We know much, and will soon know much more, about the stated positions of the candidates for mayor of the District on issues affecting the city. What we do not know, to a surprising degree, is who they are--that is, where they came from, what they remember or think is important about the way they got here. In recent interviews with Michael Barone, the five principal candidates for the Democratic nomination talked about their early lives--personal and political.
"It never occurred to me that I wouldn't work." She has a r,esum,e that makes her look like an upper-class Ivy Leaguer, but in fact Betty Ann Kane's background is quite different. She grew up in small houses on the humblest streets of high-income but not fashionable suburbs: Teaneck and Tenafly, N.J. They were not new suburbanites, but natives: her father had grown up on a dairy farm in Englewood, long before the George Washington Bridge connected it with Manhattan; he worked for the gas company and never went to college. Her mother went to Montclair Normal and taught school for all but two years until retirement. They worked hard and saved to buy each house and to help all the children go to college. They never discussed politics, religion or sex; her father read the Daily News and voted Republican.
As a student at Middlebury College in Vermont, Kane wanted to study physics, but her counselor told her girls didn't; she moved to a safer career, English and secondary education. But instead of teaching in high school, she went to graduate school at Yale and started a dissertation on Milton and the Renaissance tradition. Her husband helped support her by teaching at a private school in Cheshire, in the hilly country 15 miles north of New Haven.
Those were the years when she got involved in politics. She was one of the leaders of the third party, anti-war campaign of Robert Cook in 1966. He was running in the heavily Catholic, Italian-American New Haven area against Rep. Robert Giaimo (who years later sponsored antiwar measures himself, but then backed LBJ.)
Kane campaigned door-to-door for Cook in East Haven, a town of beach houses that need paint and 20-year-old working-class subdivisions with frame houses huddled between the hills that are plopped down in the sandy, stony Connecticut coastlands. "Asking people to vote against the war, when their boys were being killed" made an impression on her. "What interested me was the willingness of people to listen, to let you in and have a lemonade." Cook won only 3 percent of the vote in East Haven. But Kane picked up a taste for politics--not the politics of theory, but the politics of talking to people about issues of central importance to their lives.
She moved to Washington in 1967: her husband went to law school, and this time she worked to see him through, first at Catholic University, then at the Folger Library, where she set up a program to train high school teachers in Shakespeare. She helped found the Capitol Hill Action Group, lobbied successfully against a proposed office building and in 1974 ran for school board in the city at-large.
Her campaign consisted mostly of personal appearances all over the city, talking to parents about school issues. When she ran for reelection, two of her opponents withdrew in a television debate in favor of a third, in order, they said, to beat the white woman who voted to remove superintendent Barbara Sizemore. Kane got 58 percent of the vote and carried all but three precincts. To some it seemed an extraordinary result. To the Kane who asked the mothers of East Haven soldiers to vote against the war, it must have seemed a case of hard work and toughness being appreciated by people whose experience is not so different from hers as her re'sume' suggests.