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Some D.C. voters answering their telephones this past weekend might have been left with the impression that Ward 8 Councilmember Marion S. Barry Jr. is keenly interested in who serves on the D.C. Board of Education.
In a recorded message, Barry was ostensibly expressing support for Jacque Patterson, a Barry ally and candidate for the board seat representing Wards 7 and 8 now held by William Lockridge.
But those who received the Oct. 28 robocall featuring Barry got very little information about the affable Patterson. Instead, Barry fired off a strong dose of Lockridge-bashing. Barry posited that during Lockridge’s eight-year tenure on the school board, “[a]lmost everything in our system has gotten worse.”
Pretty standard fare in this season of political attacks, but Barry wasn’t done. He closed with this vicious sign off: “A vote for William Lockridge is a vote for bad schools.”
Barry’s sharp rhetoric wasn’t forged out of concern for children. He sees Lockridge as the most likely challenger to his Ward 8 throne in 2008. After Barry, the school-board member is the most visible elected official in the ward.
The ferocity of Barry’s call has Lockridge convinced that his former mentor sees him gaining in the rearview mirror. He’s the latest D.C. pol to learn firsthand that Barry’s loyalty to allies is fleeting. “When [Barry] got out of jail, it was me, my uncle [Calvin Lockridge], and [former Ward 8 Councilmember] Sandy Allen who helped him make his return to politics,” says Lockridge. “The only reason he would make statements like this is politics.”
Lockridge seems to have forgotten he’s running against Patterson and has joined Barry in a preview of the 2008 D.C. Council race. “This is about something other than kids and education,” says Lockridge. “[Barry] wants to eliminate a potential opponent….People in Ward 8 should be outraged with him playing politics with our kids.”
The whole episode seems foolish to LL. Sure, conniving pols like Barry would never pass on a chance to drag down a challenger—even if it makes the candidate he supports look like an ass.
But Patterson should have known any campaign cash spent in concert with Barry was intended to help only one politician: Marion Barry.
BOBB’S BIG BUCKS
In the 2000 general election, the first for a newly created citywide office of D.C. School Board president, Peggy Cooper Cafritz spent $267,183 to defeat the Rev. Robert Childs, who raised $20,179 for the contest.
Cafritz basically bought the post. More than $200,000 of her war chest was drawn from her own bank account. Issues about influence-buying were largely absent from that quaint inaugural campaign.
Not this time.
Former city administrator and presumed front-runner Robert Bobb has banked $245,920 for his campaign to succeed Cafritz. A bunch of his cash flew in from out of town, and a good chunk came from developers. He has deployed the riches by hiring top-flight consultants and plastering the city with signs, and he’ll be funding a robust get-out-the-vote effort.
Each of Bobb’s rivals for the presidency is taking shots at his developer-fueled campaign.
For school-board Vice President Carolyn Graham, Bobb’s massive stash of cash represents a sullying of the board’s role in the community. “School-board races and school boards are places where the public, parents, and even grandparents who are connected to children should be very much involved,” she says. “You raise this kind of money, you distort this process,” says Graham. “You take it out of the hands of the public and put it into the hands of those who can manipulate the public and power.”
Another Bobb rival for the seat, Timothy Jenkins, has a more sinister take on Bobb’s over-the-top money stash. “It doesn’t smell right,” he says, adding that the developers are interested in Bobb’s candidacy because of the 2.3 million square feet of excess school property that might come onto the market over the next few years. Bobb has publicly stated he supports keeping those properties as revenue-generators for the school system.
LL is no fan of candidates who pile up the big bucks from outside the District or from companies with huge stakes in decisions made by government bodies. But the prospect of a Bobb candidacy—and what it could mean for the office of school-board president—is too enticing to shy away from.
The question to Bobb, however, is: Why bother?
First of all, the board president makes $15,000—not a lot for a man who left an $185,000 salary. He recently purchased a home in Crestwood for $1,350,000, according to city records. Bobb has already indicated he’ll be looking for work after the election.
Money aside, Bobb simply cannot afford to lose if he hopes to have any future in city politics. From the moment he began huddling with the education crowd the political commentariat has predicted a Bobb win. But the prestige of the job is commensurate with its salary. The office of school-board president is so low on the political hierarchy that every experienced pol in town is speculating on what Bobb is really up to.
One theory has Bobb positioning himself to run for mayor in 2010.
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Another conspiracy theory has Bobb doing the bidding of the Federal City Council, which has at times supported privatization of the school system. “That’s a lie,” says Bobb. “I’m not sponsored by anyone.”
And what of all this talk about a mayoral schools takeover? In recent weeks, soon-to-be-mayor Adrian Fenty has spoken openly of annexing the school system. Would Bobb stand for that?
No. He’s already fighting a mayoral takeover, arguing that improvements in student achievement in cities with elected school boards have actually been more dramatic than the often-cited efforts in New York City and Chicago, where the mayors took charge.
Graham hasn’t made a big impact as she has essentially filled in for a receding Cafritz for the past six months. Jenkins comes across as an intelligent and committed man but is too quick to offer simplistic answers to the city’s special education debacle. The fourth major candidate, Laurent Ross, should be commended for trying to share his experience of sending his four children to the DCPS, but he lacks the gravitas and intense Bobb demeanor necessary to put fear in the heart of Superintendent Clifford Janey.
Veteran D.C. Public Schools watchers think if Bobb wins he may end up a frustrated man. “He’s going to learn that he doesn’t have a lot of power to fix problems,” laments education guru Mary Levy, “but the board gets all the blame.”
•Councilmember Barry has just lost another chief of staff—the second such desertion in six months and a reminder that being the right-hand person to the District’s most famous councilmember can be a bit overwhelming.
On Friday, E. Faye Williams packed up her things and left the Barry offices, citing a disconnect between her clout in the office and her around-the-clock duties. “I did not have authority commensurate with the responsibility I had,” Williams says, adding she had been considering a change for “quite some time.”
But sources say her departure caught Barry and other council staff by surprise. “I did not plan to leave on Friday,” says Williams. “It’s just I made the decision.”
Only six months ago, then–Chief of Staff Linda Greene bailed on Barry, having tired of walking point for him after his failed drug test and his guilty plea to charges that he failed to file taxes for several years.
Williams is ready for a job that has a better cost–benefit ratio. “I don’t want to put in long hours, stress myself out, and at the end of the day say, ‘What did I accomplish today?’”
In an Oct. 30 statement, Barry indicated that Williams resigned in order to “spend more time in her role as President of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.” The release characterized her resignation as “mutually agreed upon.”
Funny thing: The Barry statement came straight from Williams’ council e-mail address, yielding the impression that the departure was indeed orderly and amicable. The same message noted that Barry’s legislative director, Keith Perry, would be the new chief of staff.
Perry might be wise to consider Williams’ analysis of the job: “There comes a time when you have to choose between [Barry] and having a life of your own,” she says.
LOOSE LIPS’ GENERAL ELECTION ENDORSEMENTS
November elections in D.C. are a lot like the Globetrotters vs. the Generals. No contest, that is. Even so, LL’s civic gene must kick in and make endorsements in selected races.
At-Large D.C. Council
Voters get to choose two, and independent David Catania should be everyone’s non-Democrat choice. Catania might have toned things down a bit, but he still possesses enough crankiness, combined with smarts and cojones, to merit four more years.
Ward 3 D.C. Council
For some reason, the political chatterers want to make a race of the contest between Republican Theresa Conroy and Democrat Mary Cheh, mostly because Conroy is the latest darling of the NIMBY crowd that opposes development in Tenleytown. Conroy is a bona fide anti-abortion Republican. Let her take the NIMBY case to the zoning commission. Stick with Cheh.
Ward 6 D.C. Council
Independent Will Cobb has run a spirited campaign against Democrat Tommy Wells. He might have even worked off the frustration over forgetting to file his petition signatures to get on the Democratic primary ballot. The latest legend has Cobb intentionally missing the filing deadline so he could run as an independent. Draw the line for Tommy.
Only Bobb possesses the gravitas to serve up serious counter arguments to a Fenty schools-takeover plan. Bobb’s forceful presence, and his belief that the abysmal state of many D.C. schools is an injustice, offers the best hope for accelerating the glacial pace of Janey’s reform efforts.
District 3 School Board (Wards 5 and 6)
Newcomer Lisa Raymond strikes LL as the kind of education expert and realist who can make an impact on the board without a lot of political bullshit. Unlike activist Marc Borbely, who was a leading figure in the school-modernization debate, Raymond would be able to serve relatively baggage-free. Besides, who can resist electing a member to the board who plans to enroll her twins in a D.C. school?
District 4 School Board(Wards 7 and 8)
Jacque Patterson is a nice, able guy who exaggerates his record a bit. William Lockridge had nearly eight years to prove he’s not just a parochial rabble-rouser. He didn’t. Despite Barry’s support, Patterson deserves a shot.
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