The Last Word on Lafayette Elementary. For Now.
This morning, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee went on WTOP radio and said more than Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has about the process by which Hizzoner's twin sons ended up enrolled at out-of-boundary Lafayette Elementary.
"I can assure you that no rules were broken," Rhee said. "We have a number of provisions that allow kids to go to out-of-boundary schools and all of those things were followed."
It's not a complete explanation by any means, but it's something. Rhee seems to grasp in some way what Fenty has not: That questions about his kids' schooling concerns the integrity of a process relied upon by many parents in this town, and that they are questions that have implications for his grand project of school reform.
Since Fenty has made it quite clear that he will answer no questions about this issue, LL will not be asking him any further questions about the matter for the time being, barring further developments and the results of several records requests. But here's a rhetorical question for Hizzoner: Why do this?
His communications strategy seems to be a Sarah Palin-esque attempt to cast reporters as villains for broaching the sacred privacy of his children. Informed by reporter after reporter that no one has any intention of discussing details of the kids' schooling beyond the enrollment process—that the questions center on his behavior, not his children's—he has vigorously stuck to his no-comments. What it has gotten him is a week's worth of text, audio, and video showing him at his most dense and stubborn. (Today, reporters from WJLA-TV and WTTG-TV joined the gaggle.)
There's another way this could have worked.
To cite a couple of recent examples, similar questions arose when the children of both Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso ended up in the highly coveted Oyster Bilingual School. In Rhee's case, a mayoral spokesperson immediately provided an explanation, and LL never wrote about it. In Reinoso's case, he cooperated with a previous LL's efforts to learn the process; again, no article was ever written.
On Monday, LL asked by e-mail for a full accounting of the enrollment process. He received nothing aside from a boilerplate statement. And here we are.
The fact is this: If an explanation had been furnished early on, it's likely that neither LL or any other reporter would have made a major issue of it.
The questions here are basic accountability exercises—Did you follow the rules? If not, why?—and to expect to simply evade them as mayor is the definition of arrogance. Fenty might think that playing the martyr on his kids' privacy will prove sympathetic—and certainly it has to some folks, judging from comment threads here at City Desk and elsewhere—but it also plays into another narrative that's developed over the course of the last year: the mayor as arrogant, opaque, stubborn, and unaccountable.
You can hold that his children don't deserve to be dragged through the political mud. And you'd be right: Certainly no nine-year-old kid deserves to be under such undue scrutiny. But, Mr. Mayor, answering questions about your participation in the government that you run, that's part of the price of entering politics. And that's a price that you yourself has to pay—not your kids.