LAFAYETTE — A Lafayette educator said she’s still in disbelief over comments by Superintendent Pat Cooper earlier this month that a “black mafia” has a hold on the black community’s vote in the parish School Board elections.
Patricia Colbert-Cormier, a 49-year teacher with the Lafayette Parish School System, said she was offended by Cooper’s remarks at IND Media’s “Women Who Mean Business” luncheon Oct. 2, where he was invited to speak.
“He said, ‘There are some — I like to call them the black mafia — who have a hold on the black community,’ ” Colbert-Cormier, a former chapter president for the NAACP, recalled on Friday. “Quite a few people were offended by it, both black and white.”
She accused Cooper of politicizing the event in touting Tehmi Chassion’s District 4 opponent, who is a black woman, and by promoting three incumbents — Kermit Bouillion, Shelton Cobb and Mark Cockerham — who have been his allies during his conflicted tenure as superintendent.
Cockerham has since stepped down from the board over an issue related to his residency but has qualified to again seek election to a seat representing District 7 because of redistricting.
Colbert-Cormier was one of more than two dozen spectators at the parish courthouse Thursday and Friday, where district Judge Durwood Conque heard testimony in Cooper’s suit seeking to disqualify three board members from voting on his future due to their alleged bias.
Cooper declined in the courtroom Friday morning to elaborate on what he meant by “black mafia” or offer further explanation of the comments he made at the luncheon.
But he didn’t deny using the phrase.
“The only thing I meant by that is we have a fresh face running for office,” Cooper said, referring to District 4 candidate Erica Williams, who, like Chassion, is black.
Cooper singled out Chassion, Mark Babineaux and Hunter Beasley in his lawsuit claiming the three are biased against him and should be disqualified from deciding his future as Lafayette’s superintendent.
Colbert-Cormier, who said she would support Cooper’s removal from office because of the current “combativeness of the board” and “to restore some order to the school system,” also said she took issue with Cooper filing the suit.
“By denying two of the representatives in North Lafayette to vote will significantly disenfranchise a large number of people, telling them that their vote doesn’t count,” Colbert-Cormier wrote to The Acadiana Advocate on Oct. 10.
The letter continues, “Then to gloss over what is actually taking place, Dr. Beasley is also named as a defendant, thus attempting to disenfranchise part of the Southside of town. We’re talking about 60,000+ voters.”
Conque will make a decision on the bias suit Wednesday.
Colbert-Cormier first brought light to Cooper’s “black mafia” remarks this week in separate letters to the editor sent to both The Acadiana Advocate and the The Daily Advertiser.
Advocate staff writers Billy Gunn and Marsha Sills contributed to this article.