In mid-May, Democrats for Education Reform DC founder and former director Catharine Bellinger defended the campaign fliers the pro-charter school organization sent to mailboxes throughout Ward 4 distorting candidate Janeese Lewis George‘s views on police militarization.
About two weeks before the June 2 primary, Bellinger, who ran the local chapter of the New York-based organization until 2018, responded to a tweet from At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman in which the councilmember accused DFER-DC of spreading false information in the Ward 4 race and called the organization a “reckless attack dog.” (Two days before sending that tweet, Silverman formally endorsed George over incumbent Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd.)
Bellinger responded that during her time leading DFER-DC, the organization supported some of Silverman’s policies, and wrote that she was “disappointed to see you demonize a group simply bc you disagree.”
“I’m a progressive Democrat who supports a strong social safety net AND evidence-based education reforms,” Bellinger tweeted. “I still live in DC, follow DC education & political news, & am a ward 2 voter. I’ve only ever seen @DFER_DC put out the facts and support candidates who share their values.”
George, a Democratic Socialist, declared victory over the moderate Todd in the June 2 primary and currently leads by 11 points. Mail-in ballots are still being counted and the Board of Elections has not certified the results.
On June 4, after Todd conceded his defeat, Bellinger acknowledged in a tweet that “I was wrong and I see that now.” In another tweet responding to an Intercept article about George’s victory, Bellinger wrote that she doesn’t agree with George’s education views, but “I’ve learned a lot about what ‘defund the police’ means over the past week. I regret that I initially thought the mailers were fair.”
In a phone interview with LL, Bellinger declined to further clarify her statements on the record. She left DFER-DC in 2018 for a job in Austin, Texas, with IDEA Public Schools, a charter network, and returned to the District last year. She is not affiliated with DFER-DC and did not play a role in crafting the mailers.
For, Laura Fuchs, a teacher at Woodson High School in Ward 7 and an ardent defender of traditional public schools, Bellinger’s acknowledgement seems too little, too late.
Fuchs, who has taught at Woodson for the past 13 years and serves on the board of the Washington Teachers’ Union, a natural enemy of DFER, estimates that dozens of traditional public schools have been closed since D.C. switched to mayoral control. She believes DFER played a role in those closings
“You damaged black communities, you have fought for policies that continue to damage back and brown communities,” Fuchs says. “Our schools are still at risk of being closed. Public resources are being taken from public schools and being put into private hands that they then fight to make transparent.”
In the weeks leading up to the June 2 primary election, DFER-DC, which Ramin Taheri currently leads, mailed fliers supporting Todd, who the organization endorsed, and attacking George.
One mailer quoted from George’s previous statement that she will “divest from MPD!”
“That’s politician speak for cutting police officers,” the mailer says, leaving off the full context of George’s quote.
In October, George tweeted she will “absolutely divest from MPD and put that money into violence interruption programs. Full stop.”
George previously told LL that she believes the mailers were meant to stoke fear among voters and distorted her support of devoting more resources to public health approaches to crime.
A second mailer says George believes police officers are “one of the greatest dangers to the future of urban life.”
The full quote, taken from her answer to a Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America questionnaire refers to militarization of police departments, not individual police officers.
“The transformation of American police departments, especially the MPD, into military units trained to occupy the very communities promised protection is one of the greatest dangers to the future of urban life,” George’s answer to the questionnaire says.