A City Council hearing on proposed changes in the city's election law last week accomplished at least one thing--it stripped away some of the rhetoric that cloaks the officially nonpartisan school board elections as if they somehow escape the real world of politics.
Among considerations before the council is a proposal to postpone this year's school board elections. Election officials say they would like the extra time to clean up the voter registration mess.
Other city leaders say the District could save money and increase voter turnout by combining the school elections with even-year council and mayoral contests.
School board president David H. Eaton, opposes the delay, warning it could jeopardize the nonpartisan status of the school board.
"Instead of a nonpartisan election . . . we would have one closely tied to the political machinery of the city," Eaton said somberly. He said the change "would clearly be subverting the independent nature" that separates the board from the mayor and council, which must approve spending levels for the schools.
But Eaton's testimony got immediate flack.
"It's a myth that board of education elections are not political," said council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large).
Kane, a former school board member, said "nonpartisan" means only that candidates may not campaign as members of a party, and that people erroneously confuse nonpartisan with nonpolitical.
Council chairman David A. Clarke noted that Eaton's own 1981 campaign had the support of Mayor Marion Barry. (That comment amused some in the audience, who noted Clarke's effort to downplay Barry's at least benign support of his race last year.)
The pristine view of school elections also contrasts sharply with the board's continuing inability to name a replacement for former Ward 1 member Frank Smith, who vacated his seat after winning election to the City Council.
Clarke suggested that combining the elections might actually reduce the political interference in board elections by the mayor and council members. Candidates busy with their own races would be less likely to get involved in others, "myself included," Clarke smiled.
After the session, Eaton seemed to have a change of heart. "Why argue with reality," he said.
Many of the 367 Advisory Neighborhood Commission members, who represent an average of about 2,000 persons each, also oppose the postponement of their elections. Several have complained that postponing ANC elections set for this fall would increase pressure to align themselves with council candidates and undermine their effectiveness as neighborhood activists.
Proponents of citizen initiatives, who are assured of some type of election every year, would have less opportunity to get their issues on the ballot.
For example, supporters of the effort to save historic Rhodes Tavern, who have turned in about 25,000 names on petitions to put the issue on the ballot this fall, would not get another chance until the presidential primary of May 1984.
Many statehood supporters do not want to delay a scheduled election of two "senators" and one "representatve" who will be paid to lobby Congress on statehood.
Whatever the decision, interested groups are looking to the council to decide quickly.
"I know plenty of people who are just itching to run for the school board or vote against somebody who's on it," one councilmember said.