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National teachers union debuts pro-Gray radio ads, as Rhee denounces anti-union campaign

A major national teachers union started running ads Tuesday supporting Vincent Gray's mayoral run. The American Federation of Teachers, parent of the local Washington Teachers' Union, has produced a 30-second radio spot scheduled to run on 10 stations, including ratings leader WTOP, in the coming weeks.

The AFT's spot features two D.C. public school teachers, Marni Barron and Jackie Hines, who trade off reading the script: "Vince Gray will be a full-time mayor who serves our entire city, who respects and listens to all of us. He knows our greatest potential will be realized when our kids are succeeding. ... There is no doubt in my mind that Vince Gray will make a great mayor for all of us," they say.

Debra DeShong Reed, a spokeswoman for the AFT, says the union's political arm is spending a "substantial amount" on the ads. Another national union, the American Federation of Government Employees, has also produced pro-Gray radio ads, targeting incumbent Adrian Fenty's firings of public employees.

The campaign comes days after the WTU officially endorsed Gray and one day after the start of early voting in the primary. "We follow the local, and clearly education has been a major issue in this campaign," Reed says.

No kidding. DCPS and both the local and national unions have battled bitterly over teacher firings and how teachers should be evaluated, among other issues. Note that AFT President Randi Weingarten played a primary role in negotiating the new contract ratified by DCPS teachers this year -- a role that put her in close contact with Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is expected to depart should Gray win.

The union's ads also debut a day after an anti-labor group, the Center for Union Facts, began a TV, radio and print campaign taking aim at the AFT and WTU.

The D.C. Public Schools took steps to distance itself from that campaign Tuesday, releasing a letter [PDF] sent by DCPS General Counsel James Sandman to CUF founder Rick Berman. The letter accuses Berman of using Rhee's name without authorization to raise money for the campaign, which Sandman described as a "virulent anti-teachers' union media attack."

Sandman wrote: "Your solicitation gives the false and misleading impression that there is a connection between your activities and supporting Chancellor Rhee's work for the District of Columbia Public Schools. Chancellor Rhee has not authorized -- and in fact strongly opposes -- your activities. She is informing donors and grantors that what you are doing will not help a single student in the District of Columbia Public Schools, that she does not support your efforts, and that they should not contribute to your 'campaign.' "

Sandman asked Berman to "cease and desist" using Rhee's name in the solicitations and to inform donors that Rhee is not a supporter.

Sarah Longwell, a spokeswoman for the Center for Union Facts, says the fundraising had already ended by the time the letter was sent. She says that some of the group's pitches for support did mention Rhee. "There's no two ways about it, Michelle Rhee is the face of reform in D.C.," she said.

Longwell downplayed the school system's concerns. "It would not surprise us at all that Michelle Rhee would want to distance herself from our campaign. She's got a political battle on her hands where she has to deal with the union day in and day out," she said. "We don't."

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 31, 2010; 5:55 PM ET
Categories:  DCision 2010 , Michelle Rhee , The District , Vincent Gray  
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Sure. And if you believe Rhee had nothing to do with the anti-union ads you probably believe that all those teachers Rhee fired had been slapping around students too. Nice try, but the disavowal doesn't wash.

Posted by: duncanjo | August 31, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

The union campaign could really backfire because for those on the fence it may accentuate concerns that Gray will become hostage to the teachers' union and not continue with reforms.

Posted by: RachelWT | August 31, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Let me add (why can't one edit a comment one has posted?) that I think the anti-union campaign -- to which the union campaign is a response -- is really bad news. So on second thought, maybe the union has to respond.

Posted by: RachelWT | August 31, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee is a political snake-in-the-grass who has repeatedly violated the federal Hatch Act.

It is also disappointing that Mike DeBonehead repeatedly mentions that Rhee will leave if Gray is elected, yet he fails to mention that she will most likely leave if Fenty is elected as she is marrying Mayor Johnson of Sacramento, CA. Rhee is gone REGARDLESS who is elected.

DeBonehead's column is definitely yellow journalism.

Posted by: ashafer_usa | August 31, 2010 8:30 PM | Report abuse

Vince Gray, a very nice man, would like to retain Rhee, but he does not want to say that in public.

Unionistas' election chant:

Leave No Teacher Behind

We get the kind of government we deserve.

Posted by: axolotl | August 31, 2010 9:24 PM | Report abuse

Since l963, when I came to teach in DCPS, too many voters have been silent as children failed. All of us have failed our children. It is... a form of child abuse. Change is hard and uncomfortable...but, why stop now?

Posted by: judithclaire1939 | August 31, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

This just gives more weight to the belief that Gray has made a secret deal with the WTU to fire Rhee if he is elected. Gray should be honest with the electorate about what he plans to do about Rhee. I also have a lot of problems with Gray selling out to the same union that contributed heavily to the mess the schools are currently in.

Posted by: pluperfectdc | September 1, 2010 8:38 AM | Report abuse

This comment is neither pro nor anti Gray, but I do think the Union has to pick its allies a little more carefully. Gray's biggest education advisors are school choice people, Josh Kern from a charter school and the people from FOCUS. Whether the Union likes it or not, Fenty chose to focus (no pun intended) primarily on DCPS schools. If Gray plans on expanding charter authority in the city it means that more schools will close and more union teachers will lose their job.

Posted by: delray | September 1, 2010 10:09 AM | Report abuse

Many people imply that reform can't happen without trashing teachers. This is not true. A new mayor and superintendent can improve DC schools by hiring teachers with proven track records of success, supporting weaker teachers with mentors, including teachers in the reform process, and increasing the number of high-quality preschools for young children.

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 1, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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