Red Scare Is the District government running a haven for Republican refugees?

Heckuva Job: Reinoso and Fenty tapped Bush vet to fix schools’ federal funding.
Darrow Montgomery

For Republican functionaries, 2009 sucks.

With Democrats taking the Oval Office and expanding majorities in both houses of Congress last year, GOP political appointees and Hill staffers alike have fled the city. Smith Point’s list is a touch easier to infiltrate; Tortilla Coast isn’t quite as crowded at happy hour. Most Republicans have headed back to rosier redoubts, nursing private-sector careers or running for the state legislator job they’ve always wanted.

But the city maintains one unexpected GOP refuge: the District government. To be precise, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).

OSSE? What’s that—the city office that handles faith-based initiatives?

Actually, it’s the District’s state-level education authority, with responsibility for setting standards and overseeing accountability at charter and traditional public schools. And in recent months, it has seen an influx of refugees from George W. Bush’s education department.

Start with the state superintendent herself, Kerri Briggs. She spent virtually the entire Bush administration there, rising from an analyst working on No Child Left Behind to spending nearly two years as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under Margaret Spellings.

At her May confirmation hearing, Briggs had to withstand a heated line of questioning from At-Large Councilmember (and former Republican) David A. Catania, who demanded to know just how much Karl Rove strategizing and John Ashcroft moralizing he should expect from Briggs—a native, like Bush, of the dusty West Texas oil town of Midland. Her answer: none.

But what about the raft of deputies she’s hired since?

As her chief of staff, Briggs hired Catherine Freeman, who had spent five years at the U.S. Department of Education, rising to a deputy assistant secretary position. Her communications and outreach director is Chad Colby, who held a job as deputy assistant secretary for media affairs in the Bush education department (and also did time as a press aide for the Republican National Committee). The assistant superintendent for elementary and secondary education, a key deputy role, is held by Cathie Carothers, a federal veteran who headed the Office of Indian Education in Bush’s last year. Jessica Morffi, who spent almost four years in Bushland as a policy adviser, now serves as the chief liaison between Briggs and the State Board of Education. Patrick Rooney, a career federal education analyst, is now an OSSE management analyst. And William Knudsen, a political appointee who directed the Office of Special Education Programs, is now working on special-ed projects for Briggs.

To be fair, under Bush, the education department was rarely considered a hotbed of ideological fury. Its signature policy innovation—No Child Left Behind, the rigorous system of testing benchmarks and accountability measures—stands to be in place for years to come, and Barack Obama’s administration hasn’t gone out on a limb to say it should be trashed.

To be even fairer, the District’s educational apparatus has been on the federal government’s shitlist for years. Under the Bush administration in 2006, the District’s public schools were deemed a “high risk” for federal funding due to mismanagement—a status the District shares only with American Samoa, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and which puts D.C. at a disadvantage in competing for federal money, including stimulus funds. Who better than Briggs & Co.—on the inside when that decision was made—to get the schools back on the straight and narrow? As Briggs puts it in an e-mail: “We were lacking people who had deep insight into federal compliance...We’ve brought in individuals with broad knowledge of federal laws and requirements.”

And there’s this point made by Victor Reinoso, deputy mayor of education: “I think being able to bring good people with you is a mark of a good manager,” he says. “They have very good résumés. They know what they’re doing.”

Even so! Think about the history of the D.C. schools, which for the longest time were an employment repository for political cronies—Democratic political cronies, not Republican ones.

When informed that Briggs had hired additional Bushies, Catania dropped his head into his hands. “They used to go to the National Republican Institute,” he said, referring to the foreign-affairs think tank. “Now they go to the Office of the State Superintendent.”

Catania, however, declined to play bulldog on the issue.

“There’s nothing that’s happened so far that’s given me reason to be concerned,” he says. “As long as she doesn’t set up an ideological think tank, I’m not too worked up about it. If there were evidence of an ideological bent out of step with our city, then I’d have to sit down with Ms. Briggs and discuss her plans for the city.”

Concerns about Briggs in the body politic right now have less to do with her partisan motives and more to do with just how much of a toady she plans to be for the Mayor Adrian M. Fenty/Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee reform axis.

Take the recent wrangling over the State Board of Education. The D.C. Council proposed moving the panel, meant to serve in an advisory role on Districtwide standards, out from under the state superintendent’s supervision; that met with strong disapproval from Fenty and Rhee, who saw it as a first move toward weakening mayoral control of the public schools.

But members of the State Board say there are reasons why the independence was necessary—last year, the council gave the board money to hire new staff members, but when the board went to fill the positions, it was told by the mayor’s office that the money was gone.

State Board members attest to having had a good relationship with former State Superintendent Deborah Gist, who left for Rhode Island amid reports that she clashed with higher-ups. Board members, for the most part, loved Gist—saying she was inclusive and committed to outreach. Briggs, they have yet to warm up to.

Lisa Raymond, the Ward 6 rep who is president of the board, says Briggs is still trying “to find a way for the board to be involved in her work.…I don’t want to write her off yet, but I’m hopeful we can find a way to move forward together.”

“Deborah would alert us when she was going to visit a school or participate in a panel and invite State Board members along.…I found that it helped as a policymaker,” says Mary Lord, the Ward 2 representative on the board. “I don’t get a sense [from Briggs] that there’s a lot of comfort or even time or interest in doing that sort of out-in-the-streets meet and greet.…It may be because she is up to her neck in alligators trying to put out her next fire.”

Ted Trabue, the board’s at-large member and vice chair, notes that the OSSE staff’s political background has its positives: “If these people are well-steeped in No Child Left Behind, they can provide us with some expertise which we didn’t have before. Republican, Democrat, or Socialist, it’s still the law of the land.”

And where Gist “had a focus where she really wanted to engage people, Kerri really has a focus on getting as many federal dollars in here as possible and spending them,” Trabue says, “which is great and whichis what we have to do.”

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, who has taken the lead oversight role on educational matters, says he’ll also be taking a close look at OSSE initiatives to “ensure [their] consistency with our progressive philosophy.”

“This is a city that overwhelmingly supported President Obama,” says Gray. “It is a bit odd, on educational issues, that we would bring in people from a presidential administration that could hardly be considered successful.”


Political Potpourri

• Ever since Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “You lie!” at President Obama earlier this month, folks across the land have been decrying the lack of civility and respect in Washington’s political quarters.

That includes the John A. Wilson Building, apparently. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander tells LL that she was not extended her due courtesy recently.

The occasion was a city hall protest last week, where Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten brought dozens of supporters to protest the slashing of council earmarks—of which his group has been a prime beneficiary.

Outside the Wilson Building, Alexander says Moten & Co. got in her face about the cuts to the fiscal 2010 budget. Alexander says she had a retort: “I said, ‘What are you arguing for? You’ve never had a shortage of any funding.’” She added: “Your well has run dry.”

To that, Moten did not react well: “You’re trash!” Alexander recalls being told at least three times with Moten’s finger in her face.

In an interview, Moten admits to comparing his councilmember to refuse: “She was acting like a piece of trash,” the Ward 7 resident says. “She wasn’t acting like a councilmember.”

In Moten’s telling, it’s Alexander who needs to improve her manners: “She was talking to the people like nobodies. ‘I don’t like people who drop out of school. I don’t like people who stand on corners.’” In fact, he says, “I’m debating whether or not I’m going to press charges against her for grabbing my finger.”

Afterward, Jauhar Abraham, the Peaceoholics CEO and Moten’s partner, called Alexander to set up a meeting to squash the beef. She wasn’t having it. “I said, ‘You have to apologize publicly,’” she says. “I don’t know that I’d even accept that. The damage has already been done.”

Says Moten, “I will apologize to her if she apologizes for the way she talked about her constituents.”


• At some point, believe it or not, Marion Barry will no longer be Ward 8 councilmember. But what then?

Last Saturday saw a glimpse of who might be Ward 8’s future: Jacque Patterson deposed former councilmember Sandy Allen as chair of the Ward 8 Democrats, positioning himself nicely for future politicking.

Both Allen and Patterson have had their ups and downs with Barry, the gorilla of ward politics. Allen, of course, was pushed out of her seat in 2004 by Barry, only to join the Barry camp, helping run his re-election campaign last year. Patterson, a former staffer for Anthony Williams who now works as a project manager for the Federal City Council, also ran unsuccessfully against Barry in 2004, but got back in the mayor-for-life’s good graces for a 2006 school board run (also unsuccessful) against William Lockridge. (Barry says he did not take sides in the Dems’ race.)

So is this the first move in the Patterson 2012 campaign? “I have been asked that since I first started [campaigning],” Patterson says. “Me and the councilmember are very good friends, and I don’t have any plans right now to run for anything.”

In the meantime, Patterson says he’s focused on bringing young folks into the ward organization’s fold, and he’s promising to raise eyebrows: “We’re gonna take on some issues that people don’t want to touch.…Politicians that come to Ward 8 promising one thing or another, they need to be held accountable.”

“It’s gonna be fun now,” he says.


• Still wondering how Fenty’s twin sons ended up attending top-performing Lafayette Elementary School? So is LL.

The Washington Post reported in a cryptic Sept. 2 editorial that Rhee, “using a process employed for other families in similar circumstances,” moved the twins because “Mr. Fenty’s neighborhood school, West Elementary, has only one fourth-grade class. Most studies show that twins, particularly if they are of the same gender, should be in separate classes for both learning and social development.”

Hence the twins ended up at Lafayette, with its four fourth-grade classes.

LL has poked some holes in that explanation: No fewer than 12 DCPS schools closer to the Fenty home than Lafayette offer multiple fourth-grade classes.

Nor is it at all clear that the transfer process has been “employed for other families in similar circumstances.” LL asked the DCPS communications office last month to provide an accounting of occasions where Rhee has used her discretionary transfer authority; the school system is making LL wait on a Freedom of Information Act request.

In other words, there’s still no assurance that Fenty didn’t leverage his office into special treatment. If the Post explanation holds water, very well. But, in that case, Lafayette had best get ready for a whole bunch of twins.

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Correction: Columnist Mike DeBonis incorrectly referred to "six additional Bushies" now working at the Office of State Superintendent of Education. As noted elsewhere in the text, two of the six former U.S. Department of Education workersCathie Carothers and Patrick Rooneyserved as career federal employees, not as Bush administration political appointees.

Our Readers Say

Fenty in cohoots with the republican party this is no surpirse, he is just corrupt to the bone. Please 2010 hurry and come anybody but fenty.
Isn't this the same Ron Moten who testified for Barry Harrison earlier this month regarding sexually assaulting a high school teen girl? Didn't Mr. Moten accuse the teen of lying? Yet, he wants us to believe that he mentors to the youth.

Mr. Moten go get a "real job" and stop waiting on handouts from Mayor Fenty!

Let's see! Credibility issue before us -
Barry Harrison convicted of the following:

1. Armed Robbery
2. Murdering of two men
3. Cocaine Possesion

Young female student - victim:

1. Occasional skipping of classes
2. Fighting

Which amounts to youthful indiscretions at best.

The court of public opinion finds the young female student credible in this case.

I hope that the FBI, DC Inspector General, DC Auditors or IRS, investigatate the Peaceoholics, which should be named "Leechoholics."

Only the corrupt DC Government would sanction a continuing criminal enterprise, Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) such as the "Leechoholics" by willingly giving taxpayers' money to fund this multi-million dollar conglomerate masquerading as a non-profit that preaches non-violence.

This is a sham organization that was given 7.6 MILLION DOLLARS OF OUR MONEY TO FUND THEIR LAVISH LIFESTYLES!!!!!!!!!!

What do they do but go around and brag about how they were in the drug trade and went to prison and for the kids to not follow in their footsteps. What a joke!!!!!

Most of these at-risk kids have close relatives who also went to prison and could warn them of the dangers of being involved in criminal activity. It doesn't require the giving away of taxpayers money.

How many of these "Leechoholics" are licensed counselors? I would venture to say not a single one.

It is painfully obvious that the Leechoholics should have been "counseling" Barry Harrison.

And the audacity for Ron Moten to testify in this matter for the defense is utterly disgusting. How can students believe and trust in him when he testified in this case as if the young woman was lying?

The DC Government should not have sanctioned this fraternity of criminals (Leechoholics).

None of these Leechoholics could pass a real background check to be allowed in any school system in all of Virginia or Maryland, except for Pee Gee County.

I am quite sure that this young woman's parents have already retained an attorney and will file a lawsuit against the DC Government. A lawsuit in which she will again prevail and be settled out of court via summary judgment.

Our tax dollars wasted:

1. "Scratch-off lotto ticket no-bid contracts and grants giveaway to Leechoholics."

2. Pay out on lawsuit settlement to young woman.

3. Financing of incarceration for Barry "bury your lips on me Bubba" Harrison" for the next 30-60 years.

However, I hope this young woman truly gets the "counseling" that she will now need in order to start the healing process from being the victim of such heinous acts.

Thanks, Mayor Fender-bender for your continued generosity to the "Leechoholics"
and the breach of your fidicuary duty to protect taxpayers' money!!!!!!!
Adrian Malik Fenty is corrupt along with most to the D.C. City Councilmembers. I am not surprised Fenty's is in bed with Republicans. Fenty will sell his soul to Satan to get money and attention. Please D.C. voters, we must vote Mayor Fenty out of office. Take a look at Leo Alexander running for mayor. Kwame Brown, Michael Brown, and Vincent Gray are all opportunist.
I can't get down with either Brown. Having read some of Mr. Alexander's insightful commentaries on a blog and DC Watch over the years, I could take him seriously as a contender. As for FenTool, I stopped taking him seriously midway through his first term as my council representative.
It is sad to see that Fenty fool almost everybody, but most of all those that thought that he will be looking after the poor and the almost non existent middle class. - Fancy buildings totally or almost empty, rent with no ceilings, landlords raising rent at their wish and this in a recession, food almost impossible to afford, crime up, very few places in the city are safe.

Fancy playgrounds which are good, but when you have to comeback to poverty, crack and domestic violence.....all those fancy grounds finish being merely a fantasy. It is time to care for us as a community and help each other especially those who are struggling and forget those politicians like Fenty that will never do their part for us.
Adrian Fenty is D.C.'s first white mayor. Not saying that is a good or bad thing, but it is most certainly a fact that he is uninterested in those negative issues in this city that disproportionately impact African American communities. More, he snubbed to of the most prominent members of the civil rights struggle in America; Dorothy Height and Maya Angelou.

District Residents have one power tool that out of town developers don't have, a vote.
Peaceoholics are wild. They threatened Dr. Janey and tried to scream down Tom Brady then Chief of Operations for DCPS. Under Dr. Janey they were to never see the inside of a school must less be near children. However, Fenty saw in his infinite wisdom to give them ten million dollars without reviews or benchmark. And allow them to be near children without supervision.

Can someone just arrest Fenty. He is corruption incarnate.
Councilmember Alexander should have pepper-sprayed or tazered his butt for being in her facial space.

I'm sure there is a law on the books for her to sue him as well.
As wrong as Moten is on most everything he's connected to, he got this one right. Alexander goes beyond the pale, she's not just trash, she's a big, disgusting heap of rubbish.
I would be so pleased for Peaceoholics and Mayor Fenty to be ensnared in the investigation of the council. Graham is not on the up and up. Although he is smart to say he has nothing to hide and appears not to hide. Any investigation that includes email, will pick up other investigations. Clean house. Go with Fenty first.

He has to be next. His contract office is corrupt. Sole source contracts given with collusion from inside personal. He fires people who won't go along with it.

How about investigating the real deal about Jim Graham, Adrian Fenty and the cab legislation. I want to know how much of Fenty's 2.7 million came from NY cab companies?

Something smells... why are you guys so quiet in regards to Jim Grahams investigation? Graham pointing the finger at his chief of staff is awful-
Draft William Lockridge to run for Ward 8 Councilmember if Marion Barry does not run for re-election. Lockridge is a proven fighter for our Ward. He has served us well in Ward 8 for many years. I don't know what is up with the Ward 8 Democrats, but now is Lockridge's time...and no one else's for the future of Ward 8.
I am not surprised that Fenty has tapped Republicans to head up OSSE. Neither am I surprised at the way they have changed the character of the city and that agency. As you may have heard, OSSE recently laid off a massive number of employees, most of whom had been transferred from DCPS and forced to sign at will letters, but did you know that the brunt of those layoffs were borne by African American women! Did you know that while OSSE was laying off these African American Women, they were promoting women who have less education, experience and color than these employees. Did you know that with the critical state of special education in the District, that OSSE has named a person as "Assistant Superintendent" for Special Education, a person who is not equipped to handle that position by reason of the facts that she does not have the education or experience to be named a Superintendent? And did you know that they "laid off" a number of women who had the experience and the education for the job but they were either the wrong color or the wrong sexual orientation? Did you know that the OSSE no longer requires its professionals to have degrees in order to obtain its top level positions? What message is this sending to our students that while we are encouraging them to get an excellent education, the city does not consider attainment of such an education as a prerequisite for employment!!!

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