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DeMorning DeBonis: Oct. 15, 2010


PREVIOUSLY -- Ehrlich vs. O'Malley: Maryland governor debate liveblog

A day after saying goodbye to Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, the media now begins saying hello to replacement Kaya Henderson. You should start with Bill Turque's piece on today's Metro front, which begins by asking: "Can school reform continue with the same velocity and ambition under a leadership that values consensus and collaboration over blunt force and broken crockery?" Says Henderson, "I'm totally confident we can come together and push reforms with the same urgency." But Bill writes that she was "a bit vague Thursday on what exactly she would do differently while driving the agenda of the woman she called 'my friend, partner, mentor.' What's clear is that the message Gray wants to send is really Henderson herself: a gracious but resolute African American woman with deep roots in both the education reform movement and the District. In other words, Rhee without Rhee." Henderson tells WRC-TV: "I've built a lot of relationships with parents and teachers and folks in the community here in D.C. I'm going to rely on those relationships to continue propel these reforms forward aggressively." (WTOP's Mark Segraves also has a very good interview.) Her public (and political) outreach is off to a quick start: Henderson attended last night's Vincent Gray town hall, at Foundry United Methodist Church in Ward 2, but did not speak.

AFTER THE JUMP -- Rhee thinks education reform sunk Fenty; Kerri Briggs does not -- more Rhee-action -- D.C. GOP raises questions about Harry Thomas nonprofit -- Gray wants Fenty to hold off on solicitations -- Sherwood says Fenty remains "obtuse"


ED REFORM DIDN'T SINK FENTY -- William McKenzie, a Dallas Morning News columnist, has a nice Q&A with ex-State Superintendent of Education Kerri Briggs. On Rhee's departure, she says: "It is a loss to the city. I got the chance to work with her for 18 months. She was so committed and courageous. I'm not surprised but I'm sad for the city." But when McKenzie asks whether Fenty's loss was "a result of poor communication skills" or "a rejection of their education reforms," Briggs says neither: "It is more complicated than that. There was a Washington Post poll that said people were generally happy with what was happening in the schools. But they were not so happy with the mayor. I don't know what that meant. There were higher levels of unemployment, so that may have played into the election. There was some frustration over education reforms. But the defeat was not about education reforms."

ED REFORM DID SINK FENTY -- For Rhee's perspective, we turn to a lengthy interview she did with the Georgetown Public Policy Review. The question: "Do you think last month's primary was truly a referendum on education reform, and essentially, you? Can politics and sound policy work successfully together?" The answer: "Yes, that's what I understand from the polls I've seen, and many residents have said they would have voted for Fenty if he hadn't closed schools, fired teachers, etc. To me this points even more toward how much courage it takes to make the right decisions for kids, rather than to make the decisions that are politically beneficial. I continue to believe that it's dangerous for politics to get a say in decisions about children. If they have to, the political concern should be dead last in line about why you're making a decision that affects kids' futures."

THE CHURN RETURNS -- Count me as in the Briggs camp. In the not-a-column this week, I recount how Rhee and Fenty's tin political ear and Rhee's decision to become a national evangelist for education reform made her early departure fait accompli -- continuing the "churn" that's plagued DCPS for decades: "There's no doubt that Rhee's brashness, and its attendant celebrity, benefited the school system in obvious ways. The heat and light she generated attracted young, ambitious principals and teachers. And then there's the money - particularly the $65 million in private foundation grants that made possible a landmark teacher contract, complete with big raises and fat retroactive checks at a time when other city employees went without contracts for years. But with every magazine cover profile, every appearance in a Hollywood documentary, every trip to the Sun Valley Conference, every Oprah Winfrey guest spot, someone asks: What are you in this for, anyway? ... It falls now to Henderson, who by most accounts is more sensitive to the political demands of the job than her friend and former boss. But more significantly, she will have a boss ... with a better ear for the communications that this town, with its well-earned doormat complex, demands from its public officials."

MORE EDITORIALS -- The Oklahoman writes: "It's hard getting around a sense that education reform in the nation's capital -- and perhaps in the country overall -- suffered a body blow with Michelle Rhee's decision to step down as District of Columbia public schools chief this week. ... Rhee's departure is a setback for national reform efforts in the sense D.C.'s school system has the highest of profiles, with 535 members of Congress noting every development. In that laboratory Rhee produced empirical evidence for reform whose value is hard to overstate." The Boston Globe writes: "Fenty and Rhee deserve great credit for taking on the educational establishment, and their woes grow mainly out of Washington's unique political equation. Nonetheless, Rhee's missteps should be noted by fellow reformers. Voters appreciate the need for swift action to improve schools; but reformers who are insufficiently cognizant of the political process can alienate potential supporters."

ALSO -- Before the resignation news broke, Jay Mathews interviewed Rhee for the Post's "On Education" page. Deborah Simmons writes in the WaTimes that school reform needs to be a "team effort." More unfounded speculation that Rhee might be New Jersey-bound. A Detroit Free Press columnist writes that Rhee's departure "could affect every child in America." Here's a Northern Virginian frustrated by Fenty/Rhee departure. Most Post web site readers give Rhee an "A." And Valerie Strauss does a fabulous public service and collects Rhee's all-time best quotes.

TEAM THOMAS -- The D.C. Republican Committee yesterday unveiled charges that Harry Thomas Jr. is using his "Team Thomas" organization as a "slush fund" that is not in fact the nonprofit it purports itself to be. From today's Post story: "Tim Day, an accountant who is challenging Thomas in the Nov. 2 general election, said the incumbent has been raising money for his Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC program for years but has not been disclosing who his donors are or where the money goes. 'This is a fake organization,' Day said. 'If he has truly received money and donations and has given it back to his community, he should be more than willing to provide documentation.' On Thomas's Web site, he describes Team Thomas as a 'non-profit organization for social change, citizen empowerment, community development and youth and senior development program.' ... Thomas's organization, which he created in 2000, is not registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt nonprofit. The Web site for the city's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which certifies nonprofits locally, says Team Thomas's license has been revoked. In an interview, Thomas accused Day and the GOP of trying to smear him, noting that he and his family have a long history of community service. 'They are on a very useless fishing expedition,' he said."

NO RFPs, PLEASE -- Gray, Michael Neibauer reports inWBJ, "wants more say in any major economic development decisions that the current mayor might make in the last days of his term, citing the inevitable repercussions of those choices on his own impending administration." What might those decisions involve? Various solicitations "expected to transform city neighborhoods, from an underground enclave below Dupont Circle to a 67-acre plot along the Anacostia River." Says Fenty spokesman Sean Madigan, "We have no intention of sitting on our hands until January. ... We'll spend the next three months working closely with Chairman Gray's team and community leaders to keep these projects moving down the right path." But waiting is good, because "last-minute deals could waste millions of dollars and lock the city into agreements it cannot undo" -- in particular, Neibauer warns, you might end up with another 225 Virginia Avenue. Ask Neibauer or Phil Mendelson about it if you have a spare three hours.

LANIER LOOKING GOOD -- Police Chief Cathy Lanier appears to be in good stead with Gray, Matthew Cella reports for the Washington Times. Says Lanier, "I'm still the chief right now and I've got to continue what I've got to do and not be distracted by [speculation]." Cella writes: "The police chief's ongoing tenure has been in question since Mr. Fenty lost his re-election bid. ... But unlike the other high-profile appointees closely associated with Mr. Fenty, Chief Lanier isn't eyeing the exits yet. She said her job brings her into regular contact with Mr. Gray and that the two have spoken since the primary - just not about 'that.' 'We have regular conversations,' she said, 'but I don't say, "Hey, man. You gonna keep me?"' Chief Lanier describes Mr. Gray as 'a nice guy,' adding that the two 'get along,' and there seems to be little of the public acrimony that marked the chairman's relationship with some other Fenty appointees."

THE OBTUSE ANGLE -- WRC-TV's Tom Sherwood notes in his Notebook that Fenty is being "obtuse" in not firmly putting down the write-in insurrection: "So why won't the mayor speak up? Well, once again, the mayor is marching to his own drummer and isn't considering, or is purposely ignoring, the civil political steps he should naturally take. It's the kind of obtuse behavior -- there's that word again -- that cost him re-election." Yes, the Fenty administration is promising an orderly transition, "[b]ut none of it explains or excuses the mayor's truculent response to the simple request that he publicly speak up and speak out against the write-in effort. Tens of thousands of voters supported Fenty. The mayor has the opportunity to tell the die-hards among them that the best thing for the city would be to rally around Gray. It would be a casual act of political decency." And, no, Vince Gray won't debate Fenty write-in supporters: "Who am I debating? The Web site?"


Former MPD Chief Charles Ramsey testifies in Pershing Park evidence probe; says nothing surprising (WTTG-TV)

Hardy Middle School suspends sex survey (G'town Dish)

UDC financial aid snafu means 2,500 are getting late checks (College Inc.)

Could Vince Gray and Robert Hildum have a meeting of the minds? (Examiner)

Check this list of "45 Who Shaped Washington" (Washingtonian)

Is the advent of the elected attorney general all Peter Nickles' fault? Gray says yes. (Loose Lips)

David Catania wins perfect GLAA rating; others improve their standing after providing more information (Blade, DCist)

Gay ANC incumbents are facing energetic challengers, Lou Chibbaro Jr. reports -- notably, Tommy Wells is backing a challenger to gay nightclub mogul Bob Siegel (Blade)

D.C. assistant attorney general disciplined for "ethical violations allegedly committed while in private practice" (Legal Times)

Jack Evans proposes tax break to encourage Shiloh Baptist Church to redevelop its blighted properties (WBJ)

Eleanor Holmes Norton presses voting rights via Stephen Colbert rally (The Hill)

Metro board decides not to reduce SmarTrip prices after all (Post, GGW)

UDC's 801 North Capitol Street building is now open (College Inc.)

"Professor Fenty" news hits northern Ohio (Chronicle-Telegram)

Cupcake truck wins DCRA's Curbside Cookoff (DCist)

FBi investigating powder-filled letters sent to Bancroft and Adams elementary schools (AP via WaTimes)

Expect to hear a lot more about this today: Man beaten to death after tossing brick through DC9's window (

Adams Morgan resident complains about trash-pickup cancellation in wake of DPW's murder -- "Fellow gentrifiers, this is why people hate us." (

Through pen-pal subterfuge, cops tried to get Chandra Levy murder suspect to confess (Post)

Another Georgetown library preview (DCmud)

*** ON THE MENU ***

WTU's George Parker on Kojo, noon on WAMU-FM -- a WHOLE WEEK without DMDB

By Mike DeBonis  | October 15, 2010; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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