An old reporting colleague, still living in the District, sends this along:
Last Jan., WaPo did a poll that said most residents loved the direction the city was heading in. But they hated Fenty and saw him as arrogant. He had nearly a year to change that perception. Instead, everything he did during the campaign only reinforced that narrative.He had no legit campaign staff. His spokesperson was fresh out of college. How do you graduate from college and end up being the face of a big-city mayor's re-election campaign? On the weekend before the election, Fenty did a triathlon. Gray went to a bunch of churches.Both Fenty and Rhee seemed to delight in firing teachers. That was their downfall. You can fire them. Just don't gloat. A lot of people I talked to on election day mentioned Rhee calling in security to escort fired teachers out of their schools in the middle of class. It wasn't cool.The city's unemployment rate is 9.8 percent. 30 percent in Ward 8. Fenty's response: D.C.'s always had a high unemployment rate. Imagine if Obama said that? This past Spring, the D.C. Auditor found that the city was not enforcing it's Living Wage law and First source law. Fenty didn't give a shit. Even though the auditor found it cost the city hundreds of jobs and millions in wages.
At the premiere last night of Waiting for Superman (a new documentary on failing urban schools and the reform movement Rhee comes out of), a crowd of national political, media, and education policy gave Rhee a big ovation, and the narrative that was emerging of Tuesday's election was pretty clear: School reform killed Fenty.Which is a preposterously oversimplified way of looking at it. Yes, like many of the white, young, well-educated gentrifying class that made up Fenty's base, I think Rhee's reform plans have the potential to shake up a failing system. And yes, it's clear that much of Gray's base--especially the American Federation of Teachers members who endorsed him and spent $1 million on his behalf--didn't see it that way. But what went wrong with education reform in D.C. wasn't necessarily the substantive policy, or even Rhee's implementation of it. What went wrong with education reform in D.C. was Adrian Fenty.
...the split over education policy didn't have to get so vitriolic and racially charged. if Fenty believed as strongly as Rhee says he did that school reform was good for everyone in the city, he should have doubled down on his efforts to persuade others that it was. Instead, he watched, smugly confident in his own political sense, and sure people would grasp what he and Rhee were doing. And since no one bothered to try to tell voters why firing teachers and closing schools would yield long-term results, some voters, perfectly reasonably, rejected the idea.But not all voters, and that's where the school reform focus in the post-mortems goes even more astray. This election was not a referendum on Rhee. A Mayor Fenty who didn't let basic political outreach slide, and who made some effort to keep the District's black middle class engaged in their government, who didn't give his frat brothers sweetheart contracts, who didn't snub Dorothy Height, and who picked his battles for important issues (like fixing schools) instead of pointless ones (like baseball tickets for the D.C. Council) could have done exactly what Fenty did on education, and still won. And even without Rhee, the Fenty we actually saw for the last few years would still have lost to Gray, who--after all--hammered Fenty mostly on style and process grounds.