Chavous Focuses Campaign on Schools
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wed., April 29 1998; Page B08
Mayoral candidate Kevin P. Chavous said he favors firing many nonperforming school principals and teachers, establishing public boarding schools for troubled children and disbanding the civilian officials who oversee the police department.
More broadly, Chavous (D), a D.C. Council member from Ward 7, told Washington Post editors and reporters during a luncheon yesterday that his mayoral administration would focus on reviving struggling schools and commercial strips in every ward, in places far removed from downtown.
He acknowledged that the city suffers "a malaise" brought on by a "dysfunctional . . . mail-in government." But he dismissed the notion that the mayoralty is irrelevant, overshadowed by the D.C. financial control board and Chief Management Officer Camille C. Barnett.
If elected, said Chavous, 41, he would quickly assert policy leadership and leave the "bean counting" to the control board.
"Every election matters. That's why they threw tea in Boston Harbor," Chavous said. "I'm not going to squander my first days in office. . . . Folks are going to know I'm the mayor who is the point person for policy.
"Leadership," he added, "is demonstrated through not just statutory power but perceived power."
Two other council members are running in the Democratic mayoral primary: Harold Brazil (D-At Large) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) is a likely candidate in the general election.
Chavous, chairman of the council's education committee, promised to make schools his top campaign theme. He spoke highly of the new schools chief, Arlene Ackerman, even as he cautioned that she needs to take swift action and remove many incompetent officials.
"There are a lot of principals that need to be removed," Chavous said. "The [personnel evaluation] process will be a sham if we don't see substantial changes in that principal corps."
Although his two sons attend private school, Chavous said he opposes a Republican plan in Congress to pay for vouchers to send children to private schools. But he said the city's educational crisis is so profound that officials need to wrest some children from troubled families and place them in public boarding schools.
"The city ultimately is going to have to invest in residential academies," he said. "We may have to end up pulling children from their homes and putting them in publicly run residential academies to ensure they get the education they deserve."
Chavous repeatedly steered clear of criticizing Mayor Marion Barry, who has not announced whether he will seek a fifth term. But Chavous promised: "If he runs, I'll beat him. . . . People are ready for a change."
And he took a poke at mayoral rival Evans, chairman of the council's Judiciary Committee, which oversees the police department. Chavous contrasted his often-prickly relationship with the outgoing schools chief executive, Julius W. Becton Jr., to Evans's embrace of former police chief Larry D. Soulsby.
"I never said Becton was doing an outstanding job," Chavous said. "I never wrapped my arms around him and said he was doing an outstanding job. And when the ship started sinking, I didn't abandon him at the last minute.
"There was some misplaced blind loyalty in Evans' approach to Soulsby," Chavous said.
Chavous rejected criticism of his own council record, including what some critics see as spotty attendance. He said he goes to at least 90 percent of the council meetings and noted that no one has ever questioned his integrity.
"Well, one thing's for sure: They can't say I'm lying, cheating, stealing," Chavous said.
Looking to the future, Chavous spoke again and again of restoring home rule to Washington, saying that the secrecy employed by the control board and the school trustees is anti-democratic and leads to poor management decisions.
"That's the problem with the cloistered, closeted nature of the control board," Chavous said. "And you have the emergency school trustees sitting around theorizing about education. . . . You cannot articulate policy in a vacuum."
Pointing to the much-publicized problems in the police department, Chavous argued for dissolving the control board-led committee -- known as the memorandum of understanding group -- that oversees the new police chief, Charles H. Ramsey.
"The MOU partnership is a mistake and should be disbanded," Chavous said. "It is not democratic."
Chavous portrayed all of his positions -- his emphasis on neighborhood economic development and schools, accountability and tearing down the walls of secrecy at the control board -- as part of a fabric designed to restore residents' faith in their municipal government.
"People are just sick of all of us," Chavous said. "So part of my mission is to make people feel better about this city."
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