter president for the NAACP, said she heard the “black Mafia” comment at IND Media’s “Women Who Mean Business” luncheon Oct. 2, where Cooper spoke.

“He said, ‘There are some — I like to call them the black Mafia — who have a hold on the black community,’ ” Colbert-Cormier recalled on Friday. “Quite a few people were offended by it, both black and white.”

Cooper said his intent was to call out what he perceives to be a faction of black community leaders with undue influence on local elections, including the contest for the District 4 School Board seat now held by Tehmi Chassion, who is often at loggerheads with the embattled superintendent.

Cooper has characterized Chassion’s Nov. 4 opponent Erica Williams, as a “fresh face running for office.”

Both candidates are black.

Cooper said “black Mafia” was an inartful reference to what, in hindsight, he should have perhaps labeled a “political machine.”

“It was an off-the-cuff remark, and those don’t always come out the way you want them to,” Cooper said. “It was not black versus white. It was good versus evil.”

Cooper said he is “not trying to make excuses for anything” but he feels the remark “was twisted out of context, and I think it was taken the wrong way.”

In a one-page statement released Tuesday, Cooper wrote of a 43-year career in education in which he has “worked successfully with children of all socioeconomic backgrounds, and races, and I have championed for those students.”

He continued: “I have worked for students who have educational challenges. During my tenure in Lafayette, I have paid particular attention to poor minority students and championed for equity in their education. So to be characterized as a racist is particularly concerning to me and unfair, as it does not reflect my present or lifelong work as an educator. During my entire career, I have made a deliberate effort to treat all students equally and fairly.”