Straddling the line between columnist and reporter, French has frequently managed to break news while simultaneously delivering harsh critiques against the former Clinkscale-Schoemehl-Jackson-Archibald board majority and its two superintendent picks, William Roberti (Class of '03-'04) and Creg Williams ('05-'06).
Members of American Federation of Teachers Local 420 and their supporters turned often to PubDef.net for confirmation of their theory that St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay "and his cronies" were plotting to dismantle the cash-poor and crippled school system.
Most recently French griped about the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's controversial decision to set up a three-person transitional board to take over the district.
But now French might have lost his street cred.
Not long ago SLPS parent and gadfly Susan Turk -- who took up where Peter Downs left off with his St. Louis Schools Watch opinion sheet on the SLPS -- figured out that PubDef.net doesn't put food on French's table.
In fact, he's been a political consultant for a couple years, and his business, A.D. French & Associates, recently ran Lewis Reed's campaign for the presidency of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
Turk blew a fuse, then fired off an e-mail to Schools Watch and PUBDef readers:
On Thursday, June 14, Antonio French was headquartered in President of the Board of Aldermen Louis Reed's office handing out Reed's press release about his appointment of Richard Gaines to the Transitional School Board. At the bottom of the press release it says, "President Reed and Richard Gaines will be available at 5:30 p.m. for interviews in room 232 of City Hall. Contact Antonio French at (314) 779-9958 to schedule an interview.
When asked, Antonio said that he was not working for the president of the board of aldermen's office but on the political side of things.
The money must be good. But for my money, for Antonio to be on a payroll collaborating with the installation of the Trans Board and then to go off and complain about it in print amounts to highly questionable behavior.
Indeed, the money doesn't look bad: French hauled in $10,800 for his work on the Reed campaign, according to Reed's last finance report.
And yes, French says, he's staying on as Reed's political director and media advisor, handling all requests for interviews from reporters. (He'll be paid out of Reed's campaign war chest, not city coffers.)
French goes on to disclose that he was instrumental in choosing Gaines for the Transitional Board, having vetted Reed's short list of candidates and having helped the aldermanic honcho frame the interviews and the discussion (a fact that's sure to perturb Turk even further).
As for her estimation that French should choose one or the other: politics or punditry?
"My ass," says French. "The thing that Susan is missing -- and really a lot of folks on that side are missing -- is they sometimes don't know when they've got a friend."
With regard to PubDef.net -- whose homepage mission statement asserts that it is "a non-partisan, independent political blog" -- French says, "It's a blog. I try to elevate the art form. I try to bring some aspects of journalism, and some degree of ethics, and you know, relevant, breaking stories. But it's really a blog at the end of the day. Some people can look at it and say it's not really a newspaper, because this reporter is obviously involved in some of the stories. Or you can also look at it as a very unique thing: You're getting to look into a political insider's notebook every day. How often do you get to do that?"