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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Inside Story of the Firing of Beth Butler

I have spoken to a couple of current and former ACORN insiders and here's how they characterize the firing of Beth Butler. First, Beth Butler is the common law wife of Wade Rathke, the long time former CEO of ACORN. Butler was the head of the New Orleans branch of ACORN. That branch rivaled the New York branch, currently run by the Kest brothers, as the most profitable and most powerful. She was kept on after Rathke himself was removed following his dismissal in the aftermath of the revelations that he covered up his brother's embezzlement.

Most recently this story started with this comment from Vanessa Gueringer, chair of ACORN's 9th ward office in New Orleans.

In New Orleans, meaningful conversations must be conducted in a certain way, ACORN leader Vanessa Gueringer said.

"Here, we want to talk, we want you to listen, and then we want to hear what you think," she said. "And you need to take time for that type of conversation with people from this neighborhood and others like it," she said, her red ACORN shirt standing out against the sea of green weeds and grass behind her.

This relatively innocuous statement wasn't received well by Bertha Lewis, the CEO, and the power base in New York. According to a source, Lewis wanted Butler to both publicly and privately rebuke Gueringer. It appears that hasn't happened, certainly not publicly. Within 24 hours of this statement being made, Butler was removed. Lewis also said she was going to New Orleans to deal personally with Gueringer.

Publicly, Lewis said the firing came as a result of mismanagement of Louisiana ACORN in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Meanwhile, Butler said that the firing had to do with her refusal to remove certain members of a land trust in her area.

My sources tell me the firing is borne out of a rivalry between the New York office and the office in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. The offices on the East Coast have had a rivalry with those in New Orleans and the surrounding areas for years. This isn't unusual and often happens in an organization as large as ACORN. In fact, many from the New Orleans office took it personally when Rathke was removed and even more personally when he was replaced by Lewis, who came from the New York office.

Lewis, and the power base in New York, have been looking to consolidate power in the New York office. Keep in mind that Wade Rathke was located in New Orleans and so the power had always been centered from there. So, one placed source tells me that in their opinion Lewis has been looking for an opportunity to remove Butler for a while. The opportunity appears to have presented itself here. So, they see this as one of a series of steps in moving ACORN's power from New Orleans where it was to New York where it is now. (Lewis came from New York's office)

The real story out of all this is Wade Rathke himself. It appears the big winner in the fallout over the downfall of ACORN is Rathke. He currently runs the local SEIU in New Orleans and Community Organizations International. That's the former ACORN International. He changed the group's name in May of this year. At the time it was unclear why he changed the name, but now it appears to be a very forward thinking move. With ACORN's brand totally destroyed, he was ahead of the curve in re branding his own group. Meanwhile, you can bet that Butler will land on her feet with Wade.

Of course, with ACORN going down, there's going to be all sorts of talent soon looking for work. Meanwhile, Butler will be viewed as having stood up for the Louisiana folks against the East Coast folks. That will give her all sorts of credibility when she likely inevitably begins to recruit the best from that area to Community Organizations International.

Rathke, for his part, has even more opportunities internationally than he did in the U.S. Furthermore, it was never clear just how much control he gave up. ACORN and its affiliates had hundreds of bank accounts. It was never disclosed to the board which he controlled and which he gave up control of. So, it's very possible that Rathke still controls the bank accounts of the most important ACORN affiliates.

In fact, in less than a year and half, it appears that Rathke has totally reinvented himself. He removed himself from a tarnished brand. He focused internationally, which he's told several close associates was always a goal. He left all his former rivals at ACORN to fight over power of a group that was dying anyways. Meanwhile, in its death, he'll be able to raid the best talent from there. I was told to expect the first American Community Organizations International office to open in New Orleans and either Butler or Rathke himself will likely run it. He'll likely go after many of its previous funders. Some people have wondered just how ACORN would reconstitute itself in the wake of all these scandals. What's playing out with Wade Rathke may in fact be the answer to that. So, if you're looking for relevant stories on ACORN, the real story to follow is the development of Community Organizations International.


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