BOARD STIFF?

School board president candidate Peggy Cooper Cafritz speaks clearly on most educational issues that have come before her during this fall’s campaign. Ask her about teachers, for example, and she’ll propose testing them on their subject areas. On re-establishing the link between schools and their neighborhoods, Cafritz proposes keeping schoolhouse doors open 24 hours a day.

But when you ask Cafritz about her relationship with Mayor Anthony A. Williams, you may want to pull in Dr. Frasier Crane to assist with interpretation.

Attendees at an Oct. 6 forum for school board candidates got a hint of Cafritz’s conflicted feelings about the city’s chief executive. When a woman in the audience hammered the mayor for failing to advance a sound plan for education reform, Cafritz nodded. “I don’t think that our mayor has come up with a cohesive, cogent plan for education,” said the candidate.

Moments later, Cafritz was telling the crowd that, indeed, the mayor was supporting her run for school board president—and then did her best to minimize his role. “You know who I really want to endorse me? I want the parents and children to endorse me,” Cafritz said.

At some point, Cafritz will have to decide whether to embrace Williams or cast him aside. With just a couple of weeks remaining before her Nov. 7 clash with current school board President the Rev. Robert Childs and education activist Larry Gray, Cafritz needs a homestretch strategy. The Washington Post on Oct. 21 penned a strong endorsement of Childs and dismissed Cafritz as a “one-person band.” A world mover when it comes to school board races, the Post will likely repeat its recommendation an edition or two before Election Day.

Cafritz’s political bind doesn’t quite suit a personality accustomed to accomplishing goals by sheer force of will. “In this race, I have to be a politician,” says the candidate, “but I sure don’t have to act like one.”

Thus spoke Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, and countless other outsider “un-politicians” whose campaigns ended in the same spot: the also-ran column.

Cafritz’s determination to shun conventional politics is defining her campaign—often to her detriment vis-à-vis the D.C. voters. Sample, if you can handle the squinting, her roadside campaign posters. Cafritz printed her entire name—all 18 letters of it—on the signs. The result is a fine-print flier indecipherable to passing motorists, who might suppose it advertises a lost cat or an efficiency apartment for rent.

The Cafritz team has had no more luck broadcasting the message that its candidate can unite disparate school factions behind her educational vision. Childs supporters have painted Cafritz as a divisive force likely to perpetuate the school board’s history of feuding and petty politics—a characterization that showed up in the Post editorial. When faced with such allegations, Cafritz reminds her interlocutors of her constituency: “I won’t make the best decisions, perhaps, for business, for unions, for administrations, or for politicians, but I will for the kids,” she says.

That’s excellent rhetoric, especially for an anti-politician.

Still, Cafritz’s relations with her putative allies in the Williams administration hint that she’s cut out for the role of renegade board member in the mold of At-Large Councilmember David Catania rather than that of a consensus-seeker like council Chairman Linda Cropp. In recent weeks, Cafritz has brushed off offers of help from the Williams folks—a decision that mayoral staffers quietly attribute to her headstrong management style. Cafritz insists that she has to “mesh” the various personalities in her operation and defies anyone to impugn the diversity of her campaign staff. “I have [Mayor-for-Life] Marion [S. Barry Jr.] people, Sharon [Pratt Kelly] people, and John Ray people. I have people who have worked in every campaign,” says the candidate.

To be sure, several Williams loyalists—including staffers Elena Temple and Mark Jones, not to mention Ward 8 politico Phil Pannell—play leading roles in the Cafritz effort. But Cafritz’s unwillingness to fully embrace Williams at campaign stops has filtered up to the 11th floor. “The most important thing is that nine people will be on the board,” says mayoral Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer. “Only five of them will be elected.”

In other words, we’ll find our allies elsewhere.

Omer & Co. certainly can’t wonder why Cafritz and other local pols aren’t exulting at the prospect of a mayoral endorsement. After all, the last politician to cozy up with the mayor was named Charlene Drew Jarvis. Another liability: Forty-nine percent of D.C. voters on June 27 voted against the Williams-backed school board referendum. A good chunk of that constituency may well protest the new configuration by dissing the mayor’s endorsees.

The mayor’s political operatives, however, have fashioned an alternative model, also known as the Brazil paradigm. When At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil last spring appeared in danger of losing his seat to a dithering Barry, he called upon Williams, in whose favor he had voted almost reflexively on the council. The mayor virtually appointed Brazil’s campaign staff and otherwise padded the candidate’s events with his cabinet heads and other hangers-on. The whole production scared Barry—and all others—out of the primary race, allowing Brazil to do what he does best: look handsome and make meaningless proclamations, all on the way to another four years on the council.

Of course, the bargain required Brazil to all but surrender control of his campaign and pledge four more years of blind mayoral fealty—a set of concessions that wouldn’t exactly appeal to Cafritz. “I’ll never commit to doing everything that anyone tells me to do,” she says.

THE GREEN MACHINE

At-large D.C. Council candidate Arturo Griffiths wants to shake up city politics, and it’s hard to doubt his sincerity. Last spring, for example, Griffiths led a coalition of rent-control activists and low-income-housing tenants in shouting down Mayor Williams at a Ward 1 community meeting on the Columbia Heights eviction crisis. At Griffiths’ beckoning, the crowd chanted, “We want the mayor! We want the mayor!” And when Williams finally showed up, Griffiths nearly browbeat him into making a pledge to “stop the evictions” before he could address the audience. The mayor ended up begging for floor time.

Six months later, Griffiths is taking his anti-gentrification agenda to a broader and less receptive audience: the city’s 340,000 registered voters. As the nominee of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, Griffiths is butting heads with two at-large incumbents, Democrat Brazil and Republican Carol Schwartz, as well as three low-profile hopefuls. And of all the candidates in the at-large race, as well as the four ward races, Griffiths speaks most passionately on behalf of the poor, a constituency whose interests get less and less attention from the reform-minded council.

For all but the last two years of home rule, the council consisted of old-line, big-spending liberals trying to fashion the country’s most impermeable social safety net. What they ended up creating, however, was a bunch of poorly managed programs that often screwed the poor and sent the city into insolvency. The 1998 elections delivered the backlash—a council dominated by politicians devoted to tax cuts and constituent services for their well-heeled residents.

In his campaign outings, Griffiths is trying to find the people left on the sidelines. And in the boom economy of the ’00s, that’s harder than naming even one other member of the Statehood Green Party. As he greeted shoppers last Saturday at Eastern Market, for example, Griffiths had trouble selling his planks on affordable housing and universal health coverage to yuppies in search of overpriced tomatoes. “If they make D.C. General the best hospital in the city,” Griffiths told a shopper, “then everyone can go there.”

Although Griffiths may not wow voters with his issues, he schmoozes a crowd as well as any D.C. politico since Harry Thomas. A Panamanian immigrant who has lived in D.C. for 30 years, the candidate alternately addresses potential voters as “señor,” “mama,” or “bro,” an appellation that he applies to men of all races. “I call the black guy ‘brother,’ and I call the white guy ‘brother,’” says Griffiths. “People need to feel good about

themselves.”

To win a seat on Nov. 7, Griffiths will have to make more than 70,000 voters feel good about themselves, which amounts to a whole lot of proselytizing for a guy whose party has 3,800 members. In the 1996 election, Brazil reaped 107,000 votes and Schwartz 74,000. (In at-large races, the top two vote-getters each earn a seat.)

Gripping and grinning with that many people is impossible for any politician. But as gentrification sweeps from Dupont Circle to Logan Circle to Shaw and beyond, it is displacing not only working-class folks but young professionals as well, who may someday form a natural constituency for Griffiths and his party.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

District 1 school board candidate Harvey Jones wouldn’t need to campaign if the Board of Elections and Ethics allowed candidates to post their résumés on the ballot. At each candidates forum, it seems, Jones reveals a new set of career accomplishments that qualify him for a school board seat. Last week, for example, he said that he’d left a post at IBM and started a reading clinic at Pride Inc.

But that’s just the tip of his pedagogical experience. Although now on leave from D.C. Public Schools, he says he has taught classes at the high school, junior high, and elementary levels. And just in case you get the impression that Jones is a staid chalk-on-flannel hack, consider that he has lectured at 35 universities, in a tour that included a stop in Lagos, Nigeria, to “train middle management on how to maximize port facilities.” From there, he went on to the South Pacific Islands to lecture on training and employment programs benefiting Samoans. And somewhere along the way, he “developed new business opportunities in the eastern region and the Caribbean.”

The Jones lecture tour presumably drew on experience he gained during his seven years managing facilities at the D.C. public schools. “I’ve been in every school-system building,” boasts Jones.

Jones’ résumé states that his “accomplishments in the U.S. Government includes [sic], but are not limited to” projects with the Departments of Transportation, Defense, State, Commerce, and Health and Human Services, as well as the National Cancer Institute. Good thing he withheld the exhaustive inventory. The list of private-sector outposts is only a bit shorter and includes “the recruitment and hiring of college science and technical professionals for a Fortune 500 corporation.”

LL suggests that Jones be given an extra two-minute allotment at candidates forums to chronicle his bottomless career. That way, the full glory of his past wouldn’t have to trickle out bit by bit. Last week, for example, he leaked another gem at an endorsement forum of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club: “I was a Boy Scout and an Explorer Scout.”

Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose exists to oppose things. She opposes social services organizations in her ward, along with gas stations and roller-skating rinks. Now she’s venting against…wall signs.

In an Oct. 13 letter to Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Acting Director Carlynn Fuller, Ambrose rails against a set of Sept. 22 regulations that authorize companies to paint advertisements on exposed walls outside of residential or historic districts. Citing a city “tradition of banning billboard advertising,” Ambrose writes, “[I]t is unconscionable for our government to sanction such economic exploitation of our City’s visual, cultural, and aesthetic environment through installation of these billboard-like wall signs. I strongly urge that not [sic] such permits be issued and that these rules be rescinded promptly.”

Tough language notwithstanding, Ambrose has more credibility in opposing gas stations than wall signs. That’s because her very own Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee reviewed the wall-sign regulations over the summer and made no comments on the package. In a rebuttal to Ambrose’s letter, Ward 4 Councilmember Jarvis noted that “every proper body of the District of Columbia government” had an opportunity to revise the wall-sign rules.

Says Ambrose: “I simply did not see it….Now I have to figure out how to undo it all. We have to decide if we want [Pennsylvania Avenue] to look like Times Square.”

Jarvis further attacks another argument advanced by Ambrose in opposition to the signs—namely, that they will siphon off revenues collected by the city from advertisements at bus shelters. Noting that there may be only 30 or 40 locations for wall signs in the city—as opposed to more than 400 bus shelters—Jarvis calls her colleague’s analysis of the advertising market “wholly inapplicable.”

That’s quite a charitable characterization. CP

Got a tip for Loose Lips? Call (202) 332-2100, Ext. 302, 24 hours a day. And visit Loose Lips on the Web at www.washingtoncitypaper.com.