Recording industry legend Quincy Jones takes a spin at plugging school vouchers and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) in a new television ad getting a healthy rotation on cable news and other channels.
The involvement of Jones, the all-time most-nominated Grammy artist with 76 nominations and 26 awards, adds an eyebrow-raising dose of celebrity to the D.C. education effort, which slowly is getting off the ground.
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D.C. City Council
"When children are learning, it's music to parents' ears," Jones says in the TV spot, addressing viewers between images of a teacher working with a class of African American grade-schoolers in white shirts and school uniforms.
"In Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams is finding new educational opportunities for children. He took on Congress and won," Jones said. "Now D.C. children will have new charter schools and scholarships to attend private and religious schools."
The ads, paid for by Fight for Children, an advocacy group chaired by McLean real estate investor Joseph E. Robert Jr., encourage interested parents to learn more by calling 1-888-DCYOUTH or visiting the Web site www.dcscholarship.org.
The ads also mark a distinct shift in the language used by voucher supporters to characterize the D.C. project.
When backers aired television ads invoking support for Williams during last year's congressional fight, they emphasized his work with Congress to raise more money for public schools and education scholarships, never mentioning private or religious schools.
Now the ads do not mention public education, although charter schools are public schools. And if Williams "took on" Congress, he did so knowing that the Republican leaders of both House and Senate majorities were on his side.
Jones is not a newcomer to the controversial voucher issue. The jazz musician and producer appeared with President Bush in July 2003 when Bush visited the KIPP DC:KEY Academy in Southeast Washington to promote the concept.
When School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz (D) announced her support for the voucher concept last spring in a newspaper commentary piece, Jones was on the telephone to congratulate her at home the morning the article appeared.
Jones is a Hollywood player who typically favors Democrats and liberal causes.
He is also an organizing board member of an effort to build a National Music Center and Museum in downtown Washington in association with the Smithsonian Institution.
Williams said that the help of artists, as well as voucher backers, keeps paying off in unexpected ways. He noted that since the dissemination of last year's voucher ads, in which he was featured, "I do notice that people recognize me when I go to different places around the country."
At-Large Seat Battle Looms
One of the hottest political battles brewing so far this campaign season is between two Democrats on the D.C. Council dais. In one corner is Harold Brazil (D-At-large); in the other, his potential opponent, Jim Graham(D-Ward 1).
Graham, who has not officially registered his candidacy, is aggressively taking on Brazil. Most recently, he sought contributions for a possible campaign to oust Brazil, in a letter that invited supporters to join him in "our discussion of the future of D.C."
Brazil was first elected in 1991 to represent Ward 6 and later ran at large. Graham was elected in 1999.
"We're going to stay as positive as we can," Graham said. "On the council, I'm going to try very hard to be restrained."
The letter, mailed in late March, states that Graham will "run a positive campaign" but features an unflattering picture of Brazil in a pie-chart graphic showing that a poll found that less than a third of the voters would re-elect Brazil. The poll, Graham wrote, was conducted by the Mellman Group, a nationally known polling and consulting firm.
Brazil, who had not seen the letter, said he was surprised by Graham's campaign statistics, which he says "are dubious" and have a high margin of error. He called the letter "a puffy, self-congratulatory piece."
"Graham's out there running around with some statistics," Brazil said. "I'm out there working against [water rate] increases, increases on Metro that he supported. . . . That's true job performance. The people want someone that is going to work for them."
Brazil said he would compare his leadership on the budget to that of any challenger, on or off the council.
"Let's forget the political mumbo jumbo," Brazil said. "Look at my record on affordable housing, education, crime and jobs. That's the key issue, not some pie chart from left field."
Graham said his approach is not negative, but informative. He said he has to name his opponent because there are two at-large seats in this campaign.
"In this case, I have to identify what's going on," Graham said. "I don't want people to think I'm running against [at-large council member] Carol Schwartz. I have to be honest and straightforward."
The letter to his supporters in Ward 1, Graham said, is not an attack on Brazil, but an appeal. Graham said he needs his supporters from previous years to be in his corner if he's going to enter the race. Two days after the letter was mailed, his exploratory committee raised $1,600 from $25 and $50 contributions, he said.
So far, only two candidates, Kwame Brown and Sam Brooks, have officially filed to run for the city-wide seat held by Brazil.