Sunday, February 3, 2008

Councilman Marion Barry Embraces Mayor Fenty's Education Agenda

A lucid column today from Marc Fisher of the Washington Post on D.C.'s current third rail of politics:

When D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed shutting down 23 of Washington's most egregiously underenrolled schools, knee-jerk politicians predictably behaved like those unscrupulous drivers who shout about whiplash after somebody glances their fender.

Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry, still the reigning champion of winning time on the TV news, issued one outraged statement after another, showed up at every protest and, as late as Thursday, was on the tube railing against Rhee: "The chancellor's just being bullheaded. Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!"

Less than 24 hours later, a different Barry shook the mayor's hand and stepped before the cameras at a news conference announcing the final list of schools to be closed. "This is a historic day," the Mayor for Life said with a big smile. "Mayor Fenty took the bold action of making education number one." The closings -- the very same closings Barry had spent the previous two months slamming at every turn -- were suddenly an essential, empowering act of excellence.

So there you have it. One day Councilman Barry is leading a crowd in an anti-Mayor Fenty/Chancellor Michelle Rhee chant (as seen in the video above), the next week he is by their side in full support of their school reform plans.

The Examiner's Harry Jaffe lays it on thick:

[Four-term former mayor] Marion Barry bears the ultimate responsibility for the disgraceful state of many D.C. public schools. It has taken decades of neglect to bring a once-proud school system to its knees. Barry is the architect of that neglect.

Parents are rightly concerned about dramatic reform, and they ought to be involved in the process. People ought to apply rigorous scrutiny to the Fenty-Rhee plan. But in the end, rather than make impassioned arguments in a manner that would promoted resolution, it appeared to many that several activists sought to promote division and speculate on Fenty's unseemly hidden motives. The activists seemed to relish the fight, actually changing Rhee's mind was secondary.

Mayor Fenty was elected with a mandate to take control of the public school system. He and the chancellor ought to be given the opportunity to succeed, because ultimately they should be held responsible for the outcome.

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