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Harlem impresario enters fraught charter school political scene

Lopez-Pierre, center, and his family, in a photo sent out in the new PAC's introductory emails. A Harlem realtor known for founding a controversial social club and playing a role in a high-profile loan dispute is now entering the world of charter school politics. Thomas Lopez-Pierre, a charter school parent, thinks Harlem's political leaders don't sufficiently support the charter schools that dot their districts. So he has formed a political action committee to help finance candidates who would. The committee, called the Harlem Charter School Parents PAC, made its debut this week in a letter to charter school advocates outlining its political goals: to raise $250,000 over the next year to support candidates in Harlem's three 2012 City Council races and local Democratic Party district leader races. The group also said it would find volunteers to help those candidates get out the vote. Lopez-Pierre, whose son is finishing first grade at Harlem's New York French American Charter School, said he and two other parents aim to create a new unified voice for parents in a community that has served as the front line of the political wars over charter school expansion. (Lopez-Pierre declined to name the other parents but said their children attend Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academy and one of the Harlem Success Academy charter schools.) "Elected officials only respond to two things: votes and money. Our goal is to elect officials that support charter schools," he said. "My son is in first grade, and he's going to be in a charter school for at least 10 years. This is not about an election cycle. It's about transforming Harlem and expanding school choice."