Fenty's School Takeover Plan Gets Rough Reception

By Elissa Silverman and Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 2, 2007

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is facing a mini-rebellion on his home turf, where almost all those vying to replace him as Ward 4 council member say they either oppose his plan to take over D.C. public schools or want the issue to be decided by voters in a referendum.

At a political forum Tuesday night, some opponents criticized the timing of the council's takeover vote, and others complained that Fenty's plan would do little to address poor performance in the classroom.

"We don't need to change the home rule charter to fix what's broken," said Ward 4 candidate Carroll Green, when asked to state his position on the proposal.

Only one of the 17 candidates participating in the forum at Shepherd Elementary School expressed support for a mayoral takeover.

"I am opposed to the status quo in D.C. public schools," said Muriel Bowser, who emphatically stated her support for his plan. Bower has been endorsed by Fenty and has raised $200,000 with his help. Her answer drew boos from the crowd of around 250.

Carlton Terry, a retiree who lives in Colonial Village, said that he has not decided on a candidate but that he understood the crowd's reaction.

"We need a strong Ward 4 representative, not a rubber-stamp one who will come out and say, 'I agree with the mayor,' " Terry said.

As a candidate for mayor last year, Fenty (D) won Ward 4 handily in both the primary and general elections. He was extremely popular because of his attention to constituent services during the six years he represented the ward on the D.C. Council.

"People are thinking about these proposals a lot. There seems to be so much support for this on the city council, so why isn't there more support in this community?" asked Sara Green, a Takoma resident who was at Tuesday night's forum and said she is undecided in the Ward 4 race and does not have a position on the takeover.

Part of the anger was directed at Fenty's pushing for a council vote, which could come as soon as early April, before the Ward 4 and Ward 7 seats are filled in a May 1 special election. The Ward 7 seat was vacated when Vincent C. Gray (D) became council chairman.

A number of candidates in the 20-person Ward 7 race have also said they disagree with Fenty's effort to take control before the ward has representation on the council.

"I'm disenfranchised on this legislation," said Ward 7 candidate Greg Rhett, who said he has not made up his mind on the bill.

The crowd at Shepherd Elementary applauded loudly when two candidates, Brightwood consultant Charles Gaither and Chevy Chase lobbyist Michael A. Brown, called for the council to delay voting until the Ward 4 seat is filled.

Fenty has brushed off calls to delay council action or to have the issue decided by referendum. Fenty said yesterday that he remains convinced that he has the support of a "large majority" of residents, who "want to see great change and accountability in the public school system."

Yet some of Fenty's neighbors had an opposing view Tuesday night. With the exception of Bowser, the candidates at the forum were cool to Fenty's schools initiative, and many said they outright opposed the plan.

Tony Towns, a Petworth lawyer and Ward 4 contender, said problems at the schools go beyond leadership. "D.C. public schools is basically a sinking ship, and we're arguing over who is going to wear the captain's hat," he said.

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