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D.C. Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz knows by now that everyone in town thinks she’s a rabble-rouser. That she only exacerbates the fractiousness in an already dysfunctional system of schools governance. That she scorns and scolds at will.

Perhaps that’s why the school-board president is on her best behavior these days. Concerned that her position is in danger of extinction—and that she would be the primary reason for such an outcome—she’s preaching the gospel of cooperation. The new Anticafritz act has surfaced in meetings with Mayor Anthony A. Williams and his staff, D.C. councilmembers, and school-board colleagues in the search for a new D.C. public-schools superintendent.

The traditional Cafritz would scowl at the executive and legislative branches. After all, hiring and firing school superintendents is one of the school board’s most cherished prerogatives. If Cafritz and the board members wanted, they could hire the next schools chief without consulting anyone.

Yet Cafritz and her colleagues know that a closed selection process would be their last selection process. “Peggy’s a smart woman,” says one of Cafritz’s colleagues, referring to her recent turn toward cordiality.

All this handholding hasn’t turned the feisty prez into a pushover. When the board insisted there wasn’t enough money in its budget for raises this year, eventually Williams and the council offered $21 million to help out. Yet D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp insisted on leveraging the money: If the board accepted the dough, it would have to give the mayor and council more budget oversight.

“By each year giving them the money, it reinforces negative behavior,” says Cropp.

Under the current rules, the mayor and council appropriate a lump sum of money for D.C. public schools but cannot specify or restrict specific line-item expenditures. They can’t allocate more money for textbooks—or strip fat in the transportation budget. That’s the responsibility of the school board.

“My preference is for the schools to act as an independent agency,” says Cropp. “If they can’t balance their budget, then they’re not acting as if they’re independent.”

Cafritz and her colleagues rejected Cropp’s condition. They have directed the interim superintendent to make $21 million in cuts and hope that the new spirit of cooperation will make Cropp change her mind and help out the cash-strapped schools.

The mayor and the council didn’t need Cafritz’s blessing to strip the board of its budgetary authority, however. In recent weeks, emissaries from the power-grab group have lobbied Capitol Hill in pursuit of line-item budget authority, which can be achieved through a congressional change to the city’s Home Rule Charter.

Such amendments are hard to come by, and this one is no exception. Cafritz last week bragged about a letter authored by House Appropriations D.C. subcommittee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) and ranking minority member Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). The letter, addressed to Williams, Cropp, and Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation Chair Kevin P. Chavous, states that Congress will not act this session to give the mayor and the council authority to tinker with the schools’ budget.

“I’m really happy about the letter,” Cafritz repeated to LL this week. “I don’t quite know how it came about.”

LL and everyone else in the John A. Wilson Building seems to have an idea: Cafritz.

Over the past few weeks, the school-board president has engaged in her own Hill lobbying campaign against granting the mayor and council more control over the schools budget.

Frelinghuysen and Fattah informed Williams, Cropp, and Chavous that they have reservations about making the change. “Repealing or suspending [the charter]…represents a significant policy change, one that would be made without the benefit of hearings and public debate,” the congressmen wrote.

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HOLY POST

The separation of church and state is just killing Williams-administration aide Carolyn N. Graham. In December 1999, Graham joined the administration as deputy mayor for children, youth, and families. But that job, it seemed, didn’t sate Graham’s spiritual side. So this past July, she announced that she planned to leave the Williams administration this fall to pursue a Catholic University doctorate in the spiritual, ethical, and moral aspects of leadership.

The deputy mayor moonlights as a minister at Israel Baptist Church in Brookland.

Graham’s higher calling sounded like a godsend to some in the city’s social-service community, who have complained that the deputy mayor’s secular leadership has often seemed lackluster. The position’s purview includes the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health, and the Child and Family Services Agency, among others.

The aide’s goodbye notice coincided with those of a few other Williams administration higher-ups: former City Administrator John A. Koskinen and former Deputy Chief of Staff Joy Arnold.

But LL has yet to place “former” in front of Graham’s title.

And apparently, she hopes not to vacate the Wilson Building anytime soon: According to members of the mayor’s Interfaith Council, Graham has applied to become the mayor’s senior adviser on religious affairs—the perfect spot for a pulpit bureaucrat. The council met last week to review finalists, including Graham.

The mayor’s religious-affairs adviser earns about $60,000 a year for the full-time position. Williams’ previous advisers haven’t brought his administration too much heavenly praise: The last one, Carlton N. Pressley, received quite a bit of press attention—and not just from Washington Post Sunday religion writer Bill Broadway: Pressley resigned after news stories exposed a $5,000 donation he had solicited from the company running the now-defunct D.C. Marathon.

“No comment,” replied Graham when LL asked about her possible career change.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

The black Mercedes with the “39” tags looked right in place, parked across the street from former White House counselor C. Boyden Gray’s Georgetown home last Thursday night. Its owner, Ward 7’s Chavous, was the guest of honor at a fundraiser for his 2004 re-election.

A Republican activist and former adviser to President George H. W. Bush, Gray fêted Chavous as a thank you for his support for federally funded school vouchers, for which $13 million was appropriated by Congress. Republican leaders tucked the controversial measure, along with the rest of the District’s budget, into an omnibus spending bill

last week to ensure safe passage of the voucher provision.

The Gray fundraiser surely boosted the Chavous campaign coffers, which contained only $17,600 as of July 31. The maximum contribution for ward races is $500, and the two dozen or so voucher proponents who gathered at Gray’s house Thursday night certainly seem to have that kind of disposable income.

Gray’s guests included conservative radio host Armstrong Williams, as well as a number of prominent local Democrats: former At-Large Councilmember John Ray, local telecom bigwig Pedro Alfonso, Federal City Council Chair Terry Golden, and former Washington Redskin George Starke, who now heads a two-year automotive-training program for at-risk youngsters.

“I don’t have anything to say about it,” Chavous told LL when asked about the fundraiser last week.

The other two sectors of the three-sector D.C. school-voucher political team did not attend the event: Cafritz and Mayor Williams, who was in Belgium.

PRESIDENTIAL POTPOURRI

Last Sunday morning, presidential hopeful Al Sharpton advised D.C. voters who want to pick a winner to buy a Lotto ticket. Not that he advocates gambling, he told the Rev. Wallace Charles Smith and his congregants at Shiloh Baptist Church.

“There are nine folks running, and eight of them are going to lose,” remarked Sharpton, who is one of four Democratic contenders remaining in the D.C. presidential primary. “I’m not the only one risking losing.”

In his 40-minute sermon, Sharpton said his candidacy will raise national awareness of D.C. issues. “They want to give the citizens of Baghdad the right to vote, but they won’t respect the right to vote of the people of the nation’s capital, in Washington, D.C.,” said Sharpton, to a standing ovation. The preacher then turned his remarks to what he called “the celebration of decadence” by African-American youth. He contrasted such icons as Muhammad Ali to those of today. “Now our artists are being arrested on rape and other charges,” remarked the candidate, who in July 2002 stood by recording artist Michael Jackson.

Jackson surrendered to police after accusations of child molestation in Santa Barbara, Calif., last week.

Sharpton told congregants he spoke to Jackson’s brother that morning and reserves judgment until he knows all the facts.

Joe Trippi, campaign manager for presidential hopeful Howard Dean, met with local Democrats Thursday night. Dean has secured endorsements from eight of the D.C. Council’s 11 Dems, including At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson, who announced his decision last week.

Whew, and Dean worried he might not be the candidate for guys with “Save Rent Control” stickers on their station wagons.

A staffer for Ward 1’s Jim Graham announced the Trippi get-together in an e-mail sent to Wilson building staffers.

“This is an inappropriate use of government resources for a political purpose,” Republican At-Large Councilmember David A. Catania quickly wrote back. —Elissa Silverman

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