Barbara Lett Simmons spent 12 often-contentious years as an at-large member of the D.C. school board. An unrelenting advocate for inner-city students and unstructured, open schools, Simmons was part of a dissident faction that hamstrung many initiatives proposed by others on the board.
But Simmons bristles when she's identified primarily as a former school board member, and makes it clear she isn't running for D.C. delegate just on that record.
"I'm running because I know this community intimately, having worked with a very broad variety of its segments, not just education, from womb to tomb," Simmons said in a recent interview, reeling off a list of activities from the Urban League and NAACP to mental health and elderly groups. "I want to serve as the representative of these people."
She sees the delegate's job as that of an advocate for the District's residents, as a means of building bridges of understanding to the lawmakers who, despite the District's home rule, have ultimate control over the city's laws and budget.
"I am not interested in being the representative for the world. I would not have to be in the Caribbean or South America or Africa," Simmons said, taking a swipe at incumbent Walter E. Fauntroy's use of the office as a platform on national or international matters.
"No other congressman takes on the world," said Simmons. "The world isn't going to reelect him.
"My first concern would be taking care of home," she said.
Washington has been home to the Michigan native since 1962, when she and her two sons came here to join her husband, who was part of the Kennedy administration.
Specializing in social work and education, Simmons, 60, graduated from Western Michigan University and received a master's degree from Wayne State University. She has done post-graduate work in the behavioral sciences at George Washington University and the University of Maryland.
Before establishing her own development and training consulting firm in 1972, Simmons was the Washington-based director of a federally funded manpower-development program for 14 Northeast states. She also served as executive director of the D.C. branch of the NAACP, and was education coordinator for the United Planning Organization.
Her interests are legion: She serves on the board of directors of Western Michigan's alumni society, is a life member of the Urban League and the NAACP, and of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the National Council of Negro Women and the National Center on the Black Aged, of which her husband is chief executive officer.
But Simmons's passion has been politics. She served as a delegate to Democratic national conventions in 1948, 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988.
In 1981 she was elected an at-large delegate to the Constitutional Convention of New Columbia -- what the District would be called if it becomes a state -- and wrote the portion of the proposed constitution on the executive branch. In 1982, she was an unsuccessful candidate for D.C. Council.
Simmons, defeated in 1986 in a bid for a fourth school board term, noted at a recent candidate forum that she was a victim of Marion Barry's political machine. She was referring to the successful board candidacy of Barry ally Phyllis Young. "I was defeated because I was personally targeted by the mayor," Simmons said.