Rhee Could Quit on Gray

Schools chief suggests she'll go if Fenty goes

Michelle Rhee to the rescue?

With Mayor Adrian Fenty’s re-election chances in decline, D.C. Schools Chancellor Rhee has jumped into the game. In two interviews Tuesday, Rhee basically said that if Council Chairman Vincent Gray defeats Fenty, she will follow the mayor out the door.

Rhee told WAMU 88.5’s Kavitha Cardoza that Fenty “has not disappointed me one time in the last three years,” and that she “would not work under a mayor who was not focused on education in the same way, as dedicated to making some of the really difficult decisions.” While she said Gray “is certainly interested in education reform,” Rhee said Fenty has been willing “to make some very difficult decisions” and that she has not “seen the same thing” with Gray.

Rhee then told the Washington Post that she “could not imagine doing this job without the kind of unequivocal support” Fenty has given her. The Post reports Rhee “indirectly, but unmistakably, said she could not work for Gray, whom she painted as a candidate who lacks Fenty's vision and resolve.”

It’s hard to say what the impact of these latest salvos from D.C.’s most controversial public figure will be. As the Post writes, Rhee “is as unpopular as Fenty in some sections of the city, especially east of the Anacostia River, where many children languish in low-achieving schools.”

Rhee is most popular in Northwest and among white voters -- those who already make up Fenty’s base. She is loathed east of the river, where Gray is finding his strongest support. Rhee’s involvement in the campaign could just firm up battle lines that are already starkly drawn.

However, as the Post writes, with Fenty’s campaign “foundering in the wake of straw-poll defeats and shaky performances at candidate forums, Rhee appears poised to intervene more forcefully.” She said last month that she will be going door-to-door for Fenty this summer -- though as the Post’s Bill Turque wrote, she will probably “introduce herself as plain old ‘Michelle Rhee,’ without ‘Chancellor’ or any other mention of her role as head the District's public school system” because of Hatch Act concerns.

Gray’s campaign has been smartly silent about Rhee’s comments, hoping that if Rhee becomes a public face of the Fenty campaign, Gray’s core voters will be more motivated to turn out on September 14. DCist says Rhee has “all but pinned a ‘Fenty 2010!’ button on her shirt, potentially making a lot of voters very nervous about the choice they'll have to make come September.”

Gray will unveil his own education plan this afternoon, giving him a chance to draw a contrast between his vision and that of what has to be called the Fenty-Rhee campaign.

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