A Lesson from the Capital

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, October 05, 2010 No Comment(s)

A few weeks ago in Washington, we got an interview with the mayor of the city. Well, not quite an interview, but we talked to the mayor. The interesting thing was that it did not even require a phone request for a meeting. Adrian Fenty’s election was coming up, and he was campaigning near the famous Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill section. He just walked up, slapped a sticker on your shirt, and asked for support. We told him he had it, but it wouldn’t do him much good in Florida.

He lost. He lost because he did a good job. When elected, he promised to take on Washington’s terrible educational system and its high crime rate. He did that, and succeeded at both; the first black mayor in a city with a large black population to earn widespread admiration outside his city. Washington was better off for him. The problem was that many of the blacks who elected him overwhelmingly in the first place did not like the way he succeeded. He brought in an outsider, Michelle Rhee, to run the schools. A reformer with a past success in New York, she began getting rid of bad teachers and closing bad schools. The unions did not like that.

Fenty struck many black voters as elitist because he was popular with white voters and did not promote hacks from within. He hired the best people he could find, like Michelle Rhee. So many voters saw him as a traitor to his race, if not his class. He has a lot of class. A black candidate, a popular and seemingly decent fellow, won the election a few days after we met Fenty. The mayor elect’s problem now is that he has to listen to the voters who rejected Fenty. Most observers expect him to get rid of his schools' chief, Rhee. Washington will then return to politics as usual, which likely means a reversal of all the progress of recent years.

Back in Florida, the recent lesson of Washington politics has relevance. Gov. Crist, hoping for teachers union support in his run for the Senate, opposed merit pay for teachers. Unions liked that, as much as they dislike vouchers and other programs designed to give poor families a choice between bad public schools and good private ones. And just this week a Broward school board member and her husband got arrested. It is the usual game. Wife votes, husband takes the money. Conflict? What conflict? It was the second school board member to get her butt in the porridge. One is already convicted, and judging by the amount of exposure of suspicious dealings at the school board, the investigations will continue.

The system cries for reform, and with other board members retiring, a bunch of new faces are up and running. If they are truly reform minded people, we wish them well. Even if it costs them their jobs.

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