Alaire Bretz Rieffel, trying to win reelection to the District of Columbia Board of Education from Ward 2, wants voters to interpret the word "incumbent" as narrowly as possible.
Rieffel was not endorsed for reelection by the D.C. Committee for a Better School Board, the group headed by board member Carol Schwartz and former schools superintendent Vincent E. Reed. The committee, Rieffel believes, did not fully examine her record. "I think it was basically a throw-out-the-rascals vote," she said recently.
An anti-incumbent mood is also perceived by Rieffel's opponents: R. David Hall, 32, a real estate broker who founded the D.C. Street Academy, and Marjorie Maceda, 34, a Catholic school teacher and PTA veteran.
Hall is seeking to stress his experience with the Street Academy as an index of his ability to represent the ward on the school board. Maceda seeks to emphasize her PTA and schoolteaching experience. Both challengers believe there is a feeling among District residents that the current board is not doing its job.
Ward 2 stretches along the central part of the city from the posh Watergate apartment and hotel complex on the west to the Washington Navy Yard and the Capitol Hill neighborhood on the east. The diverse ward includes the boutiques and the active street life of Dupont Circle, the slick apartments and jumbled hous ing projects of Southwest, the row houses of Capitol Hill, the desolation of part of the H Street NE corridor and the developing mixture of poverty and affluence in Shaw and near Northwest. At the heart of the ward is Washington's downtown, glamorous and teeming by day but empty at night.
The ward is represented on the City Council by Democrat John A. Wilson, who supports Rieffel. She also has the backing of leaders of the ward's gay community. The political power of homosexuals in Washington, who have become one of the city's most effective pressure groups, is centered in Ward 2. Rieffel has been endorsed by two leading gay groups, the Gay Activists Alliance and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. The treasurer of her campaign, Paul Kuntzler, is a former president of the Stein Club -- the first time a gay activist has taken such an active role in a school board campaign.
Rieffel, a 36-year-old attorney with degrees from Smith College and Boston University, tries to distance herself from the other incumbents running for reelection, saying, "To compare me to some of the other board members is ludicrous." But at the same time, Rieffel, a Dupont Circle resident, seeks to run on her record, hoping that voters make the distinction. She said she is proud of the work she did in lobbying for special education programs and the recently authorized model academic high school, and in supporting preservation of the historic Sumner School building.
Rieffel is raising three children: a foster child who attends Wilson High School, and two boys of her own, one of them in the fourth grade at private Georgetown Day School, and the other in kindergarten at Stoddert Elementary School, a public school.
Hall is founder and executive director of the D.C. Street Academy, an alternative school in Northeast Washington for youths who had trouble in other schools. A native of the District, Hall graduated from Cardozo High School, Howard University and Georgetown Law Center. Hall, who lives near Logan Circle, was endorsed by the Committee for a Better School Board.
A real estate broker, Hall says he believes crime in the schools is a major issue, and pledges to work to eradicate the problem if elected. He supports retaining Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs at the schools as a way for some poor students to get to college.
Hall has sought to capitalize on feelings against incumbent school board members, saying that he is running because he is "fed up with the foolishness on the board." He has said that he would like to reduce the salaries of board members from the current $18,000 to about $7,000 a year.
Hall said he believes Rieffel has spent too much energy on relatively narrow interests, like special education, instead of protecting the interests of the entire ward. He said he believes his experience, particularly with the Street Academy, establishes his credentials to help set policy for the schools.
Hall refers to himself as "the only candidate who has built an accredited school before deciding to run for the school board." In addition to his work with the school, Hall also cofounded the Minority Legislative Education Program, which helps train minorities for staff positions on Capitol Hill.
Hall has a daughter in preschool at Hearst Elementary School, a public school, and another daughter too young to attend school.
The third candidate in the election is Marjorie Maceda, a 34-year-old teacher at St. Francis Xavier School, a parochial school in Southeast Washington. Maceda says she will resign her current job if elected.
Maceda, who lives in Southwest and is president of the Amidon PTA, said that she too believes "that people in general are just fed up with the present board." She said, however, that she does not believe Rieffel's incumbent status should necessarily be the major issue in the ward.
She said she believes the current board and schools administration have responded to the shrinking of funds for public education by unnecessarily cutting budget items that have direct bearing on what goes on in the classroom, such as laying off teachers. She said she believes, instead, that the school system should cut administrative costs.
She suggested, for example, that the board discontinue renting space in the Presidential Building to house its offices. "To me, that is a luxury item," she said. Maceda also said she believed the board should look into closing more schools as an economy measure, but did not specify which ones.
Maceda said she agrees with the curriculum and promotion standards currently in place, and does not want to see them changed. "It seems like every time we get a new superintendent or a new board, everything gets changed," she said.
Maceda has a son at Amidon Elementary School, a public school.