Rhee Watch: Will Vince Gray keep Michelle Rhee?


An earlier version of this story mischaracterized what a Huffington Post article said about MSNBC anchor Norah O'Donnell's connection to D.C. Public Schools. The article said she had three young children and had a stake in the future of the school system. O'Donnell lives in D.C. and has three children. They are not enrolled in DCPS schools.

Welcome to Rhee Watch. While Michelle Rhee didn’t lose the Democratic primary for Adrian Fenty, she was the first thing on the District’s collective mind the day after. Now everyone is demanding an answer to the question of the moment: "What Will Happen To Michelle Rhee And The Children And The Education Reform?"


Long story short

Will Vince Gray put up with Michelle Rhee? Will Rhee put up with Gray? The Rhee Watch.


TBD will take a regular fresh look at Rhee’s future and judge where she stands.

Tuesday, Oct. 12: ABC 7's Sam Ford, The Atlantic and CBS News' Marc Ambinder and the Washington Post all report that Michelle Rhee will resign on Wednesday during a news conference. Adrian Fenty and Vince Gray will be there, the Post reports.

Monday, Sept. 27: D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee gave Vince Gray political cover during an appearance on Meet The Press yesterday, echoing one of the likely mayor-to-be’s major lines from the campaign trail.

Thursday, Sept. 23, 10:22 p.m.: Rhee and Vince Gray meet at noon. No decisions were made on Rhee's future in the District, Gray says after the meeting. Rhee looks rattled and stands behind Gray in the corner of a Wilson Building hallway while the chairman holds the press conference.

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 3:45 p.m.: Education Secretary Arne Duncan says he hopes Rhee will stay with a Gray administration, according to the Washington Post. Duncan also says he thinks education reform will continue in the District if Gray is elected mayor.

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 9:05 a.m.: The much anticipated meeting between Gray and Rhee is now scheduled for Thursday, Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy tells TBD via e-mail (thanks for the assist, @sommermathis.) The Washington Post also has a report on the meeting.

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 5:26 p.m.: Right now, Rhee is "tentatively" scheduled to meet with Gray on Wednesday, according to the Washington Post.

EARLIER THIS WEEK: Rhee appears on Oprah at 4 p.m. on ABC 7 to discuss Waiting for Superman. The episode was taped earlier this month, so we didn't expect any answers, and we didn't get any, but Rhee sure got props from Oprah, who called her a "warrior woman."

RHEE-WATCHING (background info): During the campaign, Rhee suggested she wouldn’t work for Gray. She later campaigned “as a private citizen” for Fenty. The Washington Teachers Union, Rhee’s bete noire, endorsed Gray. Despite the best efforts of talk show hosts and Adrian Fenty, Gray never took a firm position on Rhee.

Let’s get up to date. Here’s the tick-tock of what’s happened (publicly) on Rhee’s future since last Tuesday night:

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1:51 a.m.: Vince Gray declares victory in the D.C. Democratic Primary.

"To those who say you can't have both collaboration and reform, that they are mutually exclusive, I say you are wrong," Gray said in his victory speech last night. "And we're gonna prove it to you. Make no mistake. School reform will move forward in a Gray administration. And it'll be done in a holistic way, with a strong empowered chancellor who works with, WITH parents and teachers."

Rhee is usually attacked for not working with parents and teachers, so it doesn’t seem like he’s talking about her.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, shortly before 2 a.m.: Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney, in a quest for unity, posts a column asking Gray to retain Rhee.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, sometime before TBD got to its desk at 6:30 a.m.: Ace WaPo education writer Bill Turque reports two District councilmembers are urging Gray to retain Rhee for a transition period. Ward 3's Mary Cheh and Ward 6's Tommy Wells want Rhee to stay until the end of the 2011-2012 school year while Gray searches for a replacement who better fits his leadership style.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 11 a.m.: Adrian Fenty holds a press conference. He says he briefly spoke to Rhee, but that she and Gray will have to decide her future post-January 2nd.

Wednesday, September 15, HIGH NOON: Vince Gray holds a press conference. Under heavy questioning from reporters, he sticks with his his campaign line — he won't announce personnel decisions until after the general election. He says he has left a voice mail for Rhee. “She and I will sit down ASAP.” Also pledges to move "full-speed ahead" on school reform. Resorts to possibly the worst cliche in politics: “I want to do what is best for the children of our city.”

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1:32 p.m.: Rhee appears on MSNBC. Anchor Norah O’Donnell who the Huffington Post says has three kids in DCPS —asks Rhee if she thinks her reform effort played a role in Fenty’s loss. “Without a doubt,” she responds. She acknowledges that Gray’s victory represents “a significant change in direction.” Rhee says she looks forward to meeting with the council chairman.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 1:45 p.m, 1:59 p.m., 3:45 p.m.: Sahil Kapur, a reporter for Raw Story, sends out two tweets indicating that Rhee has resigned via an e-mail to co-workers. He later backs off slightly and says Rhee has merely informed colleagues of her intention to quit.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 4:24 p.m.: TBD reports that Kapur appears to have jumped the gun. This was Rhee’s e-mail to co-workers:

Dear Colleagues, It has been my honor to work as urgently and successfully as we have for DC’s students under Mayor Fenty. Without his leadership, we would never have been able to achieve as much as we have for this city. Nothing about yesterday’s election lessens the urgency we need to continue to deliver amazing results for our schools. There are 45,000 children depending on our ability to do what we do well every day. I know you won’t let them down.

While the statement doesn’t indicate an immediate resignation, Rhee’s use of the present-perfect tense and the second-person can’t inspire confidence in those who want her to stick around.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 8 p.m.: Rhee shows up for her scheduled appearance at the Washington premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s new education reform documentary, Waiting For Superman. She ignores TBD’s Ryan Kearney on the red carpet. During a roundtable after the screening, she says the following, per Politico’s Mike Allen:

Let me not mince words, and say that yesterday’s election results were DEVASTATING — devastating. Not for me, because I’ll be fine. And not even for Fenty, because he’ll be fine, too. It was devastating for the children of Washington, D.C. [applause] … The biggest tragedy that could come from [the] election results is if the lesson that people take from this is that we should pull back. … That is NOT the right lesson for this reform movement. We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday’s election is: Now is the time to lean forward, be more aggressive, and be more adamant about what we’re doing. [applause and whistles].

Allen puts this in his Playbook Thursday morning, and everyone in national press reads it. They immediately start figuring out whether they can afford private school tuition or if they need to move to Rockville.

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 10:40 p.m.: Politico’s Ben Smith reports that the American Federation of Teachers worked with other unions to spend $1 million to defeat Fenty.

Thursday, Sept. 15, 12:10 a.m.: In response to an earlier inquiry from TBD about whether or not she has resigned, Rhee sends an e-mail: “Goodness, no.”

Thursday, Sept. 16, in the pre-dawn hours: Thursday’s Washington Post lands on the doorsteps of District voters. It contains an interesting column from Courtland Milloy. He labels Rhee (along with Fenty and Attorney General Peter Nickles) “autocratic and divisive.” He is dismissive of white residents who say Rhee is building a world-class school system. (Apparently they exclusively said this via text message.) Also, it’s clear no black person has ever said positive things about Michelle Rhee.

Except for ... Courtland Milloy, who the Monday before wrote a column praising Rhee’s vision of an egalitarian school system while gently chiding her for failing to build a proper coalition backing it.

Thursday, Sept. 16, 1:18 p.m.: Gray spokesman Traci Hughes responds to Rhee’s comments from Wednesday night. Here’s her quote, via the Post’s Tim Craig:

"It is unfortunate that the children have been thrown in the middle of the political fray ... Chairman Gray has made it very clear from the very beginning: He will continue education reform. It's his top priority already and he will put children first."

Thursday, Sept. 16, 7:01 p.m.: Post columnist Eugene Robinson is offended by Michelle Rhee. Can Petula Dvorak tie it up for keeping the chancellor? No, she writes about chocolate milk instead.

Seriously, if this is about the kids, give them what they want. They care that they have their chocolate milk. They don't care who their schools chancellor is. Can you name the superintendent of your school system growing up?

Thursday, Sept. 16, 9:46 p.m.: The Web headline on Turque's story for Friday's Post print edition says it all: "D.C. school chief Rhee's next move probably toward the door." The piece also provides solid details on the awkward, often tense relationship between Gray and Rhee.

Friday, Sept. 17: The Washington Examiner reminds us that those wonderful teacher bonuses could disappear if Rhee leaves the school system.

Friday, Sept. 17, 10:30 a.m.: During an appearance on WTOP's The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin, Gray rejects the host's suggestion that Rhee's comments were a direct attack on him. "I think we’ve been very candid with one another," Gray says about his relationship with Rhee. "I don’t have any doubt we can have a candid, frank conversation about her future in the city.”

Friday, Sept. 17, HIGH NOON: Gray appears on his second political talk show of the day — WAMU's The Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi and Tom Sherwood. He says he hopes an eventual meeting with Rhee can clarify and ease concerns both of them have.

"You know, the mayor that had hired her presumably will not be the mayor in the future. I will be. And I want to hear from her what's important to her with respect to continuing with reform," Gray says, according to WAMU's transcript of the proceedings. "I intend to continue with education reform. So I want to hear from her what her concerns are. And I want her to hear from me, you know, what I believe we must do and, frankly, to reaffirm my commitment to reform."

But Gray also says he wants a cabinet that "looks like the city" when asked about Fenty's tendency to appoint non-blacks to important positions. It's hard to see how Rhee fits in that portrait.

Saturday, Sept. 18: Colbert King outlines why he thinks Rhee needs the boot. And he blames her entirely. "Rhee's polarizing behavior is the reason her fate is in question," King writes.

Saturday, Sept. 18, 11:59 a.m.: Politico embodies the national consensus on why Fenty lost: Education reform.

Sunday, Sept. 19: Three members of the D.C. State Board of Education point to a host of other education reforms that should help District schools continue to improve even if Rhee leaves in a Post op-ed.