Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

DCision 2010 Edumacation Extravaganza: Ray attacks Mendelson over mayoral control

August 24, 2010 - 11:52 AM
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We're starting the DCision 2010 Edumacation Kids Are Political Pawns Series of Special Fact Checks down-ticket, with the at-large D.C. Council race. There, challenger Clark Ray is running a pretty spirited campaign against incumbent Phil Mendelson. People seem to like Ray quite a bit. Unfortunately for him, they seem to like Mendelson more.

(And unfortunately for both of them, they could lose to Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown, who is not current D.C. at-large Councilmember Michael A. Brown, but may be getting votes at straw polls because he voters think he is Michael A. Brown.)

Yesterday, Ray released this ad, complete with screaming children. (Note to Ray: People like children. Except when they scream.) The ad seeks to portray Mendelson as an opponent of education reform.

"Phil Mendelson voted AGAINST the big education reform bill of 2007," the ad reads. "In fact, Mendelson was only one of two council votes against school reform."

First of all, education reform or school reform mean many different things to many different people. Michelle Rhee's version of school reform has proven somewhat divisive, for instance. (For his part, Ray says in the ad he supports "improved school reform" that is more transparent and allows for increased parental involvement.)

Delving into whether voting against mayoral control permanently disqualifies someone as a supporter of "education reform" — whatever "education reform" actually means — is beyond the capacity of The Facts Machine. But we'll lay out Ray and Mendelson's arguments about it before we wrap things up.

First, the big question is: Did Mendelson oppose the 2007 school reform bill?

Yes.

"The big education reform bill of 2007" gave Adrian Fenty mayoral control over the schools, enabling him to appoint Michelle Rhee and start the overhaul (for good or ill) of D.C. Public Schools that continues to this day. Mendelson voted against the bill, and he was one of only two no votes. (The other belonged to then-at-large member and Republican Carol Schwartz.)

The bigger question is: Does this mean Mendelson opposes education reform?

"I'm personally invested in education reform," said Mendelson, whose daughter is enrolled in DCPS.

Mendelson said he voted against the bill because he felt it didn't make sense to start over — an argument he now employs against those who want to get rid of Michelle Rhee.

Mendelson also said he felt the mayor didn't need to change the governance structure of the schools to become more personally involved (arguable), and that the reforms would politicize the school system (definitely true).

Ray said Mendelson's vote against mayoral control was sufficient to show his lack of support for the entire project. He also said that while Mendelson might have a daughter in DCPS, her experience at "one of the best public schools in the District" didn't show the incumbent what life was like for students who go to school in poorer areas.

Mendelson doesn't dispute that he voted against mayoral control, but he said portraying him as a continued opponent of education reform is inaccurate.

Still, Ray's statements about Mendelson's voting record get him an Honest Abe.

Honest Abe
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