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Homeboy in the 'hood
In the Democratic bastion of Harlem, George W. Bush further outlines his education plan while taking a swipe at the GOP.

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By Jake Tapper

Oct. 5, 1999 | NEW YORK -- Texas Gov. George W. Bush flew into the liberal belly of the Democratic beast monday night when his 18-seat charter plane touched down at La Guardia Airport in Queens. Bush is here as part of a three-day campaign swing through the state, which hasn't been carried by a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Bush's trip to New York has proven he is not shy about going into Democratic strongholds and stumping for votes. But there is more to this campaign swing than political machismo. During his stump speeches, Bush used his visits to Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse -- and particularly New York City -- to bash the GOP's indifference to America's social ills, and to explain how his much-ballyhooed "compassionate conservatism" would benefit African-American children, a group rarely courted or even mentioned by GOP presidential candidates.

His trip has also underscored the fact that George W. is a very different kind of Republican than his father, the former president. Eleven years ago Bush the Elder's presidential campaign addressed black America only by encouraging white America to fear it, through the demonization of paroled rapist Willie Horton.

Bush's trip to New York, and recent visits with Hollywood execs and Latino groups in California, show that he's willing to wade into liberal territory. Whether acting on the warm and fuzzy principle or making a cold political calculation about how to appeal to white moderates -- or a combination of the two -- Bush is proving himself a very different kind of Republican than any GOP presidential front-runner in American history. It's almost impossible to imagine Bob Dole or George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan setting foot in Harlem for one second, much less going there to talk about the importance of educating black children.

Bush began his New York City leg Tuesday morning by visiting the Sisulu Children's Academy on West 115th Street in Harlem -- named after Walter Sisulu, a close friend and fellow prisoner of Nelson Mandela.

The state's first charter school, Sisulu Children's Academy opened just a month ago, educating 247 students, kindergarten through second grade, with additional grades to be added as the kids advance.

Public charter schools like Sisulu are funded with tax dollars that would have otherwise been allocated to already existing public schools. According to their supporters, charter schools are able to thrive because they don't experience the budgetary and union restrictions that hinder other schools -- not to mention because of the active community involvement often necessary for their formation.

Flanked by Gov. George Pataki and the Rev. Floyd Flake of the Allen A.M.E. Church -- and joined by Bill Bennett, Reagan's secretary of education and Bush Sr.'s drug czar -- Bush listened to testimonials about the school from the school's principal and two of its parents. The most riveting speakers, of course, were four of the 22 children in attendance, clad in blue and white uniforms, sitting politely, who read essays about why they preferred the Sisulu Academy to their previous schools.

"The school is very clean and ... has lots of books so that the children can read, which I already like doing," said Kezia Thompson, a second-grader. "The people of Sisulu Children's Academy are both friendly and patient. I think they love having the children around."

Pataki then introduced Flake, a former Democratic congressman who crossed party lines to endorse the governor's reelection campaign last year. "In the fight last year, when we were working very hard to get the legislation approved that would allow us to create these charter schools," Flake lobbied tirelessly, Pataki said.

After brief remarks, Flake -- who was born in Texas -- then introduced Bush as "my homeboy."

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