This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Viewers may have been surprised during last month’s Democratic Convention to see School Reform Commissioner Farah Jimenez appearing on MSNBC as part of a panel of Philadelphia voters asked to give their views on Donald Trump’s candidacy for president — specifically his slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Jimenez, who is also head of the Philadelphia Education Fund, was not identified as a public official or as an active Republican. The label that appeared under her name onscreen read “undecided voter.”
Her appearance, and the lack of disclosure of her background, led some local education activists to publicly question Jimenez’s decision to participate on the show.
An open letter from Lisa Haver and Lynda Rubin, both from the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools, called her appearance “ill-advised.”
“Your on-air silence about your actual background led viewers to believe that you have no business or ideological stake in the outcome of this election,” the letter reads. “You presented yourself as an honest broker in the public discourse. This omission was problematic and less than honest.”
Jimenez did not return calls made to her Philadelphia Education Fund office for comment.
During the TV appearance, Jimenez criticized President Obama for “leading from behind.”
“I think the world wants us to lead from in front,” she said.
Haver and Rubin took issue with this statement.
“Although you claimed to be undecided,” their letter read, “your comments offered justifications of Donald Trump’s positions, including some word-for-word repetitions of actual talking points from his campaign.”
Jimenez said that she was sympathetic to the sentiment behind Trump’s slogan.
“So when he says ‘make America great again,’ what he is hearkening back to is the sense that we were world leaders that were appreciated for the stance that we took in the world,” Jimenez said.
The segment ended with Jimenez saying that she thinks Trump is “wanting to take us back to that place where we had that kind of moral authority and military authority that people want.”
In their letter, which was posted on the APPS website, Haver and Rubin expressed outrage that an appointed SRC member would entertain the possibility of voting for someone who uses the kind of prejudiced language that Trump does.
They cited Trump’s "racism and misogyny, not to mention fear-mongering against those who belong to a certain religion," referring to his positions on mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and a ban on Muslims entering the country.
In the past, however, Jimenez has condemned the bigoted rhetoric of the campaign.
In an article about the Kasich fundraiser that she co-hosted in March, the Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Jimenez as saying that the two other remaining GOP candidates at the time, Trump and Ted Cruz, could cement the image of Republicans as the party of rejection: "For someone like me, who is a woman, who is black, who is Latina, who works in social services … the last thing you want is for someone to represent your party who suggests all of those things are negative."
At the time, Jimenez said that Kasich "is, quite frankly, the only option."
Haver and Rubin’s letter ends by linking her lack of condemnation on MSNBC with her position at the SRC: “The majority of Philadelphia’s students are children of color, representing a variety of cultures and languages. Our children face discrimination every day because of their color, their ethnicity, their sexual identity or their disabilities.”
“We urge you to remember that as a member of the School Reform Commission, you are a public official with the affirmative duty to represent the best interests of all of the schoolchildren of Philadelphia.”