Fenty defends Rhee, D.C. school reform at GU lecture

Photo by The Georgetown Dish
 Mayor Adrian Fenty (center) with ANC member Jake Sticka and Lecture Fund host Sean Keady
Mayor Adrian Fenty (center) with ANC member Jake Sticka and Lecture Fund host Sean Keady

Former D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty brought his message of school reform to the Georgetown University campus Tuesday evening, strongly defending his selection of Michelle Rhee as chancellor and her record of measuring and rewarding success while making the system accountable, including layoffs of poorly performing teachers.

Two former Fenty campaign workers, Brain Chiglinsky and Peter Dimtchev, show their support. (Photo by: The Georgetown Dish) Two former Fenty campaign workers, Brain Chiglinsky and Peter Dimtchev, show their support.
Fenty likened his commitment to education reform and willingness to “risk it all” to President Lyndon Johnson’s pushing through civil rights legislation after his 1964 landslide.  Johnson knew that “if he didn’t get it done [now], maybe it would not get done” even though LBJ knew it would make him unpopular in the next election.  “There’s a lot more to being in political office than getting reelected,” Fenty said, pointing to his own failed reelection bid last year despite polls showing that the electorate felt the city was headed in the right direction.  He thought that he could make the “tough decisions [and] be judged on our successes.”

The former Mayor’s guiding philosophy was to recreate the “autonomy and independence” of the old one-room-school-house by “dismantling the [existing] behemoth systems” of bureaucracy, unions and political inertia. 

In the Q&A, Fenty reiterated his position that school systems should “get did rid of unions completely [and it] needs to happen now” because parent can’t wait the extra time and there are enough protections and accountability through the voters and their elected officials.  However, “absolutely” he would learn from his mistakes and “do a better job” of talking to all sides in to tell the unhappy side that while we may disagree on this decision, there’s always a next time and we’ll “stay in touch.”

During the Q&A a number of local issues came up, including one on doesn’t MPD have “better things to do” than raid bars and enforce the new noise law?  This elicited the first (and only) spontaneous applause of the evening, as the Mayor noted.  He said, in general you “want them to be tough enforcers,” but that it never hurts to make their views known to the “fantastic” MPD Chief Kathy Lanier.  

In other responses, Fenty declined (for the moment) to make an endorsement in the at-large council race, said it was “too early” to pass judgment on his successor and revealed that he is for term limits for mayor but not for councilmembers because it’s important to keep their “institutional knowledge.”  He also said that his lasting legacy is to make it impossible for a D.C. mayor to say “it doesn’t come under my control” when asked about education.

The talk was sponsored by the student-run Lecture Fund which brings prominent speakers to the Hilltop.

0 Comments For This Article

Anonymous

sloppy journalism

why don't you look up how to spell the chief's name correctly. It's Cathy - with a C not a K

Anonymous

"Fenty likened his commitment to education reform and willingness to “risk it all” to President Lyndon Johnson’s pushing through civil rights legislation after his 1964 landslide. Johnson knew that “if he didn’t get it done [now], maybe it would not get done” even though LBJ knew it would make him unpopular in the next election."

Fenty"s understanding of history is a window to the self-serving ignorance that fueled his misguided school reform policy.

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Lyndon B. Johnson was elected President less than a year after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. President Johnson's election was reflective of the nation's desire to continue the progressive policies of his martyred predecessor, and a strong rejection of his Republican opponent, Senator Barry Goldwater.

President Johnson's "Great Society" initiatives such as his "War on Poverty" and advocacy of civil rights legislation may have cost him support among southern democrats, but these efforts were popular with most Americans. Most historians agree that his understanding of congress and political skill was essential to the passage of the 'Civil Rights Act of 1964', and that President Kennedy may not have had ability to pass this landmark legislation. After signing the bill into law, Johnson is famous for saying; "We have lost the South for a generation".

With a strong economy, and a successful progressive agenda, President Johnson would have been very hard to beat in 1968. But, his repeated escalation of the Vietnam War, and the cost of this war coupled with social programs, made Johnson so unpopular that he announced that he would not seek re-election.

It is ironic that the strong anti-Communist "hawks" who shared Johnson's belief in the "Domino Theory" included conservatives such as Goldwater, and this helped persuade Johnson to wage a full scale war against Communism halfway around the world. The Vietnam War was his downfall, NOT “pushing through civil rights legislation.”

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By comparison, Adrian Fenty and Barry Goldwater share much more in common.

The Barry Goldwater of the 1960's was very conservative, in favor of repealing 'New Deal' social policy, and condemned labor unions. They would have publicly agreed about many things, and the mutual admiration that both Adrian Fenty and his Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have for modern conservative Governors such as Chris Christie (NJ), Rick Scott (Florida), John Kasich (Ohio) and Scott Walker (Wisconsin) says volumes about their core beliefs.

Lyndon Johnson said, "the Democratic party at its worst, is still better than the Republican party at its best". And Johnson would not appreciated Fenty's attempt of justify his “risk it all” school reform policy. If we could transport Adrian Fenty back in time, it would be wonderful to see President Johnson give him "The Treatment".

From Wikipedia:

"The Treatment could last ten minutes or four hours. It came, enveloping its target, at the Johnson Ranch swimming pool, in one of Johnson's offices, in the Senate cloakroom, on the floor of the Senate itself — wherever Johnson might find a fellow Senator within his reach."

"Its tone could be supplication, accusation, cajolery, exuberance, scorn, tears, complaint and the hint of threat. It was all of these together. It ran the gamut of human emotions. Its velocity was breathtaking, and it was all in one direction. Interjections from the target were rare. Johnson anticipated them before they could be spoken. He moved in close, his face a scant millimeter from his target, his eyes widening and narrowing, his eyebrows rising and falling. From his pockets poured clippings, memos, statistics. Mimicry, humor, and the genius of analogy made The Treatment an almost hypnotic experience and rendered the target stunned and helpless."

Adrian Fenty… you are no LBJ.