As all of us who live in the area know, and most other people can figure out, the Washington, DC Democratic Primary is the de facto general election for that jurisdiction’s elected officials. Even the predominantly-white Ward 3 is heavily Democratic.
That said, I wonder if the predominantly-white residents of that ward have learned their lesson from Marion Barry’s surprising 1994 DC Primary win, after he had served time for drug possession. I discussed the Ward 3 voter apathy extensively in a recent article about the former mayor’s recent misadventures.
Let me make clear that this article is in no way an exhortation for the Caucasian voters of Washington, DC to get off their duffs and vote. I no longer live in the District of Columbia and do not have a stake in this election.
The favored candidate of DC’s white population for mayor of the city is the incumbent, Adrian Fenty. He certainly seems less corrupt than Mr. Barry or his place-holding successor, Sharon Pratt Kelly, but that is clearly not the issue here.
Fenty’s opponent is DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray. His record as a councilman and, prior to that, an administrator is not particularly noteworthy, one way or the other, but that is not the issue here. The issue is Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the DC public school system, period.
Washington, DC has never been noted for its excellent public schools. In fact, they have been among the worst in the nation at many points throughout the system’s history. To say that reform was an unnecessary concept would be to bury your head neck-deep into the nearest available sandbox.
To address that issue (on which he vigorously campaigned, the first time out), Mr. Fenty appointed Ms. Rhee, a Korean-American, to the aforementioned post. She certainly did shake things up.
The appointment has been one of the most controversial ones in the history of the city. Part of that controversy is that the lady is, as I said, a Korean-American. Keep in mind that racism is not just a malady of Caucasians. It affects all people, and many citizens of this predominantly-black city found that in itself to be offensive.
But one race card does not make an entire hand. Add to the mix that Michelle Rhee may be the only public official in the city who is more arrogant than Mr. Fenty himself. (As Washington’s City Paper pointed out in a recent study, Adrian Fenty is never going to win any prizes for congeniality).
Another card is that the Chancellor has made a lot of enemies with her perfunctory firings, involving over 260 teachers and administrators. Add to that, a good measure of disingenuousness, when she pointed out that she had fired teachers for beating and sexual contact with students, as wall as chronic absenteeism, clearly implying that most of all of the dismissed teachers fell into those categories, when, in reality, it was a very, very small number.
Add to that, in addition to displeasing the city’s black population, for good reasons or bad, she has gone out of her way to antagonize the Latino residents by firing the popular principal of the city’s very successful, bi-lingual Oyster School, located in the primarily Hispanic Adams-Morgan neighborhood.
And, most recently, she showed her absolute contempt for the law (The Hatch Act, which forbids government employees from campaigning for elected officials and is very necessary for the employees’ protection) by hitting the stump for the man who hired her, as, she claimed, “a private citizen.” What a crock that was. First of all, Michelle, you become a “private citizen,” only by resigning your job, not just by mouthing the words. Second, I wonder how much speaking time the Fenty campaign would have afforded some homeless guy named Willie Lee Johnson, if he wanted to make a speech for the mayor. Not saying there is such a guy or that he would want to speak on the subject even if there was, just a hypothetical.
Yet for all her drawbacks, Michelle Rhee is trying to do something that needs to be done in a substantial manner. It would be unwise to imagine the Teachers Union that opposes her (and, by extension, Fenty) is entirely without blemish in this fracas. Although the thing is as one-sided as any political ad you will see, this ad states the case pretty eloquently.
For all his drawbacks and accomplishments, then, Adrian Fenty will succeed or fail in the Primary (and he’s running behind) based on what the voters think of Michelle Rhee. Vincent Gray has only had to steer clear of scandal and substantial charges of incompetence to receive the effect to the voters’ opinion of Ms. Rhee, whom he has had the political good sense to oppose.
Michelle Rhee has gone on record that she will resign if Mr. Gray wins the Primary. If that does come to pass, I’m quite sure that Vincent Gray will be only-too-willing to accept her resignation with the usual “deep regret.”
The City Paper
Courtland Milloy, The Washington Post