Pulse: Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner?
Back in December, Paul Vallas was proud to announce that Philadelphia test scores were up for the fourth consecutive year, a gold star on his record as CEO of the district. Less impressive, however, was his performance a week earlier in federal court, as a witness in the reverse-discrimination trial against the district and a black executive who fired four white employees — a headline-maker both for its result (a nearly $3 million ruling against the district) and the ensuing controversy (the school district’s attorney, Carl Singley, calling four white jurors “crackers” shortly after the trial ended). Vallas seemed like a no-brainer witness for Singley to call, both as a poster boy for the district’s recent successes and a Caucasian face for the all-white jury to warm up to. But after Vallas detailed the many improvements made under his watch, it became obvious under cross-examination that he had little to offer regarding the case at hand. At one point, the judge even cut off his interrogation, saying it was clear Vallas “knows nothing” about the specifics in question, then chiding him moments later for “making speeches.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs say their informal exit poll of the jurors showed that Vallas was a completely ineffective witness (one juror called him “annoying”), a sentiment echoed by jury foreman Bruce Furman. “He didn’t present himself as credible or having any purpose being there,” Furman says. “He was more of a politician trying to make a speech and talking about all the great things he’s done. He was very nice, but you wouldn’t want to have dinner with him.”