District of Columbia voters resoundingly ousted Frank Shaffer-Corona from the school board yesterday, while a second incumbent, Alaire B. Rieffel, was narrowly defeated, according to final, unofficial election returns.
But board members Barbara Lett Simmons and R. Calvin Lockridge survived what some believed might be an anti-incumbent tidal wave, and retained their seats with relative ease.
Shaffer-Corona was trounced in the at-large contest, finishing 12th in a field of 17 candidates. Simmons, 54, won a third term on the board, finishing second in the contest for two at-large seats to the Rev. David H. Eaton, senior minister of All Souls Church. Manuel Lopez, 50, a training coordinator for the U.S. Navy, and Phyllis Young, 41, a founder of a public school lobbying group called Parents United for Full Funding, trailed the two winners.
R. David Hall, 32, a real estate agent and founder of an alternative school for dropouts, defeated Rieffel, a 36-year-old lawyer. Hall collected 2,964 votes, while Rieffel garnered 2,665 in Ward 2.
Lockridge, 47, the outspoken former president and current finance chairman of the board, defeated six challengers in Ward 8. Phinis Jones, a 33-year-old union official, and Linda H. Moody, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, both trailed by 2-to-1 margins.
In the only contest that did not include an incumbent, Wanda Washburn, a 59-year-old housewife and longtime school volunteer, convincingly defeated economist and Democratic party activist Mary Ann Keeffe, 36, for the right to represent Ward 3 on the board. Washburn defeated Keeffe by a margin of more than 2 to 1.
Awaiting the final count last night at the District Building, a downcast but ever-defiant Shaffer-Corona said the returns "do not appear to be reality-based." He blamed his apparent defeat on "the mayor's computer" which had left the names of hundreds of voters off the official voting rolls.
The 38-year-old Shaffer-Corona was the only School Board member ever to be formally censured by his colleagues on the board. During his four years on the board, he took trips to Cuba and Mexico at School Board expense; charged $1,900 worth of phone calls to Iran to the school system in his personal effort to free the American hostages, and met with representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Beirut.
Like Shaffer-Corona, Lopez also threatened legal action against the city's Board of Elections and Ethics, citing numerous problems at polling places in Wards 1 and 3, where he said he had significant support. One precinct opened an hour late and in another his workers were told incorrectly that they were not on the voter rolls, Lopez said.
"They purged the damned rolls and you can't have that kind of arbitrariness . . . The Board of Elections can't keep screwing around this way. This is not a game," Lopez angrily declared.
A jubilant Washburn said her victory was evidence of the "tremendous grass-roots support" she enjoys in that ward, an important point for that ward's representative since Ward 3, the city's most affluent community, often is scorned by other board members.
"The people of Ward 3 are tired of being pushed around by the politicians," Washburn said in an obvious reference to the political figures, including Ward 3 City Council member Polly Shackleton, who had endorsed Keeffe.
Lockridge, who once suggested closing almost all of the schools in the affluent, mostly white part of the city west of Rock Creek, has had a controversial tenure on the board. But his victory last night reflected his high visibility in Ward 8, located in Far Southeast Washington, and a carefully targeted campaign aimed at getting just enough votes to win.
"It's fair to say that people either like me or hate me," he said last night. "If people in a lot of parts of the city had their way, I'd be out. But I think the grass-roots people like me and like my style."
One Ward 8 voter, 18-year-old Richard Woods, recalled that Lockridge spoke to his class at Ballou High School last year. The incumbent was the only one of the candidates he knew, Woods said. So he said he voted for Lockridge.
Lockridge said that the core of his support in the ward was formed by public school parents whom he knew through Parent-Teacher Associations and other groups. He said that he also sought support from teachers, even though the Teachers Union had endorsed Jones. "I tried to pull loose individuals from the union, and I got enough of them," he said.
Lockridge said his campaign identified 1,200 supporters who were likely to vote in yesterday's election, and concentrated efforts on getting those people to the polls. If they did not have transportation, it was provided. He also had more workers, signs and literature at polling places than the other candidates.
The campaign for the five seats came at a time when considerable public attention was focused on the D.C. public schools, primarily for two reasons: the controversial educational tax credit initiative also on yesterday's ballot, and the well-publicized squabbling of board members.
The theme of the campaign for challengers trying to oust incumbent board members was to lump them together and campaign against the board's image. It was a theme supported by most of the major endorsing groups, which generally bypassed incumbents. For example, The D.C. Committee for a Better School Board -- a group headed by former school superintendent Vincent E. Reed and board member Carol L. Schwartz, who decided not to seek another term -- recommended that voters reject all the incumbents.
The newly elected board members, who will be paid $18,000 or more annually during their four-year terms and take office in mid-December, face a number of problems in the school system. For the first time in years, scores on standardized tests have begun to show some improvement, but scores still remain far below the national averages. Several candidates sought to portray themselves as best able to deal with the persistent discipline problems in the schools and with the shrinking resources because of the city's precarious financial position.
Against this backdrop, the 29 candidates waged the most expensive School Board campaign in the city's history. Where some winning candidates spent $500 or less in 1977, several candidates spent more than $5,000 this year.
The 15 at-large challengers made Simmons and Shaffer-Corona the main issues of that race. Both incumbents had squabbled with Reed, who was popular as superintendent. Both were closely identified with the image of the board as a kind of circus where members often concerned themselves with global politics, nuts-and-bolts administration of schools and personality conflicts.
At the same time, though, the incumbents had the advantage of experience, of knowing their way in the city's political circles and the school system. Both stressed their ability to get things done. Simmons, a longtime Democratic party activist, counted on her political connections to help her regain her seat. Shaffer-Corona counted on the fact that he was well known, and tried to defuse his wild-man image by being reserved and circumspect on the campaign trail.
In Ward 2, composed of the inner city and the Dupont Circle, Shaw and new Southwest communities, incumbent Rieffel spent the campaign attempting to avoid being lumped with the other incumbents. She often has been at odds with them during her tenure on the board. She enjoyed the support of the ward's leading politician, Democratic City Council member John A. Wilson, as well as the support of political activists -- including gays -- clustered around Dupont Circle.
But Hall won most of the major endorsements, campaigning on his experience as founder of the D.C. Street Academy, an alternative school for dropouts, and proposals to garner money and support for the schools from corporations.
The race for the Ward 3 seat that Schwartz decided not to seek again quickly became a matter of image. Washburn, a longtime Parent-Teacher Association activist, stressed her ties to the grass-roots public school parent groups in the affluent ward west of Rock Creek Park. Keeffe, a Democratic Party activist, collected the endorsements of virtually all the ward's politicians.