While most of the focus in the school board campaign has been on which six of the 24 candidates running will win seats in the Nov. 6 election, political kingmakers, board incumbents and even a few candidates are already talking about bigger and better things -- namely, who will be the next school board president.
The board president is the one who doles out power and prestige in the form of committee appointments and office space. The board president is the one in a position to best determine the direction of school board policy. The board president is also the one who gets the most publicity in this increasingly political town.
The coveted brass ring of school board politics is definitely up for grabs this year since Minnie S. Woodson, the current president, is not running for reelection.
Who will be her successor? The possibilities are intriguing, and so numerous that you definitely need a score card to know the players:
Woodson was put in power by the president majority: Conrad P. Smith, Alaire Rieffel, Carol Schwartz, Victoria T. Street, R. Calvin Lockridge and, of course, Woodson herself.
The four-person minority is Barbara Lett Simmons, Frank Shaffer Corona, John E. Warren and Bettie G. Benjamin.
Eugene Kinlow has only been on the board five months and has yet to become clearly identified with either side.
Kinlow, Warren, Benjamin, Smith and Street are up for reelection.
Now the jockeying begins: Woodson's retirement automatically drops the majority down to five -- a minority. Both majority members up for election, Smith and Street, are facing tough fights. So, the old board majority could drop to three.
That would be good news for the minority if it, too were not in danger of seeing itself cut in half election day. Benjamin and Warren are also facing tough reelection challenges.
Keep in mind that Mayor Marion Barry, who has always said he thinks the school board should cooperate with the mayor's office, is privately supporting his own slate of six candidates -- Kinlow and five challengers -- and that's enough to form a new majority.
And those only the simple ways of looking at it. The results become even more varied when one considers that the correct answer is likely to be none of the above, but rather an unpredictable combination of wins and losses.
The uncertainty has not stopped candidates for the board presidency from making their intentions known.
Warren, who fell only two votes short of winning the presidency last year, says he is still interested. So is Lockridge, who deferred to Woodson in 1978. Kinlow is said to have told friends that he is available for a draft. One of the mayor's candidates, Matthew F. Shannon told a reporter this week that he is available, too.
Schwartz said she's thinking about it. Simmons is said to have not ruled it out, either. Conrad Smith said he doesn't want it, but then he's had it before. Besides, some board members said privately, Smith probably couldn't be elected president again if he tired.
"I think we're going to have a lot of candidates," Schwartz said the other day. "I think everybody's running."
The old power lineup often dominated board politics. The majority included the strongest advocates of a back-to-basics approach instead of the numerous controversial educational innovations tried in earlier years. They also were the ones who went to court in an effort to stop last spring's strike by members of the Washington Teachers Union, and staunchly resisted Barry's attempts to intervene in the strike.
Some insiders predict that no matter who wins the six races this fall, a new lineup of power is likely, one that will eclipse the old order.
Others foresee a simple restructuring of the present group, while still others anticipate the evolution of a third force on the board.
"You'll have a new board, and you will have a third power emerge," one candidate predicted, "and the third power will be the leader of the board."
City Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), a former board member, disagrees. "I don't see a third faction developing. I see those who will help make a majority among the remaining majority."
Nobody on the school is naive -- at least, not John Warren. And John Warren thinks Marion Barry had a plan when he endorsed just enough people to form a new majority on the board, if elected.
"He just wouldn't be putting people in office to sit under someone else's direction," Warren said.
Lockridge, who seldom sees eye to eye with Warren, agrees on that point. It's simple arithmetic, Lockridge said. If the six-member Barry slate wins, it would be the new majority, and the leftovers of the old majority and the old minority would become the new minorities. The Barry bunch would elect its own president. And Calvin Lockridge would be upset because he couldn't be president.
"I think I deserve it," he said. "I think I've worked hard for it, and I know more about it."