Schools chief Michelle Rhee is making it clear that her intervention into the D.C. mayor’s race was not a one-time thing. She has been repeating her threat to quit if Mayor Adrian Fenty is defeated, and seems certain to stay involved through the September 14 primary.
DCist’s Martin Austermuhle observed Friday that Rhee has “spoken more this week about how she really doesn't want to work for Gray than she has about any one issue to any one local reporter since she got here.”
On Thursday afternoon, Rhee continued her media campaign by telling the Washington Post’s Bill Turque that Fenty rival Vincent Gray “hasn't made any secret of the fact that he has a fair amount of disdain for the way we have conducted this reform effort to date.”
When Turque suggested Rhee’s threats might just be a way of helping Fenty, and that she could change her tune if Gray wins in September, she replied, “I say what I mean and I mean what I say. I don't stake a negotiating position. That's not who I am.”
Washington City Paper's Jason Cherkis compared Rhee to the Redskins’ Albert Haynesworth, saying that after she was “brought here with unprecedented power and control over the school system,” she is now “saying that if the city gets a new head coach (who may want to tweak the playbook), she may not stick around.”
Even some Rhee supporters are troubled by her ultimatum.
Councilwoman Mary Cheh told WTOP that Rhee’s remarks were “disappointing,” and that while she wants Rhee to stay, Rhee is belying her oft-stated assertion that she always puts the city’s students first. “I think now the adult are coming first,” Cheh said. “The mayor’s coming first.”
The Post’s Jay Mathews wrote Monday that Rhee “has vowed to focus on the problems of students, not adults. Until now she had been true to her word.”
The Rhee-friendly Post says in an editorial this morning that the election is clearly about Rhee, despite her protestations to the contrary. While the Post concedes Rhee’s approach has been “polarizing,” the editorial is an ode to Rhee’s three years on the job, as she brought “much-needed competency” to DCPS that led to higher student achievement levels, a higher graduation rate, and an end to the hemorrhaging of students via dropouts.
The Post actively encouraged Gray to enter the race, but has been critical of him ever since. The paper basically says a vote for Fenty is a vote for Rhee -- and that that’s a good thing. Gray, the Post says, offers little but “second-guessing and withering criticisms.”
Still, enough is enough. Rhee has made her point, and the message has been received: If Fenty goes, she goes. She is welcome to campaign as a private citizen for her favored candidate, but the public threats should stop.
The Post’s Mathews says it would be a “disaster for public education” if D.C. lost Rhee, but that even so, Rhee “needs to tune out the politics and stay on the job.”
He’s right. Let the voters decide if Fenty -- and Rhee -- are the right choice for D.C. for the next four years.