Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 09/29/10

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP

    In the 2008 presidential election, there was no place in America more supportive of President Barack Obama than the little ole nation’s capital, with its three electoral votes.

    President Obama won 93 percent of D.C.’s popular vote -- 93 percent. And he has rewarded the city by personally ignoring it, except, as we’ve pointed out many times, when he’s discovering Five Guys or other local restaurants.

    Obama on D.C. Public Schools

    [DC] Obama on D.C. Public Schools
    President Obama answers a question about D.C. Public Schools during a live interview on NBC's TODAY Show. (Published Monday, Sep 27, 2010)

    Well, this week, he didn’t ignore us.

    Maybe he should have.

    Obama's View on D.C. Schools

    [DC] Obama's View on D.C. Schools
    The president said his daughters could not get a better education in a public school than the private schools they currently attend. (Published Monday, Sep 27, 2010)

    Asked Monday on NBC’s “Today” show if he thought his daughters could get as good an education in city public schools as in their elite private school, Obama was clear.

    “I’ll be blunt with you,” the president responded without hesitating. “The answer is no right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling.”

    Obama then appeared to soften his “blunt” response.

    “Now, they have made some important strides over the last several years to move in the direction of reform,” he said. “There are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system. And that’s true, by the way, in every city across the country.”

    When we heard the president’s remarks, we wondered if he couldn’t have skipped the “blunt” part.

    Our city has just gone through a wrenching mayor’s election in which Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee’s performance was part of the equation, both for and against Mayor Adrian Fenty, who lost to Council Chairman Vincent Gray.

    Couldn’t the president -- who hasn’t found time to call and congratulate Gray for his victory -- simply have noted that he and Michelle Obama made the best choice for their children?

    He could have said that after many years the city schools are getting better and that he wants to help do even more. (That, after all, is what Education Secretary Arne Duncan says.)

    First, before anyone starts e-mailing or calling me, let me note that the basic response from the president was correct. It’s the tone we question.

    Sidwell Friends School, which his daughters attend, is clearly a sought-after school. There’s likely not a District public or public charter school that has all the resources that the exclusive private school has.

    The Sidwell website shows basic tuition at just more than $30,000 a school year. It had better be a better-than-good school.

    NBC4 reported on the president’s comments Monday afternoon. In our story, we asked almost-mayor-elect Vincent Gray to respond. Did the president have it right?

    “Well, I did hear the comment,” Gray told us. “And of course, we wish he would rethink that, because I do think we do have some excellent schools, both in our traditional public schools and our charter schools.” Gray added that he thought the president’s daughters “would get a first-class education” in a D.C. public school.

    But Gray also showed why many voters appreciate him as a gentleman who tries to understand issues. “At the end of the day,” he said, “every parent has to make the decision that they feel is best for their children.”

    George Parker, the president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, also thought the president could have answered better. “I think the president’s lack of knowledge about individual schools in D.C. Public Schools probably resulted in him making that statement,” Parker said.

    Jimmy Carter was the last president to send his child to a city public school.

    Given the tenor of the times now, it’s not likely any president’s children would be able to attend public schools without significant intrusion on school life, public safety and other issues.

    But like the president, let me be blunt: Obama should find a way to show some positive interest in the local citizens of the nation’s capital that gave him 93 percent of its popular vote.

    The city’s three little electoral votes could be mighty important in the 2012 presidential balloting. The District, of course, isn’t going to go Republican, but how nice it would be for the city’s electors to cast those votes for a president who made an effort to understand our little local city.

    • Federal City Council.

    We caught up with almost-mayor Vincent Gray Monday after the annual board meeting of the Federal City Council. The distinguished business and civic group didn’t open its meeting to us. But several attendees said they liked Gray’s strong remarks that education reform won’t falter in the District whether Chancellor Rhee stays or goes.

    Mayor Adrian Fenty also won praise. Several businesspersons, many of whom supported Fenty in the primary, said the current mayor was particularly eloquent in his brief remarks at the start of the luncheon, talking about his hopes for the city and the future ahead.

    “If he had spoken like that during his first term and the campaign,” one participant said, “he would have won the election.”
     


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