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DeMorning DeBonis: Aug. 19, 2010

TODAY IS AUGUST 19, 2010 -- 26 DAYS UNTIL PRIMARY DAY

"Is Adrian Fenty a Jerk?" asks City Paper's Alan Suderman in his cover profile of Hizzoner, along with its corollary: Does it matter? If you believe the parade of anonymous aides describing their boss' bad behavior, then, yes, he is most certainly a jerk. But Suderman's piece is best when it tackles the essential fallacy of Fenty's political mindset: That to be effective, you must to be a jerk -- a premise Suderman dispatches with a famous, lascivious quote from former Philly mayor Ed Rendell. He continues: "Inside Camp Fenty, true believers see establishment disdain as a badge of achievement. ... To Fenty loyalists, you can't play along with the schmoozing and deal-making, or you'll get trapped in it. Irritating insiders is a sign you're doing something right. One problem with this CEO, take-it-or-leave it approach is that it all falls apart when you don't live up to your own standards. Like, say, when Fenty pal Sinclair Skinner -- a failed dry cleaner before Fenty was elected -- winds up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in city contracts for engineering work that he couldn't actually do himself. ... But the other problem with this sharp-elbowed logic is that it assumes all acts of political gear-greasing are equally rotten. That's absurd. Not every political insider wants contracts for their buddies." A great read.

AFTER THE JUMP -- laying bare the Fenty education record -- Michael Brown caught exaggerating his athletic exploits -- "Mayor Adrian Fenty is the white candidate and D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray is the black candidate" -- why the "Most Powerful Person in D.C. Real Estate" is Michelle Rhee

*** MAIN COURSE ***

NUT QUOTE -- From Alan's profile: "Philip Pannell, a long-time Ward 8 resident and current president of that ward's largest civic association, tells the story of when Fenty sat next to him at a community meeting. The mayor said hello, then spent the rest of his time typing away on his BlackBerry, giving the impression he did not want to be interrupted. Putting the phone away and shooting the breeze for a few minutes costs nothing. Yet he says Fenty was unwilling, or unable, to do it. 'When certain people come up to me and say, "Why are you supporting Vince Gray?" and I make it very, very clear, I really don't like the mayor. And they say, "Isn't there a better reason than that?" And I say, "No, that's really enough for me,"' Pannell says. 'Vince Gray will do the same things that Adrian Fenty is doing. Vince Gray is not going to stop building new schools or libraries or hire a bad police chief. He's just going to actually make you feel good about him as mayor. He's a person who will spend time with you, quality time with you and will actually come across as someone who cares, and I think that is in and of itself is worth voting for.'"

THE EDUCATION MAYOR -- The Fenty record on education -- his signature, defining issue -- is examined by Post ed-beatster Bill Turque. Fenty and Michelle Rhee cite a litany of figures showing fast, dramtic success. "But underlying the numbers are caveats and complexities usually lost in the sound-bite staccato of a political campaign," Bill writes. "Drill deeper, and the Fenty-Rhee record of improvement is discernible but more modest -- even fragile. The data show how far the city remains from the goal the mayor set three years ago: to make the District's public schools the highest-performing urban system in the country. Even those who admire the energy Fenty and Rhee have brought to D.C. education say they have hurt their cause by overstating their success." Test scores "are indeed up, continuing a trend that began under Rhee's predecessor," but there were retreats on elementary school scores this year. Still, the "gold standard" NAEP scores show big progress, but the "achievement gap" widened. Enrollment loss has significantly slowed, but it has not stopped. And graduation rates are poor, even when counted using an unusual and favorable methodology. The system has benefited from nearly $1 billion in physical plant upgrades, but there are questions as to whether the money was distributed equitably across the city. And while the city has made progress escaping from federal litigation on its special education system, plaintiffs say much work remains.

CAUGHT RED-HANDED -- So very delighted to be aggregating the work of fabulous City Paper sports columnist Dave McKenna -- who, fresh off exposing Maryland Del. Michael Vaughn's false athletic boasting, now turns to Michael A. Brown's false athletic boasting. First, Brown claimed he was an "All-Met," but there's no evidence that he ever appeared on any Post-selected All-Met team. Then Brown said he played in the Capital Classic, a well-known exhibition game for top prep players, and submitted a box score as proof: "Sure enough, there was Michael Brown of the D.C. All-Stars. ... One problem: It ain't the same Michael Brown." Not only was that game played a year after Brown graduated high school, but that was a Michael Brown from Baltimore. The only possible basis for Brown's boasts: A "Brown" played in a preliminary game of the 1983 "Capital Classic." The takeaway: "After archives dives that turned up clips about both the Syracuse-bound Capital Classic veteran and 1980s George Washington University standout Mike Brown, I'm pretty certain that the councilmember was no better than the third-best Michael Brown on the era's local basketball courts. If he keeps digging, we may well learn that the Brown was not only not All-Met, but that he'd barely make an All-Michael Brown team."

DEBATE RECAP -- Fenty and Gray faced off on WAMU-FM yesterday, sticking to the usual issues and largely evading some tough questions on race from Kojo Nnamdi. Nikita Stewart notes at D.C. Wire that "Hours after [Fenty]'s campaign unveiled a new television ad where he promises to listen and do better, his calm was ruffled. ... 'You cut me off,' Fenty told guest commentator Tom Sherwood as Fenty was answering a question about listening. It was a highlight of the hour-long radio debate where both candidates stuck to their themes and attacks." DCist's Martin Austermuhle writes that the duel "didn't shed much new light on either of the two candidates or the issues that have come to define the tight contest between the two." NBC Washington's P.J. Orvetti says "Neither candidate had a great performance. Fenty lamely defended his pocket veto of a bill prohibiting paying people to vote by saying it was a conflict of interest for Council members seeking reelection to pass it. He also side-stepped a question on his latest albatross, the $400,000 no-bid contract for Peaceaholics. ... As for Gray, he could not offer a specific example of executive leadership during his long career, leading Nnamdi and [Sherwood] to suggest Gray seeks consensus too frequently at the cost of decisiveness." The TBD Facts Machine evaluates a Fenty claim that Gray did not appoint an AIDS chief while human services director: "Upon review, it's hard to blame the two-year vacancy on Gray.... This doesn't mean Gray did a fantastic job managing the Office of AIDS Activities."

RACIAL SPLIT -- Writing off the Clarus poll released yesterday, Freeman Klopott makes the boldest statement of the election cycle: "Mayor Adrian Fenty is the white candidate and D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray is the black candidate." Why? "About 61 percent of white D.C. Democrats polled ... backed Fenty, compared with 54 percent of black voters polled supporting Gray." Oh, OK. The Clarus numbers also win coverage from WaTimes, AP, WBJ, WAMU-FM, WTTG-TV, DCist, and TBD, which runs this correction: At the very beginning of the process of explaining what it all means, we incorrectly stated that today was Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. We regret the error."

RHEE-L ESTATE -- "The Most Powerful Person in D.C. Real Estate" is ... Michelle Rhee! Lydia DePills, back from vacay at Housing Complex, makes a strong case: "It's a pretty widely-acknowledged principle that good schools are a huge factor in local property values. Until recently, that didn't hold so much in D.C., since anyone of any means would shell out for private schools or move out of the District once their kids entered kindergarten. Now, getting into the right district for a high-performing school is a key element in the housing search. ... All of this means that the Chancellor's decisions--which schools are closed, which are renovated, and which principals go where--can govern where current and prospective parents want to live. It also impacts the childless, since their home values go up if they live in a good school district. Hell, it even affects commercial real estate-many companies consider school quality when they decide where to put large numbers of employees."

HOW TO SELL LIVABLE-WALKABLE -- Also: DePillis, writing off my Ward 6 piece yesterday, has some messaging advice for Tommy Wells to avoid the rhetoric being used by opponent Kelvin Robinson: "Instead of painting a picture of a rosy future, Wells might be better advised to depict the absence of excellent transit and walkable communities as a current ill that must be rectified, putting those deficiencies on the level of crime as a pressing issue. Solving problems is an easier sell than bringing in new toys. The bag tax, at almost no cost to the individual, solves the problem of a dirty and polluted river, which alleviates the harmful fact that nearby residents can't enjoy their waterfront. Positive visions are great and all, but sometimes going negative is what changes minds."

SHOULD SHE GO? -- Sam Chaltain, "educator and strategist," asks whether Michelle Rhee should remain schools chief in a post at The Answer Sheet: "Rhee's primary weapon - a fierce, uncompromising rhetoric - has also been her Achilles heel. She has recklessly alienated a majority of the very people she most needs for lasting reform to occur: the city's public school teachers. Additionally, her quixotic faith in 'data' - and a limited definition of data at that - is leading us toward a system where schools and educators are incentivized to relentlessly, and with great discipline, move the needle on a single measure of basic-skills proficiency in math and reading. This is an extremely effective political strategy, for it locates a nebulous and Sisyphean effort in a single, easily trackable number. It's also, I believe, a largely illusory effort that hinders our ability to identify truly aspirational standards for children."

WTU, AFT AT ODDS -- Today in teachers union politics: Bill Turque reports at D.C. Schools Insider that the American Federation of Teachers has moved to take over the much-delayed Washington Teachers' Union election. "AFT president Randi Weingarten has made good on her threat to assume control of the WTU's stalled elections, announcing late Tuesday that she had placed the local under an 'administratorship' to conduct the balloting in a timely manner. The move, which the AFT says does not interfere with the union's day-to-day operations, came after WTU president George Parker and the union executive board refused to comply with an Aug. 4, order to begin the election immediately. 'The AFT intervened for one purpose only--to ensure that the WTU membership has the right to a timely and fair election of its officers," Weingarten said in a statement. 'Intervention like this is uncommon, and we avoid in every way possible involving ourselves in political differences between union officers.'" Late yesterday evening, Bill reported that the WTU had filed a federal lawsuit against the AFT seeking to block the takeover.

DOWN WITH PEPCO -- Post columnist Bob McCartney lays into Pepco, which is taking a beating from the Maryland Public Service Commission. "For years, Pepco insisted instead it was just an unlucky victim of Mother Nature and of selfish tree-lovers who wouldn't let the company do necessary trimming to protect overhead wires. Now it turns out the customers were right all along: Pepco is at the bottom of the class when it comes to frequency of power losses. What's more, Pepco has known about the problem since at least 2005 and has been too cheap or lazy to correct it. ... Happily, in an authentic victory for grass-roots civic activism, the climate of opinion surrounding Pepco has changed dramatically in response to the widespread outages that followed thunderstorms this summer and blizzards last winter. Letters from furious customers have forced politicians and the Public Service Commission to demand answers and talk about imposing penalties if Pepco doesn't improve. It's important to keep up the pressure, because people's outrage tends to evaporate pretty quickly once their televisions and refrigerators are back on." Also: Can I mention how much I love Wall Street? POM is up from last week!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS -- Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray will face off in The Washington Post/WAMU-FM/WRC-TV debate at noon on Sept. 1 at the Newseum. "Eugene Robinson, columnist and associate Editor of The Washington Post, will moderate the discussion. Washington Post Reporter Nikita Stewart, NBC4 Reporter Tom Sherwood and WAMU 88.5 Reporter Patrick Madden will ask questions about major election issues facing the District including the economy, education, D.C. statehood, and public safety. The 60-minute debate will be streamed live on washingtonpost.com. The debate will also be broadcast on WAMU 88.5 later that day and on NBC4 Sept. 2 at 12 p.m." Get tickets while they last!


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Why poverty matters vis-a-vis school reform (D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute)

Adrian Fenty, viewed through the prism of the South Park Movie (Farm Fresh Meat)

More on Bloomberg endorsement (NPR, NYT)

A handy breakdown of the real-estate related contributions on the mayoral finance reports -- Vincent Mark Policy and Andy Schaeffer for Fenty; Tersh Boasberg, Michelle Hagans and Joseph Horning for Gray (Housing Complex)

DCPS launches back-to-school Web site (TBD)

Saturday is DCPS Beautification Day! (Capital Land)

Southwest waterfront "groundbreaking" was pretty much just a photo op -- don't expect any real construction till 2012 (DCmud)

DCIAA prepares to tighten prep athletic eligibility, including a crackdown on free transfers (Post)

"A lower percentage of black males graduated from high school in D.C. than in all but five states, according to a new study." (WAMU-FM)

Man plans to plead guilty in bus theft (Post)

Eleanor Holmes Norton would like to know what's up with the Capitol Visitor Center, thankyouverymuch (Politico)

The question: To mural or not to mural? (GGW, TBD)

Could, gulp, Philly Pizza return to G'town? (Vox Populi)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Youth advocates host candidates forum on juvenile justice issues, moderated by yours truly, IDEA Public Charter School, 1027 45th St. NE

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 19, 2010; 11:25 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike , The District  
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Comments

What's your real job at the Post? Promoting the City Paper? I see you mention lots of others but at times, I can't tell if I'm reading the Post or the City Paper and that annoys the heck out of me.

Posted by: 1citizen | August 19, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

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