On a two-hour tour through Wards 3 and 4 earlier this week, LL went on the hunt for political yard signs. It’s an easy way to gauge citizen interest in elections. LL spotted a fair number of John Kerry signs in yards and apartment-house windows, a healthy sprinkling of “Thank You” signs from D.C. Council At-Large Democratic nominee Kwame Brown, and the occasional green monster supporting Ward 4’s Adrian M. Fenty. Yet LL saw very few yard signs for any D.C. school-board candidates.
Funny thing. At almost any community event, D.C. residents list improving public schools as their top priority.
There are a few exceptions, though, such as in the vicinity of Barnard Elementary. On Monday, purple-and-white Dwight E. Singleton signs dotted the street around the school.
That’s an interesting coincidence. Barnard Elementary is also where challenger Victor Reinoso held an endorsement rally Monday afternoon. While Reinoso accepted kudos, incumbent Singleton chatted on his cell phone, hugged Reinoso supporters, and pointed to all the signs across the street.
Yard-sign shenanigans are a sure indication that Election Day is fast approaching. Herewith are LL’s endorsements for contested races in the Nov. 2 general election:
Board of Education District 1
District 1 candidate Jeff Smith touts that he places “Children Over Politics.” In pursuit of this lofty goal, the recording secretary of the Ward 1 Democrats has gone around town collecting endorsements from noted education and child-welfare gurus such as current officeholder Julie Mikuta, Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO head Joslyn Williams, and Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham.
In fact, Graham seems to have made Smith’s election one of his top agenda items since returning from Ethiopia. Sans Haile Selassie garb, His Excellency showed up at a Gertrude Stein Democratic Club meeting last week with an entourage consisting of Smith and four of his council-office staffers.
Graham’s cheerleaders, however, didn’t have much occasion to raise their pompoms: Smith’s pious-sounding slogan doesn’t come with many specifics.
Fellow school-board candidate Keenan Keller has gotten strong endorsements from another set of people: the teachers, parents, and fellow board members whom he’s worked with in his various community commitments. The Mount Pleasant parent has a child at Bancroft Elementary, where he has worked eagerly with the local school-restructuring team, going over the budget line by line with Principal Fay Thompson to save teaching positions. “Mr. Keller has been outstanding,” says Thompson, who jokes that she discouraged Keller from running because she feared it would take his time away from Bancroft.
Those words seem to contradict whispers from D.C.’s chattering class that Keller is difficult to work with and that his only interest in the school board is eventually running for the D.C. Council. “One of the first questions [Graham] asked me is ‘Are you running against me?’” recalls Keller. Keller says he won’t cut short his board term to challenge Graham because “this is more than a two-year job.” LL heartily concurs.
The senior Democratic counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary has also encountered some sentiment that he’s going to exploit his Capitol Hill contacts to run roughshod over the D.C. Home Rule Act.
LL wants to pause on this groundless accusation for a moment. Here’s a Hill staffer who invests in our city not only with a home but also with his child. He decides not to go out of boundary and instead works to improve his neighborhood school. And folks have the gall to question his dedication and motivations in regard to this city?
Connect the arrow for Keenan Keller and you’ll have a friend on the Hill.
Board of Education District 2
Running for the D.C. Board of Education is an odd balancing act. A candidate doesn’t want to appear too smooth and polished, because that would lead people to believe he or she might be using the school board as a trampoline to higher political offices. Yet the nonpartisan position is still attained—at least for a little more than half the board members—by an election, which is inherently political.
Incumbent Singleton makes no bones about his intentions. At one candidates’ forum this fall, Singleton told the crowd that he “was just looking in the newspaper this morning to see if there were any open [political] offices.” Given his oversized ambition, you would think Singleton would do all the things an aspiring politico might think necessary to move up to the next rung: attend school-board meetings, act responsively to community concerns in his wards, and create alliances with other elected officials in this city.
Singleton has done none of these things.
A crowded field of challengers has stepped up to fill the void. Parent activist Hugh Allen has certainly demonstrated a commitment to turning around the city’s troubled school system. Allen remains involved in D.C. public schools, even though all of his children have graduated from high school. Unlike the incumbent, Allen has attracted the support of two of the city’s biggest public-schools advocates: Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson, who will likely chair the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation next year, and At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who currently sits on the committee and has worked tirelessly on schools issues.
Yet many in District 2 seem to have Allen malaise: Four years ago, in another crowded field that split the vote, Allen narrowly lost to Singleton. These folks fear a repeat performance. So they have backed two fresher faces: either Ward 3 educator Laura McGiffert Slover or Ward 4 parent Reinoso.
Each has a set of skills that would benefit D.C. public-school students and parents. Slover has immense experience with education policy, given her day job with the bipartisan education nonprofit Achieve Inc. Though she’s supportive of charter schools, Slover says board members need to focus most of their efforts on improving student performance and facilities in the city’s regular public schools. LL couldn’t agree more. Slover has also brought tremendous energy to her campaign, which always earns LL’s respect.
Reinoso has been an active volunteer for more than a decade in the school system. The bilingual son of Latino parents, he has a business background, has been instrumental in the building of a new Carlos Rosario International Career Center, and wants to push the system toward more public-private partnerships.
Yet he already has the opportunity to do that: In his day job, he works as director of education initiatives for the Federal City Council, a cabal of big-business types who like to play SimCity with downtown D.C. LL believes Reinoso should continue to pursue his agenda at the Federal City Council and push Wizards owner Abe Pollin, Washington Post Chair of the Board Donald E. Graham, and others to do as much as they can to improve the city’s public schools.
So whom should Wards 3 and 4 voters get behind? If LL were to base our endorsement purely on our gut, we would give the nod to Stoddert Elementary parent David A. Jordan. The asset manager for the Public Buildings Service has invaluable facilities experience, the urgency of a parent with a child in the system, and a no-bullshit-because-I-have-no-other-elected-office-aspirations sensibility that would be refreshing on the school board.
Yet Jordan hasn’t seriously campaigned for the seat. He vowed to spend only $500 on his campaign—which LL has no problem with. But he hasn’t assembled a grass-roots organization of volunteers—like, say, fellow Stoddert parents—to make his candidacy viable.
That makes Jordan truly unelectable.
So LL gives the nod to Allen. The longtime activist has come back for another try, which shows his unflinching commitment to making our schools better. And his good relationships with Patterson and Mendelson demonstrate that he’ll work with the D.C. Council and the mayor, instead of seeing these two branches of government as the school system’s biggest adversaries.
Connect the arrow for Hugh Allen and stick with it.
U.S. Shadow Representative
Each ensuing year that LL lives in the District of Columbia, LL gets angrier and angrier about a great injustice: D.C.’s lack of voting representation in Congress.
LL thinks it’s time for D.C. residents to get mad as hell about this, too.
D.C. Statehood Green Party challenger Adam Eidinger certainly has the right rabble-rousing anger. But Eidinger’s lackluster campaign this year for the unpaid lobbying post tells LL that he’s not quite ready for the challenge of channeling our indignation into certifiable votes on the Hill for a floor-voting representative.
Connect the arrow for incumbent Ray Browne and show him your anger, too.
At-Large D.C. Council
LL feels the need to rant about another District injustice: the provision in the D.C. Home Rule Act that reserves two at-large seats on the D.C. Council for members of the nonmajority party.
For all of LL’s new readers: D.C. voters have the chance to elect two at-large members of the D.C. Council on Nov. 2 but can choose only one Democrat.
The intention of Congress, apparently, was to make sure that our decisively Democratic city had some red-state-style tax-cutting social conservatives. Instead, the unjust provision has brought about Republicans who for all intents and purposes act like their Democratic colleagues (incumbent At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz), so-called independents who are really Democrats gaming the system (former At-Large Councilmember Bill Lightfoot), and third-party candidates who are indistinguishable from the majority party anyway (former Statehood leader and At-Large Councilmember Hilda Mason).
This injustice has been challenged and unfortunately upheld by the courts. LL has backed Schwartz before, but it’s time for some civil disobedience.
Connect the arrows for Democrat Kwame Brown and write in fellow Democrat (and primary challenger) Sam Brooks.
Other D.C. Council Races
Ward 2 incumbent Jack Evans deserves another term, even with the knowledge that he’ll be running for mayor for the next two years. Ward 7 residents eager for change should complete the deed by connecting the arrow for Democratic nominee Vincent C. Gray. And in Ward 8, LL once again faces a dilemma: ailing Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. or raving Republican Cardell Shelton?
LL picks unfit over absurd.
President of the United States
At candidates’ forums, during mayoral summits, and in community meetings, D.C. voters chant about the importance of three issues: education, public safety, and quality of life.
For all three of these reasons, LL believes that Sen. Kerry will be D.C.’s best neighbor in the White House. LL could go on and on about how President George W. Bush and his Republican Party have been hostile to the nation’s capital, by imposing federally funded school vouchers on us, attempting to lift our ban on handguns, and governing by fear. But LL has too much respect for our readers.
So LL’s focusing our efforts on at least one or two D.C. voters who might favor Bush and read this column every week, such as Republican Schwartz. The council fashionista opposes federally funded school vouchers, supports the District’s gun-control laws, and loves this city dearly.
Honey, listen to your children: Stephanie Schwartz, Hilary Schwartz, and Doug Levitt. All three are voting for Kerry.
Connect the arrow for Sen. John F. Kerry and deliver our three electoral votes to a very important cause. —Elissa Silverman
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