Never one to be left out of a city political debate, the recently merged D.C. Statehood Green Party issued a media advisory this week saying it "had unanimously and emphatically rejected" proposals by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and several D.C. Council members to shrink or abolish the elected Board of Education.
The advisory, which listed parent activists Philip Blair and Terri Greene as contacts, was dated Jan. 8--three days after Williams formally announced his proposal--but was not faxed to The Washington Post until Jan. 10.
It decries Williams's campaign to have the power to appoint both the school board and the school superintendent as a power grab that would usurp democracy in the nation's capital and that would result in the "displacement and disenfranchisement of residents, especially [the District's] African American working-class population."
Never mind Williams's argument that the long-dysfunctional school system, with its dismal test scores and high rate of dropouts and graduates who cannot read basic texts, is the real cause of disenfranchisement among the District's young people.
Or the theory put forward by the mayor and others that there is nothing sacred about the current elected school board structure--which, after all, was created by Congress and imposed on the city 30 years ago as part of its limited home rule.
Williams is trying to persuade residents that his approach, which would have to be endorsed by the voters as well as the elected D.C. Council, would improve the schools and keep power over the system in the hands of elected officials--namely, himself.
But the Statehood Greenies are determined to stop him. They also don't like the proposal by D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), chairman of the council's education committee, to shrink the 11-member school board by two at-large seats and require the top two finishers in each ward primary to run against each other citywide.
"STOP THE MAYOR'S ASSAULT ON DEMOCRACY: SAVE OUR ELECTED SCHOOL BOARD" screams the headline of the media advisory.
Nowhere does it say, however, what exactly is worth saving about the dysfunctional board that has governed the city's education system for decades.
Barry Puts In Appearance to Support Wilson
A special spectator was on hand for a recent early morning meeting of the D.C. Council's education committee: Marion Barry. The former mayor attended the meeting to show his support for the nomination of the Rev. Willie F. Wilson to the University of the District of Columbia board.
Wilson's nomination had generated contentious debate when it was opposed by two council members, Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), who said the paster of Union Temple Baptist Church had used racially divisive rhetoric in the past.
Before the meeting, Barry strolled up to the dais and had a few words with Schwartz. He walked around the room, which was filled with about two dozen other Wilson supporters, chatting and shaking hands the way he used to when he was mayor.
Then he sat quietly in the audience as the committee approved Wilson's nomination, 3 to 2, setting up the pastor's eventual confirmation by the full council later that day.
Wilson was one of Barry's strongest allies during the dismal days when Barry was arrested, tried and convicted of drug possession. After Barry was released from prison, Wilson helped organize and rally support for Barry's eventual return to the mayor's office.
Barry was viewed in some quarters as a master politician, but it took a relative neophyte like Williams to do what the former mayor could not: get Wilson on the UDC board.
Barry had floated Wilson's name to the council in 1998, the former mayor's last year in office. But word came back from the council and a now-defunct nominating committee that Wilson would not be confirmed.
"I should have made it a public issue, but I didn't," Barry said after last week's meeting. The former mayor credited lobbying by community activists, some of whom criticized Patterson and Schwartz's opposition as racially motivated, for persuading other skeptical committee members to support Wilson's nomination.
Asked why he didn't organize community support and fight for Wilson in 1998, Barry said: "I just didn't do it . . . I should have. I should have."
As for his discussion with Schwartz before the vote, Barry said it was not a last-minute appeal to encourage her to change her mind about backing Wilson.
"No, no, no . . . I said, 'Hello, Carol. How're you doing?' We were at the Temptations show the other night and we talked about that," Barry said. "I didn't even ask her to vote for Reverend Wilson because I knew she wouldn't."
Montgomery's Duncan Inspires District
Thank you, Douglas M. Duncan. District officials are crediting the Montgomery County executive for inspiring them to complete their year 2000 computer repairs on time.
In a "60 Minutes" segment last year that highlighted the contrast between the Montgomery and D.C. Y2K programs, Duncan (D) said he doubted that the city could finish on time. He wasn't trying to kick his neighbor but was reflecting the reality of the District's having started repairs two years later than Montgomery and other jurisdictions.
Suzanne Peck, the city's chief technology officer, has been telling people privately that Duncan's comment was a rallying cry for the District to make repairs by Jan. 1. (It didn't hurt that the federal Office of Management and Budget kicked in more than $140 million.)
Told of Peck's remark, Duncan replied: "I'm glad she's thinking of me. I'm always happy to help the District."
Public Works Director Gets Explicit Instructions
No more cussing employees. That was the message delivered by Mayor Williams and top aides to public works Director Vanessa Dale Burns, who recently was the focus of complaints by her employees over an expletive-laced tirade last month.
Burns, the employees said, was scolding some workers for showing up late for work, at times using words and expressions so raw and inappropriate that the stunned employees reported the incident to the mayor.
Asked later how he handled the matter, Williams said: "She understands clearly and explicitly that we have to motivate people . . . but you don't do it through the use of expletives."
Staff writer Stephen C. Fehr contributed to this report.