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Washington's person of the year

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Friday, December 17, 2010; 8:00 PM

The Post asked Washington notables for their pick for Washington's person of the year. Below are responses from Michael O'Hanlon, Thomas M. Davis III, David Bonior, Michelle Rhee, David Frum, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Mike McCurry, Ted Leonsis, Jonathan Capehart, Sen. Arlen Specter, Karen Finney and Dan Glickman.

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MICHAEL O'HANLON

Senior fellow and director of research in the Brookings Institution's foreign policy program

Gen. Stanley McChrystal is my Washington (and U.S.) person of the year. This is a counterintuitive choice, since he was essentially fired from his job as commander in Afghanistan in June after indiscretions by his staff surfaced in Rolling Stone magazine.

It is primarily McChrystal's strategy that President Obama has just reaffirmed and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates says is showing greater- than-expected progress. Despite his special operations background, he emphasized population protection (even while he ramped up offensive capabilities, too). Despite being a military leader, he probably had the most productive relationship with President Hamid Karzai of any American.

And McChrystal had every right to complain about his ouster, which was based on a journalist violating ground rules and on statements by McChrystal's staff far more than by the general himself. But rather than complain, he recognized his own mistake in the process and stoically moved on, for the good of the mission and the country.

THOMAS M. DAVIS III

Former U.S. representative from Virginia; president of the Republican Main Street Partnership

John Boehner. Almost no man's political fortunes improved more this year than his. At the start of 2010, he was the leader of a party facing an almost 80-seat Democratic majority. He ends 2010 preparing to be speaker of the House and will enjoy an almost 50-seat majority. Quite an impressive change of fortunes, and Boehner can take a significant amount of credit.

He kept a diverse caucus united - in opposition to President Obama's agenda and against efforts of the Democratic majority to move the country dramatically to the left. Boehner also kept the party on message. This provided a stark and politically powerful contrast to the Democrats, who seemed to push every issue but jobs and the economy.

DAVID BONIOR

Chair of American Rights at Work; former House Democratic whip

Nancy Pelosi. However controversial, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's record will go down as one of the truly great leadership feats in the history of the U.S. Congress.

Pelosi's tireless efforts were key in countless legislative victories, including - just this year - tax breaks for working and middle-class families, food safety, and financial reform. And in a success that eluded so many before her, Pelosi paved the way for passage of health-insurance reform to lower costs and ensure access to quality, affordable care for 32 million more Americans.

MICHELLE RHEE

Founder and CEO of StudentsFirst; chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, 2007-10

I vote for Adrian Fenty. Regardless of your politics, this is a man who put everything on the line for kids, and he paid the price politically.

When I met him, I assumed that, as a politician, he'd be mostly concerned with maintaining harmony to ensure a long career in office. My assumption was strong enough that I first declined his offer to lead the school system.

Fenty proved me wrong. From closing schools to firing underperformers, his popularity was not his concern. Kids were.

He was willing to make tough calls that most politicians would never consider.

DAVID FRUM

Editor of FrumForum; speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002

"Washington" is not just a metaphor for the vast national government. Washington is also a city, home to some of the nation's powerful but also many of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. As a resident of that second Washington, I nominate former D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee as Washington's person of the year. Rhee worked tirelessly to improve the city's famously troubled schools. Her achievements threatened vested interests, who successfully organized to oust her. This passing political defeat has launched Rhee onto a national stage - and it will galvanize the next movement for reform.

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL

Editor and publisher of The Nation; Post online columnist

Millions of Americans first met Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, on Dec. 10, when he waged an electrifying 81/2-hour filibuster against legislation extending tax breaks for millionaires. For Sanders, it was just another workday fighting to improve the lives of struggling working- and middle-class people - and ensuring that their voices are heard inside the Beltway. Fiercely principled, yet shrewd at picking his fights and practical enough to get things done, it was Sanders who fought and passed important legislation auditing the Federal Reserve - thereby disclosing that trillions had been doled out to big banks during the financial meltdown.

MIKE MCCURRY

Partner at Public Strategies Washington Inc.; press secretary to President Bill Clinton, 1995-98

There weren't many political heroes in Washington this midterm election year, but some extraordinary people are on the verge of doing something our politicians should celebrate: ending childhood hunger in the District. There are about 35,000 kids in the District who live in poverty. Now a partnership of activists (both faith-based and secular) and concerned public officials have come forward with a real plan to make sure that by 2016, no child goes hungry.

Many deserve recognition, but most would agree that the greatest champion of hungry kids is George Jones of Bread for the City.

TED LEONSIS

Founder, chairman and chief executive of Monumental Sports & Entertainment

D.C. high school graduation rates are staggeringly low. For every success story in The Post, there are many others regarding failure and dysfunction. There also is plenty of rhetoric and posturing, but one man stands out as dedicated and passionate about improving education in our city: Bob Craves.

Bob's work as co-founder, chairman and chief executive of the College Success Foundation inspires underserved students in six high schools in Wards 7 and 8 to graduate, enroll in college, earn a bachelor's degree, lead productive lives and give back to their communities.

JONATHAN CAPEHART

Post editorial writer and blogger

Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), an Iraq war veteran, worked the halls of the House for more than a year to secure the votes to pass - twice - the repeal of "don't ask don't tell," the 17-year-old policy that bans gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

In a city filled with people who talk a good game about their strong convictions, Murphy turned his words into results. He only served two terms, but repeal of don't ask, don't tell will be his lasting legacy.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER

Democratic senator from Pennsylvania

Sen. Jim DeMint warrants recognition as the emerging political power of the year here. By leveraging the Tea Party movement, he has in many ways dominated the Senate. Placing party purity above pragmatism and even electoral success, he has made some Republican senators worry that a single vote will end their careers, as evidenced by the experience of Utah Republican Sen. Robert Bennett. Fear of being targeted in their next primary has caused some to change positions and refuse to provide the 60th vote for cloture to move legislation forward and avoid gridlock on many important bills. The Tea Party left three Senate seats - Delaware, Nevada and arguably Colorado - on the table by endorsing unacceptable candidates. Hopefully, DeMint's power will be undercut. But, unless centrists such as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) can rouse voters to defeat Tea Party candidates, DeMint's power will only grow.

KAREN FINNEY

Democratic consultant and commentator; former spokesman for the Democratic National Committee

It's not just that as the first female speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi has helped women take a major step forward, or that she has been one of the most productive speakers in my lifetime. It's that she led by standing for the principles of the Democratic Party and is one of the few people in this town who consistently put it all on the line to do what she said she was going to do.

Her toughness has rattled cages. According to Campaign Media Analysis Group, more than $65 million was spent on 161,203 ads that targeted Pelosi from Jan. 1 through the November election. Despite these sometimes sexist attacks, her long list of legislative accomplishments includes pay-as-you-go, ethics reform, health care (with a public option), hate-crimes legislation and a new GI Bill. Thanks to her efforts, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition that can be used to deny health care, and women's ability to support themselves and their families were protected with passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. And she's done it all without shedding a tear.

DAN GLICKMAN

Senior policy fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center; chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America, 2004-10; Democratic representative from Kansas from 1977 to 1995

The American worker, worrying about retaining (or regaining) his or her job in the rapidly changing global economy; frustrated with the pace of our political system in addressing economic problems; weary of the hyperpartisanship, gamesmanship and political posturing in Washington. The American worker, who reflected that frustration in the November elections, is smart enough to recognize there are no magic answers to these problems, but still has confidence in America's future. The good news is that recent signs -- especially the bipartisan deal on taxes and unemployment benefits -- suggest Washington is finally beginning to get the message.


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