“Shaken.” “Uncharacteristically silent.” “Close to tears.”
Those were some of the descriptions of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee after she emerged from a meeting with presumptive mayor Vincent Gray Thursday afternoon. While Gray said they had a “great conversation,” Rhee certainly looked -- well, kinda gray.
The details of the meeting remain a secret, and Gray told reporters, “We did not talk about Chancellor Rhee staying or going. We talked about the state of education in the city.” He said it will not be their last meeting, and indicated that Rhee will have a role in his transition into the mayor’s office. Whether she will be transitioning out of her own job remains up in the air.
But since the principals are keeping mum, observers are squinting at the tea leaves. Bill Turque and Tim Craig of the Washington Postwrite that Rhee “looked grim and subdued as she withdrew to a far corner” after the meeting, then “slipped back into the corridor fronting his fifth-floor office and rushed to the elevators” as Gray continued to speak. The Washington Times says Rhee emerged with “shoulders slumping” and “wedged herself in a corner.” Washington City Paper’s Alan Suderman says Rhee “looked awkward, unhappy, and basically like she’d rather be anywhere else on the planet.”
Gray told reporters that the two engaged in “a philosophical discussion also about how she views and how I view moving forward,” and said he would not make any decisions about personnel until he is actually elected in November. He said he has given no thought to a possible successor. DCist’s Martin Austermuhle says Gray “didn’t ask Rhee to resign, nor did she offer to step down.” Gray said that while the meeting was polite enough, “there were no apologies in there.”
Rhee did say that there is nothing to a New York Times report suggesting that she could head up I-95 to run the Newark, N.J., schools. But Newark could be a great second act for Rhee. Mayor Cory Booker is Adrian Fenty’s political and personal doppelganger, and New Jersey’s new reform-minded Republican Gov. Chris Christie wants to turn Newark’s schools around. The system is also about to get $100 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Rhee could have a lot of fun with that money.
Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg will appear on “Oprah” today to discuss Newark’s schools, and the city’s newspaper today lists Rhee among the candidates to lead them. (She’s also being mentioned as a candidate to lead Montgomery County’s schools.)
Rhee, who appeared on “Oprah” herself last week, got some network love Thursday evening when the CBS Evening News ran a feature on the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which is called “a harsh and unflattering look at the state of public education in America.” The film casts Rhee in a heroic light. She will also appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
The Washington Post also has yet another kind word for Rhee in an editorial on the IMPACT evaluation system, saying Rhee “raised millions of dollars in private money to finance performance pay by developing a system that fairly evaluated -- and rewarded -- teacher ability.”
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* Will Rhee be the first to go under Mayor Gray? Harry Jaffe isn’t so sure. In his Washington Examiner column, he says he expects popular police chief Cathy Lanier to depart “months before Michelle Rhee takes off.” Like a lot of Fenty Administration folks, Lanier has been a great success on paper, but “lost the hearts and minds” of her subordinates along the way. Jaffe says Lanier “is at war with the police union,” which backed Gray.
* Department of Youth Rehabilitation interim director Robert Hildum is another official whose fate is on the line, and the Washington Examiner reports that Hildum is signaling that he wants to stay. His prospects don’t look much better than Rhee’s and Lanier’s.
* WTOP’s Mark Plotkin wants to know why President Obama hasn’t called Gray yet. Plotkin, writing in the Post, says Obama “could start by congratulating Gray and getting to know him, if only for a few minutes,” and possibly moving on to issues like District autonomy and congressional representation. (Earlier this week, Gray told Plotkin that he plans to press Obama on these issues.)
But Gray did get some unexpected Obama Administration praise Thursday when Attorney General Eric Holder, who met with Gray just before the Rhee sit-down, told reporters that he had voted for the incoming mayor. Politico asks, “Was Holder bucking his ultimate boss, Obama, who seemed to have some affinity for Fenty?” And is it “ethical or wise for a sitting attorney general to announce his vote in an election?” A Justice Department spokesman simply stated, “The Attorney General is a longtime resident of the District of Columbia who, when asked how he voted, expressed his view as a private citizen.”
* Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute defends Fenty in the National Review as “someone who could reach across the aisle to work with those who were not traditional allies” while saying Gray “appealed to the fringes of the party.” Can 54 percent of the electorate be a “fringe”? And does the deeply Democratic District even have an aisle? (In the Post, Karen Tumulty and Perry Bacon look at what Fenty’s defeat has to teach other reformist black mayors.)
* The Post says defeated Council chair candidate Vincent Orange wants the D.C. Democratic State Committee to appoint him to the At-Large vacancy that will be created when his primary rival moves up to his new job. Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. is also said to have an interest in the seat, which could help him build a citywide base. Whoever is appointed would have a leg up in the special election for the seat next spring. Leo Alexander and Clark Ray are among those considering a run then.
* Gov. Martin O’Malley spent Thursday in Montgomery County, a heavily Democratic area that was essential to his 2006 victory over Bob Ehrlich. But as WAMU’s Matt Bush reports, Ehrlich isn’t conceding the county, pointing out to voters there that they pay more than five times as much into state taxes as they get back in state funding.
* The Democratic Governors Association is airing a TV spot saying that Ehrlich “let utilities jack up our rates 72 percent” and “worked as a hired gun for big corporations,” among other sins.
* Vice President Joe Biden raised funds for Sen. Barbara Mikulski Thursday morning. Mikulski leads GOP rival Eric Wargotz by about 120 points.
* Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot responded to Thursday’s Washington Examiner story that suggested he was turning against the Purple Line project. Franchot called the story “a gross misrepresentation” of his “longtime position” on the Purple Line, and said he continues to be a “strong and consistent advocate” of the planned rail expansion.
* The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis does some serious number-crunching with the D.C. election returns.
* FEMA is paying DDOT $2.3 million in grant funds to help cover the costs of Snowmageddon -- or approximately one dollar per inch of snow.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC