As we approach the holiday weekend, the mayoral campaign continues to ratchet up a bit. Education was the big topic this week, a subject that most certainly matters and most certainly will not fade. There’s been some developments in the Ward 1 race, and Vincent Orange is becoming a bit more visible. There’s been a good deal of news, so let’s get to it.
The Big Race
- Fenty bails on education debate. The mayor was tentatively scheduled to appear with challenger Vincent Gray to debate education policy. Fenty, however was a no-show and the debate turned into a forum, giving Gray the stage to talk about his vision. The move also adds more ammunition to the “Fenty is aloof and disconnected” argument. Does it matter? Yes. Education is one of Fenty’s strongest points and he blew the first big chance to tout it. There will be other chances, to be sure, but this leaves a sour taste in the mouth of undecideds who care about the schools. The WaPo Editorial Board slammed Fenty for this, rightfully so. It also causes other problems, which brings us to…
- Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee gets into it. Probably the biggest hubub of the week, Michelle Rhee has all but threatened to quit if Fenty is not re-elected. Does it matter? Maybe not as much as you’d think. For the undecideds in Wards 2 and 3, Rhee is a huge selling point for Fenty. I’d venture a guess that some may hold their nose and vote Fenty if only to keep Rhee. On the other hand, those who don’t like Rhee at all probably wouldn’t vote for Fenty under any circumstance. Gray should end this whole thing right now and simply say he would not keep Rhee if elected. So far, Gray hasn’t decided either way, which leads to accusations of waffling and playing it safe. This is a measured and possibly even mature decision, but Gray needs to show he can take a stand on something, especially something that is emotional and controversial.
- The week ends with Gray announcing his education plan. Yesterday, Gray released his plan for education in the District. The plan fits with Gray’s campaign image thus far, which I would dub “moderately visionary.” The gist of the plan is that Gray understands that revamping the schools is a difficult task, one that calls for new ideas and strong leadership. There’s a big but after that, though–Gray does say that the changes have to be institutional, and cannot rely on one person (read: Rhee). This is certainly a campaign document, a dozen or so pages to talk about how improvement is important, without taking a particularly strong stance on anything. Check it out for yourself here. Does it matter? It’s not a game changer. This document doesn’t say anything extremely controversial. It’s essentially the epitome of the Gray campaign: Generally we like what Fenty is doing, but we would do it better, with more of smile, and with more communication. There are some nuts and bolts details left out of here (e.g. how to pay for things), but it’s something, and it’s written. Where we go from here is what will be the killer, Fenty still has an education record he can run on–he’s been bumbling along lately, but it’s his topic to lose. This week Fenty did release a summary of his administration’s accomplishments, as well as the vision for the future.
- Gray and Fenty split business endorsements. Gray comes away with the Chamber of Commerce endorsement while Fenty grabs the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade was happy with Fenty’s ability to make unpopular decisions–something that resonates with business leaders (but perhaps not the average voter). As Mike DeBonis at the Post highlights, the Board of Trade is more focused on the region while the Chamber is more D.C. specific. Does it matter? Oh boy, more split decisions. Losing both of these would have been a bad sign for Fenty, the mixed result is less newsworthy. Both candidates can claim to have the support of business leaders, though Fenty has a lot of baggage in that department to contend with. How does this play with voters? I’ll say that it probably doesn’t make much of a difference.
- Where do we stand? If the election were held today, it’s trending towards Gray. Fenty can still turn it around, of course, but it’s been another week of bumbles and failed opportunities.
DC Council, Chairman
- Kwame Brown also wins Board of Trade endorsement. The incumbent Councilmember beat out former Pepco executive Vincent Orange for the nod, mostly on his ability to build consensus. Does it matter? Yet another endorsement for Brown. The best recap of this was a quote from Board of Trade President Jim Dinegar: “It doesn’t mean Vincent Orange can’t do it; it’s just that Kwame did it.”
- Orange strikes back. Vincent Orange sent out a batch of direct mailings, highlighting his past experience on the Council as well as an emphasis on education. Also, oddly enough, he cites smart grid technology as part of his vision for D.C. Orange is also hitting Brown over his voting present for District Attorney General Peter Nickles confirmation. Nickles, who has turned out to be quite a sore spot in Mayoral-Council relations, convinced Brown to change his mind on a no vote at the last minute. Brown says this was a learning experience, he made a mistake when giving Nickles a second-chance. Orange is trying to paint Brown as “MR. MISTAKE” for this one. Does it matter? Brown does admit that Nickles was a mistake, which probably counts for something. It at least counted enough for him to get the backing of most of the current Council. This could resonate with voters, though it will be hard for Orange to paint Brown as someone who is either too close to Fenty or makes a lot of mistakes.
DC Council, Ward One
- Bryan Weaver gets DC Latino Caucus endorsement. Finally, some news out of Ward 1. Weaver edged out incumbent Jim Graham for the endorsement, with a 28-18 vote. Does it matter? Right now this is a three-way race, with Jeff Smith also in the mix. Latino support is crucial to Jim Graham, who as Tim Craig notes might be suffering due to the arrest and indictment of his former Chief of Staff Ted Loza. Weaver’s endorsement could help him expand support in the community, as well as raise more funds. Unrelated, someone from Weaver’s campaign dropped a whole bunch of campaign walk sheets and voter registration forms along 16th St NW earlier this week.
Other Council races were relatively quiet this week. If something is going on in your Ward, or even your ANC, send along a tip. Find me at @DaveStroup on Twitter, or send me an email. Got a candidate or issue you’d like us to profile? You know what to do.