21.11.2019

A lesson in how to respond graciously in the face of outrageous provocation

It takes a special kind of cool to shrug off insults in an email and respond politely. It takes even more sangfroid when the insults are racially tinged and reference your family.

Yet that’s exactly how Richard Buery, a New York City deputy mayor, handled emails from Dan Loeb, a billionaire hedge fund manager and public-education critic who chairs Success Academy, a chain of charter schools. As Loeb fired off incendiary missives, Buery would gently bat them back, never taking Loeb’s bait. The emails were obtained by the New York Times, via a freedom of information request.

In one exchange, Loeb took a shot at both Buery and his boss, New York City mayor Bill De Blasio:

Maybe he should have trusted a proven educator to run pre-K instead of trying to score political points with the unions and hurting dozens of mostly black families in the process.

Buery, who is African-American, answered with an attempt to appeal to their common interest in education:

I hope you take this in the spirit of fellowship I intend, I cringe when you say we’re ‘hurting dozens of black families in the process.’

Loeb also wrote:

I’m with my family in Aspen enjoying a summer holiday, but the injustices I see and the bureaucracy — sometimes well intentioned, that perpetuates this — never leaves me, which is why I won’t give up and won’t forget.

Buery chose to ignore Loeb’s tone-deaf comment about his vacation, replying:

Having spent my entire life and career working for black and brown kids — literally every job I’ve ever had since I was 16 — I can assure you that I understand the stakes.

At one point, Loeb ratcheted up the personal attacks, suggesting that Buery had a different standard for his own kids than other black school children:

I am happy you had and your children are getting a good education, but how you can do so little when poor black kids are failing out and boys disproportionately ending up in prison is really surprising.

For once, it sounded like Loeb got to Beury, provoking an almost-angry response:

Gosh Dan, you don’t know anything about my kid’s school or how he got in. Or me, or my life, or what I’ve sacrificed to try to do right by communities I care about. You read a trashy Post article. It’s not your business, but my son goes to an in-district neighborhood school — anyone in my district can apply to any middle school in the district.

But that was an exception (and note that “gosh” is his exclamation of choice). Mostly Buery maintained a sunny tone, even when he had every reason to flame Loeb:

Everyone who disagrees with you about something isn’t despicable or a bad person. We’d all get a lot further if we could keep that in mind. Hope you’re having a beautiful day.

In an email to the Times, Loeb says he “great respect” for Beury, and he was intending to attack the city’s policies not the deputy mayor “specifically.”

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