Phyllis Young, who unseated the senior member of the D.C. school board in Tuesday's election, received her winning margins in predominately white Ward 3 and in other areas that have gained large percentages of white voters in recent years.
A high-level bureaucrat with the U.S. Department of Transportation, Young, who was making her third bid in 12 years for an at-large school board seat, beat incumbent Barbara Lett Simmons by 3,000 votes and was the only challenger to win one of the four contested board seats.
A D.C. native with undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics from Howard University, Young said she targeted her campaign to wards where Simmons, a sharp-tongued and articulate advocate for inner-city students, had been weak in past elections.
In addition, Young said, she tried to attract voters in Simmons' traditional strongholds, Wards 4, 5 and 7, which cross the northern half of the city and include the bulk of the city's poor to middle-class black neighborhoods in Northeast and Southeast Washington.
Young, 45, won Wards, 1, 2 and 6, plus Ward 3, which is west of Rock Creek Park, where Young bested Simmons by a 5-to-1 ratio.
Simmons, a board member since 1973 who does not reveal her age, took Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8. The last is the city's poorest ward with the largest concentration of black voters.
In other races, the Rev. David Eaton, 52, the other at-large incumbent, led a field of five at-large candidates, and R. David Hall, 36, won 85 percent of the vote to retain his board seat from Ward 2. Ward 3 incumbent Wanda Washburn, 63, ran unopposed.
But in the Ward 8 race, incumbent R. Calvin Lockridge, 51, won by just 30 votes over Absalom Jordan, 44, one of five challengers.
City election officials reported yesterday that there were 32 absentee ballots in that ward contest, and more may arrive by the time final results are announced on Nov. 15.
The narrowness of the victory did not concern Lockridge, who expected to benefit from having so many opponents carving up the "anti-Lockridge" vote. "A victory is a victory. I've never won in a landslide," he said. "Whenever you challenge the establishment, you're going to have a tough time getting elected. My strength was in the lower end of the ward, in the poor areas where people know I have been out there fighting for them and their children. The system doesn't hear their concerns, but I do."
Lockridge said he will become a minority of one on a board that has become cohesive, low-key and moderate in recent years after a history of combativeness and often bitter divisions.
"Everybody is saying that the superintendent is the best in the country and the school board is great, but the schools are still not the best . . . . If everything is so rosy, why aren't all students scoring at or above the national norm on standardized tests?"
In the at-large race, Young recruited Joseph Carter, a former department store vice president and a political strategist who has worked in District mayoral and council elections, to run her campaign.
Carter said that Young, a longtime parent leader who in 1980 cofounded Parents United, a grassroots group that pressures elected officials in the District Building and on Capitol Hill to support full funding for school board budget requests, was "easy to market."
An endorsement and "great networking" from Manuel Lopez, who had placed third in the 1981 at-large race with more than 18,000 votes, helped boost Young's chances, Carter said.
Young won with 23,052 votes to Simmons' 20,027, according to final but unofficial returns.
Young said two of her top priorities are to involve more parents in board decisions and investigate longstanding allegations by teachers and administrators of widespread nepotism, favoritism and other "improprieties" regarding the hiring and promotion of school employes.
"We parents try to look into a lot of things, but from a parent perspective, sitting on the outside, you can't always get to the bottom line," she said. "A board member can get to the bottom line. You can be privy to sensitive information, and people come to you and bring you information about things that are wrong . . . . "
In her years as a parent lobbyist, Young has talked to many school employes who have ideas for improving the school system's delivery of services but feel too intimidated to "rock the boat."
She added, "There is a high level of intimidation . . . . People are acting as if they are frozen, afraid to speak up, and in an educational environment we can't afford that."
Young, who lives just off Georgia Avenue NW, has two daugthers. One attends Wilson High School and the other the University of the District of Columbia. She said she would keep her federal job, which she said pays about $50,000 a year. She will be paid $23,000 as a board member, considered a part-time position, but said she will use half of her board salary to hire students for her office.