Activist Grills Fenty on Public Schools

By David Nakamura and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sporting a tan after a week-long jaunt to Dubai, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty got back out in the local community Monday night, dropping by a meeting of the Deanwood Civic Association to give a rundown on the status of various initiatives.

He talked about the effort to clean up abandoned buildings, construct a recreation center in Ward 7 and improve the city's public schools.

Alicia Rucker, a community activist, quickly put the mayor on the spot. Rucker said that she used to live in Ward 1 but had moved to Ward 7 and that she appreciates her new neighborhood because it is quieter and less busy than her previous one.

However, she said, she has come to see that the city is "divided," because the schools in Ward 7 are in bad shape. She said she was particularly upset that charter schools have been growing while the public schools, with about 45,000 students, have had enrollments shrinking annually.

Then Rucker delivered the kicker: "When I see Sasha and Malia [Obama] and your twin sons attend DCPS, only then will I believe that we are world-class."

(The Obama children attend the exclusive private school Sidwell Friends in Northwest, and Fenty's twin sons, Andrew and Matthew, are third-graders at a pre-kindergarten-through-third-grade private academy.)

"I went to DCPS. I graduated from DCPS," said Fenty, who attended Woodrow Wilson High School and the private Mackin Catholic High School (now part of Archbishop Carroll High School).

"I've always said, 'When my kids finish the school they started when they were 2 years old, they will go to DCPS,' " Fenty added.

That will be in the fall, but Fenty gave no hint of where his sons might enroll. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee sends her daughters to the public Oyster-Adams Elementary.

Happily in a Corner

What happens when a council member loses an election? She's out of a job. Oh, and to add insult to injury, another council member quickly takes her office.

So it was for Carol Schwartz, the vanquished Republican four-termer who had long made her digs in a coveted corner office on the fourth floor of the John A. Wilson Building. It's spacious, has a private bathroom and provides a view of the White House.

It now belongs to David A. Catania (I-At Large), who has moved up to become third among the council's 13 members in stature. Corner offices in the Wilson Building are rather like the top level of a bunk: prime real estate. Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) occupies the fifth-floor corner office, which has lush, dark wood floors and walls. Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the longest-serving council member, has the first-floor corner office.

Catania was elected in 1997, giving him first dibs on Schwartz's office. That's ironic: Although they were at one point the lone Republicans on the council, before Catania dropped out of the party over President George W. Bush's opposition to gay marriage, they were not exactly friends, and the enmity between them was not a secret among their colleagues.

City Hall wags say the rivalry started about four years ago, when Schwartz questioned contracts in Catania's health budget. Then Catania sponsored legislation that banned smoking in restaurants and bars and pushed it through his health committee. It was the ultimate way to get around Schwartz, a reformed smoker who had been holding similar legislation hostage on her Public Works and Environment Committee.

When Schwartz was up for reelection last year, newcomer Patrick Mara beat her in the Republican primary. Schwartz decided to run in the general election as an independent, but Catania backed Mara. Schwartz and Mara lost to incumbent Kwame R. Brown (D) and Michael A. Brown (I) in the race for two at-large seats.

So was the improved office space the real motive for Catania's support of Mara? No, said Catania, who had previously been in a first-floor office. But he acknowledged that his new digs are plush. He can see into the White House, albeit, with binoculars. "I check on them," Catania said, joking about President Obama and his functionaries. "I like to make sure they're working."

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