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Michelle Rhee Resigns

By now we all know that Almost Mayor Vince Gray and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have amicably broken up and decided that Gray gets to keep the kids. Rhee said at a news conference this morning at a swanky ballroom of the Mayflower Hotel that she’s “heartbroken” to leave, but feels that it is in the city’s best interest that she go.

Rhee said that she and Gray decided together that “the best way to keep the reforms going is for this reformer to step aside.”

When asked about her future, Rhee joked about spending some more time in Sacramento (where her soon-to-be-husband Kevin Johnson is mayor) and said that her goal is to find ways of “serving America’s children.” Probably at the exact moment she was saying those words, poof, her new website, twitter account, and facebook page appeared. Clearly, Rhee’s got big plans, and her resignation announcement today can be viewed as a graduation ceremony to bigger and better things on the national stage (not that she wasn’t already a national figure, but you get the idea).

But this here blog is about local politics. So what does this mean for a guy who got elected by a bunch of people who don’t like Rhee, but wants to win over the folks who loved Rhee?

At first blush, the whole event looked like good politics. In contrast to the awkward scene outside of Rhee’s first post-election meeting with the Almost Mayor, today’s press-conference was nicely choreographed, designed to convey an image of stability that is crucial for Gray (and pretty important for Rhee’s onward employment prospects, too).

Kaya Henderson

Likewise, Gray’s decision to keep Rhee’s senior-level staff in place for the rest of the school year and make her deputy Kaya Henderson interim chancellor also looks smart. Rhee-haters get their scalp while Rhee-lovers get a nice consolation prize: Rhee-like reforms, just without Rhee.

The soon-to-be ex chancellor was effusive in her praise for Henderson.

“So, one of the great things about the transition as we have planned it is that all of the reform can continue as planned,” Rhee said, adding that “this will be an absolutely seemless transition” because Henderson and the “entire” senior management team are staying in place.

Gray, for his part, said for the 1,453th time that he fully supports school reform and has no plans to be a micro-managing mayor.

All of which begs the question, and NBC 4’s Tom Sherwood asked it, why Rhee needed to leave?

“If you’re keeping Kaya Henderson, and you’re keeping the senior staff, and you’re keeping the … policies in place, why not keep Michelle Rhee,” Sherwood asked.

Gray stumbled through an answer by repeating that it was a “mutual decision,” before Sherwood asked, “Did you not want her or did she not want you?”

Gray said he didn’t think was an “appropriate question.” Actually, Vince, it’s a great question, and you already answered it: it was a mutual decision. You didn’t want one another.

Beyond the forensics over Rhee’s long-expected departure, there are more interesting questions that will continue to be revelant well after Rhee is safely ensconced in whatever high-powered education job awaits her.

For one: Will Henderson will be able to continue Rhee’s reforms, like firing bad teachers,without alienating large swaths of black parents like Rhee did? If she can, the results will represent a final indictment of Rhee’s leadership style. So far, things are looking pretty good: an aide to Gray says Henderson gets top marks among leaders in the black community, and the Washington Teacher’s Union President George Parker tells the Post said he respects Henderson’s ability to work collaboratively.

But the other question is all about Gray: Even if Henderson goes down as history’s sweetest, most politically savvy educational bureaucrat, the aggressive reforms that the Almost Mayor claims to want will inevitably involve some disagreeing with the union that helped elect Gray. When that happens, will she get the necessary political cover from her new boss? The answer to that question may represent an equally damning indictment of Gray’s leadership style.

(Photos by Darrow Montgomery. More photos available in Loose Lips)