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Native Intelligence
Subsidizing Catholic education
(Published May 5, 2003)

By DIANA WINTHROP

Congresswomen Eleanor Holmes Norton (I refuse to call her "delegate" since she was stripped of her committee vote a few years ago) gets my vote for "outing Mayor Williams."

It's been apparent since Anthony Williams was first elected that the mayor has "no core values and no set principles" but to hear an elected official express it so passionately, as Norton recently did, is a first. I have never questioned the congresswoman's commitment to her views, an attribute which the mayor lacks.

Williams' reversal on school vouchers, which prompted Norton's comments, may have surprised some D.C. leaders but it shouldn't have. Despite his public statements opposing vouchers, the mayor exposed his true position a few years ago to a small group of local students, parents and educators. A parent of a Gonzaga College High School senior told me at the time that she was astonished during the mayor's commencement address at her oldest son's graduation ceremony. Mayor Williams, she said, virtually made a pitch for school vouchers to this Catholic audience.

Williams' recent lukewarm opposition to school vouchers could hardly be taken seriously. A few months ago he was part of a secret White House meeting, along with D.C. City Council Education Committee Chairman Kevin Chavous and even a representative from the Federal City Council business group. At the meeting, they discussed vouchers and D.C. school funding with Bush administration officials. Congresswoman Norton and her staff apparently remained unaware of the mayor's real position on vouchers and failed to recognize Williams as duplicitous.

At this writing it has been only a few days since the mayor's bombshell announcement, made at the side of Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige, and already Williams is backing off his first statements that he supports a pilot voucher program in exchange for more federal funding for special education. Senate sources say an angry Sen. Edward Kennedy even called Williams to express his dissatisfaction.

In case anyone is unaware, there is only one pot of money. It is earmarked for vouchers to help D.C. children pay tuition to attend primarily Catholic schools.

It is beyond comprehension how, along with the mayor, Councilman Chavous can support a voucher program when almost 40 states many with Republican legislatures have rejected school vouchers. Even the conservative Utah legislature handily rejected school vouchers a few months ago. In case it's getting difficult to tell, Williams and Chavous are both Democrats.

Williams has got to be the Republican Party's favorite big city mayor these days. Congressional Republicans have failed to persuade their voters to support vouchers, but they have a patsy in the District's mayor. If I were a believer in "The Plan" (Remember "The Plan" promoted by Barbara Sizemore in the early '70s? It was the idea that a racist Congress wanted to push out black residents to make the District a majority white city.), I could easily accuse Williams, Chavous and and school board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz of being part of "a plan" to subsidize the Catholic church. All three are graduates of Catholic schools, so there must be a "plan." After all, Catholic schools have a free ride because they are not publicly accountable, as are charter schools and public ones. Congress will hold a hearing May 9 on the voucher plan.

Even before the mayor dropped the bombshell on school vouchers, his senior staff was becoming increasingly worried about Williams' reluctance to focus on finding two appointees to fill vacancies on the D.C. Board of Education. Sources say the mayor, by his inaction, has further solidified his reputation as indecisive and unfocused. Williams reportedly is concerned about his so-called "legacy," but it clearly can't really be education. Even Williams' senior public policy guru, Greg McCarthy, hadn't focused on the appointments until about a week ago.

In the past few months, a number of people have said "no" to the Williams administration. Ron Collins, director of the Office of Boards and Commissions, recently told me that he thinks the news media have made it impossible to find people to serve on the D.C. school board which is pretty funny, because who would want to serve Williams? Well, 37 people chosen to serve on various boards and commissions were sworn in on April 16 by the mayor.

McCarthy insists there are candidates for the school board appointments and they have been winnowed to six to fill the two seats. Sources who serve on the advisory committee that's reviewing applicants have painted a different picture. They have not interviewed many, and the mayor appears to be in no rush, as usual, to fill those vacancies.

Former Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis, who currently serves as president of Southeastern University, reportedly turned down the offer. Former Barry administration official Bernard Demczuk, George Washington University's assistant vice president for government relations who lobbies the council and mayor, said he was honored but graciously declined. D.C. Agenda's Carrie Thornhill has been interviewed by the screening committee and wants the job, though the controversy over D.C. Agenda's role in the mayor's referendum campaign to create the hybrid school board may knock her out of the running.

Sources say Thomas Bullock, currently director of the Center for Minority Education at Georgetown University, is a possibility. Bullock is a native Washingtonian as is Kent Amos, former Xerox executive and head of the Urban Family Institute. Amos, whose mother was a D.C. schoolteacher, founded a public charter school. Kent and Carrie Amos were well known in the '90s for opening up their home to mentor Cardozo Senior High School students.

McCarthy said Williams plans to personally meet with candidates in the next few weeks, though those plans may be put on the back burner while the mayor deals with the voucher controversy.

HE AIN'T HEAVY, HE'S MY BROTHER: Some Democratic State Committee members are saying they suspect former party chairman Norm Neverson may also lose his Ward 4 seat on the state committee now that he is politically vulnerable. The colorful Tony Williams booster is still president of the Ward 4 Democrats, though he has resigned as chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party. Neverson, whose term as head of his ward organization is up in June, previously indicated he would run again. His primary opponent last time was Willie Flowers, who has left the District for a job in Baltimore. At the moment, there does not seem to be a serious home turf challenge to Neverson, who despite his problems is popular in Ward 4.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator