The press releases have been pouring out, often three or four times a week. They all begin the same way: "Dr. James T. Guines, acting superintendent of the D.C. public schools . . ." His column on the schools appears each week with his picture in the Washington Informer and he does a regular 10-minute spot every Monday morning on WYCB radio.
At 49, Guines, one of the longest-running second bananas in the school system, now 10 years later finds the top post tantalizingly within his grasp. Though he took office in only January and is scheduled to step down as acting superintendent July 1, the always nattily-dressed, silver-haired school administrator, always ready with a "Hello, Darlin'" and a handshake, has been waging his personal campaign to hold onto the top spot.
Guines denies that he is campaigning for Jim Guines; he is campaiging for D.C.'s school kids, he says. Making them and the school district look good, however, will also make Guines look good. In the process, he has become by default the District's early leading candiate for the superintendent's job.
"I can see the potential of personality exploitation," Guines says. "But I've also been really excited about the use of media to get things done for kids. I've tried not to use it for my own vanity, and I hope I haven't."
No matter who the campaign is for, however, it started only days after Guines took over. There was, for example, the time he had just finished an interview with Calvin Rolark on WRC-TV. Rolark is host of a radio talk show and publisher of the paper that prints Guines' column and picture.
"I'd like to have you on the show sometime," Rolark told Guinies, who was wearing his traditional three-piece suit with hankerchief flowing out of its breast pocket and a gold braclet.
"Why not tonight?" Guines asked. He rode off in his Mercedes toward the radio station.
The campaign trail has led Guines not only to Washington's radio, television and print media, but to the stages of the D.C. Armory and several schools, and the meeting rooms of dozens of churches and PTAs. He works a seven-day week, often from 7:15 a.m. until 10 p.m., making about 10 public appearances a week before local groups.
To keep his job, Guines must at once woo the parents of 100,000 school kids and the D.C. Board of Education. But Guines is just now learning the pitfalls of trying to stamp his leadership image on the system, increase his public profile and his public popularity as he also works closely with a highly political school board hungry for more say about what goes on in the schools.
Guines has upset board members as he stumbled through his first encounters with the press, and he has learned that his words can as quickly harm as they can help his efforts to become superintendent.
Aside from the public battles of James Guines, many of those close to him say he also has a private battle -- with the ghost of former superintendent Vincent E. Reed, who for five years commanded widespread support from administrators, teachers, parents and the press, which gave Reed tremendous clout in his dealings with the board.
Right now, Guines has no prominent school board supporter, and some have been disappointed with his performance. Yet, he still holds enough support on the board to make him a serious candiate -- and to keep Jim Guines on the run from stage to stage, TV station to TV station.
"The more I do the job," Guines says, "the better I feel about it."
Not all of the school board agrees with that appraisal, but because of the absence of other qualified local candidates and only a single application from outside the area, Guines has become the what-if-we-can't-find-anyone-better candidate for some board members, a ho-hum choice.
"The system is bankrupt when it comes to leadership," says board member R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8), former board president and still its most powerful member. "But what I'm wrestling with now is do we look for someone new to come in when the system has so many problems . . . even though that person might be the best person for the job? Or do we stay with a person who is already in the system and familiar with the problems?"
"I have mixed emotions," echoes board member Carol Schwartz (Ward 3), a member of the superintendent search committee. "I've been enthused by some of the things he's donw . . . . I've been surprised and dismayed by other things."
Some critics say that in Guines' eagerness to please everyone, he has flip-flopped on issues, thus threatening his public credibility.
"I've never had strong feelings about his strength," says one longtime school board member. "I've seen him waver on enough things. . . . He'll say one thing to me to make me happy, then I've seen him say another thing to [another board member] to maker her happy."
Guines' perceived vacilliation on issues came to the fore recently when he quickly labeled as "stupid" the district's pupil progress plan, a set of stiffer promotion standards that led to the failing of about 10,000 first, second and third graders. At a hastily called meeting the next day, however, Guines apparently had changed his mind, telling the board the plan had his full support.
Another story about Guines' capriciousness regards former school system finance chief James Boyle, who abruptly resigned under criticism from some board members. Boyle has said that one afternoon Guines said he "would do anything" to keep him. The very next day, Boyle said, Guines walked in again and told him that "blacks don't trust whites to handle their money."
Guines now says the remark was a "joke."
Boyle says it convinced him that he should resign.
"Jim's problem is that he says things before he thinks through," says one of his former staff members. "He's brilliant when it comes to ideas. But he doesn't work on the nuts and bolts; he's an idea man, not an actualizer."
Such are the mixed reviews of the man who would be superintendent. Yet, Guines is regarded as an good educator, even a "brilliant" one by some of his staff. But even they are reluctant to talk about him, because they say they fear retribution. Here is a popular story they tell about Guines:
Guines heard recently that one of his administrators had eaten lunch at The Broker, a Southeast restaurant, with former superintendent Reed. Acutally, the two had been eating at the restaurant separately. But Guines phoned the administrator at home.
"Why were you having lunch with Vince Reed?" Guines asked.
"One of my smaller moments," is how Guines candidly describes that call. He insists, however, that he was not trying to intimidate the employe, but simply "making sure your team is with you."
Yet, Vince Reed has lately been a touchy subject with Guines. He dislikes any comparison with Reed, whose inner circle of close advisers did not include Guines. Today, Guines refers to Reed as "the former leadership."
That is a title Guines himself is fighting to avoid. But even as he does, he wonders whether its cost is not too great. His first marriage ended, he belives, because he spent too much time working as a young Alabama State College professor. The end of that marriage, Guines says, led to his spending most evenings in restaurants "where naturally you would have a couple of cocktails with your dinner" and talk around the school system is that Guines had a drinking problem.
The drinking was only social, not a problem then or now, he says.
Guines worries that the added burdens of his job might disrupt his marriage to his second wife, LaVerne.
And yet . . . Guines wants this job badly. So badly that he chain-smoking Guines has lost eight pounds racing around the city in his self-described campaign for Washington's school children.
"You can't take a job as big as this, and not work at it as though you want it," says Guines. "In fact, it feels pretty easy."