Andy Rotherham has a good op-ed on Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee, and the mirage of changing things without making anyone upset:
The record on urban education reform makes plain that there is a fundamental choice between harmony among the various adult interests and rapid progress on school improvement. While Fenty certainly could have handled the political side of the reforms more deftly, no one should think that the disruption and tension were unavoidable. Rhee would not have accomplished what she has without making the choices so clear and being so, well, polarizing in the process.
D.C. voters may have plenty of reasons for wanting a new mayor. But hoping that someone can dramatically improve the city’s schools without causing a lot of acrimony shouldn’t be one of them.
I think you can best illustrate this with an unrelated example from the Fenty administration, his reform of the city’s taxi fares. It used to be the case that while in cities that aren’t Washington DC you paid a taxi driver based on a meter, in DC you paid a driver based on the number of “zones” you’d driven through. This created a lot of inefficient discontinuity in the price structure and a lot of wasted time as I quibbled with cab drivers about whether I should be dropped off at the north side or the south side of U Street. But especially since the canonical zone map was oriented so that north didn’t point up, it gave cabbies ample opportunity to rip off confused tourists and/or business travelers.
Consequently, when mayor Fenty proposed we switch to a normal system it led to a lot of controversy and even an attempted strike by cab drivers. There was even a lawsuit. But the Fenty administration plowed ahead, reformed the system, the controversy faded. Nowadays, though, if you talk to any cabbie they bear a deep grudge against Fenty and his divisive ways and are all planning on voting for Gray. And Gray is happy to complain about Fenty’s style and approach. But—critically—Gray doesn’t say we should go back to the zone system.
On the one hand, that’s great. Gray’s probably going to win and going back to the zones would be a terrible idea. So on this and on most issues, both candidates have reasonable positions on the issues. But just as we’ve seen with the Obama administration’s leadership on the federal level there’s a tension between safeguarding one’s reputation as a reasonable guy and actually setting about to do things.