In the Aug. 5 edition of the Extra, a story incorrectly identified the Rev. Elbert Ransom Jr. as pastor of Downtown Baptist Church. Ransom is a member of that church, but the pastor is the Rev. Dale Seley. (Published 8/19/04)
The Alexandria School Board is considering holding a new vote for vice chairman after three prominent local African American ministers filed court papers last week asking that the board's July 1 election be overturned because the vote was conducted improperly.
The Alexandria church leaders believe that board member Gwendolyn H. Lewis was denied reelection to her position as vice chair because she cast the lone vote against allowing Schools Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry to keep her job after Perry was arrested for drunken driving, according to the Rev. Lee A. Earl, senior pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Old Town.
"If a woman, a minority, is penalized for using her voice, what are we saying?" Earl said. "This is Alexandria; this is the South. If a woman says what she has to say and she's voted out as vice chair, then the message is there are certain things you don't have a voice on."
Earl, Elbert Ransom Jr., pastor of Downtown Baptist Church, and Thomas Bolen Jr., also of Shiloh, filed the brief Friday in Alexandria Circuit Court, arguing that the court declare the board's vote invalid because it was conducted with paper ballots and that Virginia code and Alexandria School Board policy prohibit secret or written ballots.
School Board Chairman Mark O. Wilkoff said that the board is open to holding a reelection for vice chairman at its first meeting of the school year, Sept. 9, if the ministers agreed to withdraw their brief.
"We would be willing to revote at the next regular meeting," Wilkoff said. "We want to get beyond this and talk about student achievement."
Lewis was defeated 5 to 3 by Mary "Mollie" Danforth for the vice chairmanship. Those voting for Lewis were herself, Charles H. Wilson and Kenneth L. Foran.
Lewis had earlier cast the only dissenting vote in a motion to let Perry keep her job after her arrest and later opposed a proposal that shortened Perry's contract by a year but awarded her a pay raise.
Earl said that the ministers were upset because they attended the July 1 meeting to show support for Lewis and were not allowed to speak.
"I want them to [vote] over again . . . and not ignore the presence or the voice of the community," Earl said.
Asked about the ministers' actions, Lewis said, "I'm humbled by the act . . . that they are concerned enough to do something to jolt the board. It's got to look closely at what it's doing and its relationship with the community and restore a trust that's been broken."
Lewis added: "I hope there will be a moment of healing for the board. We need to come together, and that's not happening. The board needs to show it's not biased and not retaliating. We need to go forward as one board."
The churches are also collecting signatures after Sunday services for a petition drive organized by a Del Ray man seeking to oust School Board member Melissa W. Luby, who joined Perry for cocktails at Joe Theismann's restaurant the night of Perry's arrest April 23. Luby was a passenger in the car Perry was driving when Perry was arrested.
The involvement of the black churches is the latest twist in a controversy that has raged in the city for weeks and shows no sign of abating. Emotions still run high among some residents and parents who believe that Perry should have resigned or been fired after her arrest. Others are upset by comments Luby made after the arrest and believe that Luby should have stopped Perry from driving that night.
On July 28, Luby's son, James J. Luby, 19, pleaded guilty to destruction of property for throwing eggs at the home of a parent trying to have his mother removed from her board seat. He is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow for the Class 3 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of $500.
Samuel Howard Woodson IV, 18, the son of City Council member Joyce Woodson (D) and S. Howard Woodson, president of the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP, was also charged in the incident.
"What has just happened in the past couple weeks is that you have two very powerful African American churches stepping up and saying they don't like what's going on here," said James Boissonnault, the leader of the petition drive to oust Luby. It was Boissonnault's home that was egged.
"You've got a very powerful segment of Alexandria politics that is upset, I believe, because of the appearance of African Americans' voices being negated by this School Board," he said. "That kicks it into a whole new realm. . . . It's just gotten a whole lot worse for the board."
Boissonnault said that with the help from the church leaders, he now has more than 500 signatures in his petition drive and is well on his way to forcing a court hearing on whether to begin the process of removing Luby from the board.
Luby declined to comment on the churches' decision to join the campaign to remove her from office. But she faxed a Post reporter a copy of a letter from an African American supporter who listed Luby's accomplishments working for free drop-in programs and fair redistricting.
"I've been working in support of minority youth in the school system for 14 years," Luby said. "I don't think I should be in the position of defending myself."
REBECCA L. PERRY