GREENWICH — James O’Keefe grinned as he strode to the microphones outside the Cos Cob School on Wednesday night, ready to taunt the mainstream media and accept the fulsome praise of Leora Levy, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
A liberal had been exposed. A hidden-camera had caught an assistant principal from Cos Cob boasting over drinks in a restaurant to a woman about how he screened against conservatives in hiring teachers. Devout Catholicism was one red flag.
By the end of the day, the assistant principal, Jeremy Boland, was suspended from the elementary school, at least two investigations seemed certain, condemnations rained down from elected officials of both parties, and conservatives had an I-told-you-so moment about politicization in schools.
Project Veritas had struck again.
Run by O’Keefe with an annual budget that recently topped $20 million, the conservative organization delights in embarrassing liberals and taunting the press with quick-cut video exposés that critics say often rely on recordings that are manipulated or presented out of context.
Project Veritas, a non-profit based in Mamaroneck, N.Y., was recently implicated by federal prosecutors in the theft of a diary belonging to the daughter of President Joe Biden, according to The New York Times. Authorities executed a search warrant at the homes of several Project Veritas employees, including O’Keefe, the Times reported.
“Journalism matters,” said O’Keefe, who was invited to speak by Levy. To the gathered press, he added, “This is real investigative reporting. And if all you guys were doing your jobs, there wouldn’t be a need for people like me.”
As is his practice, O’Keefe declined to answer questions about how an obscure elementary school administrator had come to be a target of Project Veritas or share the context for what led to seemingly damning admissions of intolerance and bigotry.
“If you’re lying, cheating, stealing, scamming the taxpayers or lying to the parents of Connecticut, we will find you, we will film you and then we’ll make you famous,” O’Keefe said.
On the video, a woman off camera is heard praising Boland for shaping the faculty who will shape the children of Cos Cob.
“And then later down the line, they’re gonna vote Democratic, and you will have done a great service to our country,” she says.
Boland nods as he sips a drink.
“I hope,” he replies.
Vouching for O’Keefe on Wednesday night was Levy, the surprise winner of the Republican primary for U.S. Senate following her endorsement by Donald J. Trump, a public fan of O’Keefe’s style and provocation.
“I have always known James to be an honest man and in his many cases against him, he’s won every case against him,” Levy said before the rally-cum-news conference outside the Cos Cob School.
Jayme Stevenson, the former Darien first selectwoman who is the GOP nominee for Congress in the 4th District, said she did not need more context to know that Boland’s conversations over drinks were objectionable. She saw no manipulation.
“It didn’t look to me like his arm was being twisted,” Stevenson said. “He seemed to be enjoying himself.”
One after another, Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, Congress, state Senate and the state House took turns praising O’Keefe for exposing what they say conservative parents intuitively already knew.
“He has proven what many of us suspect, that there is bias and bigotry that we cannot tolerate inside our school system,” said Peter Sherr, a former school board member running for the state House. “I’d like to think that it’s isolated to Mr. Boland. After serving 12 years on the board of education, I can say with a high degree of confidence that Mr. Boland is not alone.”
State Rep. Kim Fiorello, R-Greenwich, chided the press.
“So you are all here because this is bombshell breaking news to you,” Fiorello said. “But this is not bombshell breaking news to so many parents in Greenwich and parents across our state, who for months have been sounding the alarm. You have been ignoring them.”
Unclear was the actual extent of Boland’s influence over hiring as an assistant principal, or whether Boland was trying to impress a woman on a date.
Off to the side stood Fred Camillo, Greenwich first selectman. He had already denounced the comments made by Boland and promised an investigation, most likely by outside counsel. But he did not address the crowd. Camillo said he was confident that an independent investigation could restore public confidence.
“There will be a silver lining here,” he said. “We have to find it.”
The 12-minute video story narrated by O’Keefe used snippets of what appeared to be at least three conversations, all over drinks at a bar or restaurant, to make the case the educator was bigoted and biased against conservatives.
In one video exchange, Boland talks to his companion about the influence of parents.
“Do we work for the parent or do we work for the kid?” Boland asks.
“You tell me,” the woman says.
“We work for the kid,” he replies.
Sen. Ryan Fazio, R-Greenwich, said the exchange was most damning.
“There is no place for political indoctrination and radicalism in our classroom, or elsewhere in our government,” Fazio said. “The greatest offense that we saw on that 12 minute video was without a doubt, the notion that our public education system does not answer to parents.”
The video was posted Tuesday. On Wednesday, the superintendent, Toni Jones, emailed staff and parents about it.
“Late last evening, we were made aware of a video that had gone viral with a current administrator from Cos Cob School,” she wrote. “We intend to do a full investigation and until that time, we will not make any public statements. We ask that you respect the investigation process during this time.”
The office later announced Boland had been suspended.
Others were quick with denunciations, including Levy’s opponent, U.S. Sen Richard Blumenthal.
“This country was built on religious tolerance,” Blumenthal said on Twitter. “Religious discrimination is inexcusable and illegal. Of course I support a full investigation.”
“Discrimination of any kind has no place in our community or in our school system,” said U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District. “I have full faith this matter will be investigated thoroughly by the State Department of Education and Greenwich Public Schools and that all parties will be held accountable.”
“Discrimination of any kind has no place in Connecticut, especially in our public schools. This is not aligned with our Connecticut values,” Gov. Ned Lamont said. “The Connecticut State Department of Education is aware of the incident, has been in contact with Greenwich Public School administrators, and is monitoring the situation’s progress.”
Chris Healy, the executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference, said the state needs to do more.
“We are disappointed that it’s just monitoring. This deserves an investigation,” he said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Stefanowski, who did not attend the news conference here, said he was “deeply troubled and, frankly, angry” by the video.
Lamont already had issued his statement when Stefanowski challenged him to “speak out and denounce this kind of garbage in our schools immediately, even if it offends his far-left base. When I’m governor, this radical behavior in our public schools will not stand.”
Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, the Democratic nominee for comptroller, said Project Veritas has “a very dubious and highly questionable reputation and uses very sort of devious tactics to get these videos,” but the comments were indefensible and worthy of investigation.
“But I think it is a mistake for anybody to jump to conclusions and say, ‘Here is the smoking gun,’ that this is the widespread belief of the predominant majority of educators in Connecticut,” Scanlon said.
House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said in an emailed statement that “parents deserve to know whether the attitudes displayed in the video lie solely with this school administrator or whether there is a systemic issue at hand.”