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District Notebook

D.C. Voucher Backers Stay Out of Trouble as They Try Exercise in Civil Disobedience

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By District Notebook
Thursday, September 10, 2009

With President Obama's back-to-school speech as their news hook, supporters of the federal D.C. school voucher program converged on Education Department headquarters Tuesday morning for an exercise in civil disobedience that produced lots of chanting but no arrests.

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Congressional Democrats, backed by the Obama administration, are phasing out the five-year-old program, which provides vouchers to poor children to help them attend private schools. But support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships crosses party lines. Some Democrats and many Republicans want to continue it.

About 10 a.m., one of those pro-voucher Democrats -- former D.C. Council member from Kevin P. Chavous of Ward 7 -- linked arms with five other voucher supporters and stood in front of the main entrance at 400 Maryland Ave. SW, attempting to block the door, get arrested and draw attention to their cause. A few dozen demonstrators stood in the background, chanting: "Save school choice!" and "Put kids first!"

Two lines of uniformed officers from the Federal Protective Service stood guard at the entry and made no effort to handcuff them. After about 20 minutes nose-to-nose with the police, Chavous and his comrades realized the standoff would continue indefinitely unless they made physical contact with the officers and risked more serious jail time for assault, so they backed off.

"We are not going to be deterred from making sure this program is reauthorized," Chavous said before the group dispersed. "We're willing to put our bodies on the line. . . . You may not lock us up, but we'll be back."

D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) joined the protesters for a speech in solidarity with their effort but left before the confrontation with police.

-- NICK ANDERSON

Ray Gets a Hand From Gore

Former recreation director Clark E. Ray is calling in a big favor from his past in his race to unseat D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large). Tipper Gore, his former boss, will attend his first fundraiser Oct. 13, his camp announced.

Ray, who began his campaign for the council after being fired as director of parks and recreation, was deputy campaign manager and chief of staff for Gore during her husband's 2000 presidential bid, said Peter Rosenstein, lead spokesman of Ray's campaign.

Rosenstein said Ray's entrance into the council election should not have been unexpected -- his Democratic and political roots are strong. "He's not new to politics," Rosenstein said.


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