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Native Intelligence
Saez resigns from school board
(Published February 21, 2005)

By DIANA WINTHROP

Another mayoral appointee to the D.C. Board of Education is leaving this time, after having been reappointed but not yet confirmed. Marian Saez, one of the four appointed members of the school board, has submitted her resignation, effective April 30.

Saez came to the board with no experience or expressed interest in education. She was a nationally recognized expert on housing issues. Her appointment was not without controversy. Some complained her nomination was strictly political. She was active in national Democratic Party politics and, well-placed sources say, the mayor was seeking to please some party officials. Other sources in the mayor's office say she was chosen to bring her housing expertise to the facilities arena in D.C. public schools. At the time, I wrote a column calling Saez a misplaced political appointee whose housing expertise could be put to better use in the District.

"I was appointed to fill the remaining three years of Robert Peck's term," says Saez, whose appointment expired at the end of December. (Peck resigned to lead the Greater Washington Board of Trade.)

Mayor Anthony Williams was known to be looking around for another candidate, to avoid reappointing Saez for her own four-year term. Among other prospects were Barbara Somson, a former member of an education advocacy group founded by Ward 3 Councilwoman Kathy Patterson, and Marlene Berlin, the co-chairman of the Local School Restructuring Team (LSRT) at Wilson Senior High School.

Somson has extensive knowledge and historic perspective on education issues in the District. She also has extensive legislative experience in her current job as a lobbyist for the United Auto Workers. Somson had even been vetted for the school board job by mayoral aide Gregory McCarthy. Many education activists expected an announcement in January of a new appointment to the board.

Ron Collins, the powerful head of the mayor's Office of Boards and Commissions, confirms that Williams nominated Saez for a new four-year term in January when the mayor was apparently down with a nasty bout of flu. A few weeks ago, Collins said he was just awaiting word on a date for her confirmation hearing.

Saez's critics complain she really didn't seem interested in the school system's facilities and financial work. Others point to a promise Saez made when she was first nominated in 2001 to reach out to the District's Latino community and maintain regular contact with parents. It was a promise that, according to critics in the Latino community, apparently was quickly forgotten.

Hugh Allen, legislative point man for the D.C. Congress of Parent and Teacher Associations (DCPTA) and former school board candidate, and Cathy Reilly of SHAPPE (Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators) also have been mentioned as possible replacements for Saez. The new four-year appointment will end as the school board reverts to an all-elected body at the start of 2009.

Maybe this time the mayor will appoint someone who has a real stake in the District and its future, rather than someone who is more interested in a national political agenda.

DON'T COUNT THE MAYOR OUT YET: Okay, so the mayor was down in January (like most of us) with the flu. And now he is embroiled in the D.C. budget debate and in mid-March, as president of the National League of Cities, he will be absent from city hall to run a national conference. But don't count him out yet as a candidate for a third term. One of his closet allies says Williams is just beginning to think about running for a third term. Of course, some of his supporters are already hedging their bets by aligning themselves with other candidates and contributing to their exploratory committees. The mayor's allies are convinced those people will be back in the mayor's camp in a flash if he announces.

It's already numbing to try to keep track of the changing political landscape and the election isn't until 2006. You can barely keep the candidates straight without a scorecard.

Youthful native Washingtonian Sam Brooks, who received kudos despite losing his first campaign last fall against Harold Brazil, was emboldened by his voter strength in Ward 2, where his family resides. He impressed Ward 2 voters so much that many started talking about him taking on Jack Evans in four years unless, of course, Evans is elected to the mayor's post, which he has coveted since moving to D.C. Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham announced hired Brooks after last fall's election, but we now hear that Brooks quit Graham's staff and has recently moved to Ward 3 ostensibly to position himself to run against Councilwoman Kathy Patterson or, if Patterson retires or runs for the council chairman's seat in 2006, to run for the open seat. Patterson says she won't throw her hat in the ring for chairman if Linda Cropp decides to seek re-election, and Cropp is still mulling a run for mayor, even though she was beaten up during last year's baseball stadium battle. Brooks, who could not be reached, was recently elected to the Young Democrats' national committeeman position on the D.C. Democratic State Committee.

Over in Ward 5, elusive incumbent Councilman Vincent Orange has an exploratory committee for mayor but, according to some Ward 5 residents, he is really positioning himself to run for council chairman. And the recently reassigned or fired (depending on who you talk to in the Williams administration) constituent services person for the mayor, Anita Bonds, is considering a run for council as is Harry Thomas Jr., who is beginning to lay the groundwork for another try to win the Ward 5 seat that his late father previously held.

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Diana Winthrop is a native Washingtonian. Contact her at diana@thecommondenominator.com.

Copyright 2005 The Common Denominator