Rhee's First Campaign Ad?

Lobbyist's ad takes on Washington Teachers’ Union

By P.J. Orvetti
|  Tuesday, Aug 31, 2010  |  Updated 8:16 AM EDT
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Rhee's First Campaign Ad?

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Mayor Fenty and Schools Chancellor Rhee announcing a $100 million fix for aging schools in October.

The D.C. mayoral race has been called a referendum on Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee as much as one on Mayor Adrian Fenty, and now we’re seeing the first “Re-elect Rhee” ad of the campaign.

The television spot from the Center for Union Facts does not mention Fenty, Rhee, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, or any D.C. official by name. It’s an attack against the Washington Teachers’ Union, which is sarcastically “thanked” by smiling actors portraying parents, students, and teachers for putting “politics above my child’s education,” making it “almost impossible to fire bad teachers,” and using union dues to support “politicians I don’t even like.”

The narrator then says the union has “failed our kids, played politics, and now is threatening to file a lawsuit to block recent progress.”

Viewers are directed to a website which does mention Rhee by name, saying she “is in the middle of a very real campaign” to improve public schools that are “the worst in the nation.” The site says the union “has worked to block Rhee’s reforms every step of the way. Why? Because teachers unions care more about political power than student achievement.”
 

Rhee won merit pay provisions in a new contract with the union earlier this year after a lengthy impasse. The new contract will increase teachers’ base pay by more than 21 percent, making salaries comparable to those in the D.C. suburbs, and a voluntary performance pay program could add up to $30,000 to a good teacher’s salary -- significantly more than in other cities with merit bonus programs.

But the union was angered by Rhee’s decision to fire more than 200 teachers for poor performance, and filed a class action suit on their behalf. At the time, union president George Parker said the Impact evaluation tool was imprecise, and that teachers had not been given enough time to meet new expectations.

Rhee herself has made it clear that her continued tenure in D.C. is directly linked to Fenty’s re-election.

The Center for Union Facts is the brainchild of Richard Berman, a lobbyist and communications professional for a variety of interests including the alcohol and restaurant industries. His company has created a series of nonprofit pressure groups that are known for running snarky, libertarian-themed ads in favor of personal choice and opposed to regulation and the minimum wage.

While the new D.C. ad is similar to spots run by the anti-union group in other cities, the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis notes that it was “launched on the first day of voting in a hotly contested mayoral race in which education is a key issue, and it comes a few days after the WTU officially endorsed” Gray. A spokesperson for the group said the timing was not related to the upcoming D.C. primary.

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