Yes, District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty is a Democrat and you won't find his name on any ballot outside of the nation's capital. But Fenty's bid for a second four-year term is among the most important races of 2010, even for the Tea Party movement.
Tea Partiers are all about challenging the bipartisan corruption and arrogance of the Washington Establishment and its satellites in state and local governments. Tea Partiers are independents, moderates and conservatives who are sick and tired of Washington Wink-Wink. They've had it with politicians who talk the talk of reform on the campaign trail, but forget it once they're safely back in office for another term.
But winning elections is one thing, and being elected and then actually changing the beast is multiple orders of magnitude more difficult. That's why Fenty's re-election bid is so important — if change can be sustained here, it can be done anywhere in America.
Local politicians here have talked about fixing D.C.'s horrendous schools for decades. Fenty is doing it and in the process accomplishing what few other politicians in the country have — challenging and defeating a solidly entrenched labor union with a death grip on the public schools.
The District of Columbia Public Schools system is Exhibit A for the argument that teachers unions are the chief obstacle to improving education in America. For years, the DCPS spent more on average per student than any other school system in the country while producing the lowest academic achievement scores.
Over the years, the Washington Teachers' Union has seen its top officials prosecuted for embezzlement and other employees convicted of money laundering. The union's internal election process was so bad, the local was taken over by its national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers.
Think what the most rotten Teamsters local would be like if it represented teachers, and you've got the WTU.
Fenty promised in 2006 to take school management away from the District's incompetent school board, and to appoint education reformer Michelle Rhee as a get-tough schools chancellor along the lines of New York's Joel Klein. And that's exactly what Fenty did.
It's been an epic battle, with some missteps along the way, but Fenty and Rhee have forced the WTU to accept a new contract that has already resulted in the firing of 241 bad teachers and cleared the way for holding teachers accountable for the results they produce in their students.
In the future, the good teachers in the DCPS will be rewarded and the incompetents will be tossed out. Such a system is how the public sector can best approximate the rigorous accountability that is a daily fact of life in the private sector.
Fenty is far from perfect. Even though he officially supported it, his somewhat ambivalent attitude about the strangulation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships program by President Obama and the Democratic Congress was a painful blow to those who recognize that restoring the power of parents to control their kids' education is one of the two most fundamental battles on the education front.
But Fenty is winning on the second of those two crucial battles, the principle that teachers and administrators must be held accountable for what their students learn. His opponent, D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray, is a decent enough guy but he echoes the WTU's drearily familiar argument that the accountability standards are “unfair.”
Sometimes the right guy is in the right place at the right time. Adrian Fenty is the right guy for D.C.
Mark Tapscott is editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner and proprietor of Tapscott's CopyDesk blog on washingtonexaminer.com