In seeking a third term on the D.C. school board, R. David Hall (Ward 2) has a novel campaign strategy. He's running against someone not on the ballot.
Although he has one opponent in the race, first-time candidate Stella Gomes, Hall seems more troubled these days with his least favorite board member and longtime political nemesis, the volatile R. Calvin Lockridge (Ward 8).
Lockridge, who most board members say has gained enormous power since Andrew E. Jenkins became school superintendent two years ago, has no role in the Ward 2 race. But Hall is dropping his name incessantly to voters, warning that a board without David Hall will become a board that Lockridge owns.
"If I were to leave the board now, Calvin would take it over," Hall said. "And if that happened, schools in Ward 2 and citywide would slip back."
Hall, 41, joined the board nine years ago as the representative for Ward 2, which stretches from Georgetown to Shaw and Southwest Washington. He was the board's president for three years, and he remains one of its most influential -- and enigmatic -- members.
Although some board members, notably Lockridge, complain that Hall is at times too independent and secretive, most say that the schools in Ward 2 often benefit from his proprietary style.
Hall, who has three children enrolled at Jefferson Junior High School in Ward 2, contends that he has brought great innovation to schools: from home study programs to computer equipment that helps kindergarten students learn to read, to education partnerships with local businesses. Nevertheless, Gomes, 46, is attacking his record.
A former D.C. school administrator, she now teaches in Howard University's education department. She has never run for political office before, but said she leaped into the Ward 2 race because she thinks Hall has been ineffective.
"David Hall has had his chance, and there is so much more to be done," Gomes said. "The low-achieving schools are not being helped. The good stuff goes to the good schools -- that's it."
Another key question defining Gomes's campaign is whether Hall's true intent is to remain on the school board -- or leap to the D.C. Council. The Ward 2 seat, which has been held by John A. Wilson for 16 years, will open in January. Wilson has virtually no opposition in his campaign to become council chairman.
Hall said he is being urged to run for the council, but at this point has no plans to do so. He insists that his singular interest is retaining his seat on the school board, and helping it find a successor to Jenkins, whose contract ends in June.
Hall, who has been one of Jenkins's most persistent critics, contends that the school bureaucracy is in disarray, and that teacher and principal morale is sinking. This fall, he clashed again with Jenkins's administration when several Ward 2 schools opened without enough teachers.
"The school system has to settle down and get on an even keel," he said.
Hall, who is a real estate broker, began working in D.C. schools about 15 years ago when he helped found the D.C. Street Academy, a high school for dropouts returning to seek diplomas.
Four years ago, Hall won a second term with more than three-quarters of the vote. His bid this year is being backed by leaders of the Committee on Public Education, a civic panel that studied D.C. schools; by former D.C. school superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie; and by several influential principals.
That helps to make Gomes's challenge a long shot. Nevertheless, she is waging an aggressive campaign. Some parent leaders and board members say they believe she is running with the support of Jenkins, whose name was the first on her nominating petition. Gomes denies it.
Yet Gomes, who worked for 18 years as a teacher and administrator in D.C. schools until last fall, sidestepped questions about whether Jenkins should go. She said she cannot judge him until she sees "what his performance requirements are."
But Hall said that Jenkins's departure is certain, and that his own experience will be essential for a smooth transition -- and to keep Lockridge in check. "I intend to stay around and help clean things up," Hall said.