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Washington DC Mayor Anthony A. Williams personifies the rot that masquerades as New Black Leadership, corporate style. Defying the demonstrated wishes of an overwhelming majority of DC voters, and in return for nothing but a smile from George Bush's public school-hating Black Education chief, Rod Paige, Mayor Williams crumbled in a pitiful heap of quivering unmanliness before the administration's school vouchers juggernaut, last week. He had managed to stand like a human being for barely three months.
Back in February, Williams pretended to have a spine and a decent respect for his constituents, who only months before had polled 76 percent against private school vouchers. A whopping 85 percent of Black Washingtonians rejected vouchers. Anti-voucher sentiment goes way back. In 1981, 90 percent of DC voters turned down a scheme to fund vouchers through a tax credit. But the White House is determined to make Washington a showcase for school privatization. On February 6, the Bush men sent Education Secretary Paige to lean on Williams.
Following a closed door meeting with Paige, a Williams spokesman emphatically denied the spin circulated by the Secretary's office, that Williams was "amenable" to finding ways to accept $75 million in voucher money appropriated for DC by the GOP-controlled Congress. "He is not in support of that at all," mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock told the Washington Post. In an interview with the rival paper, Bullock expanded on Mayor Williams' position. "We needed that face-to-face [meeting with Mr. Paige] to agree to disagree," Bullock told the Washington Times. "And we wanted to do so in ways that didn't prevent us from accessing funding for other school-choice programs offered. But you are not going to see our government participate in a government-sponsored voucher program. Once you have moved past that immovable position, we are really flexible about school choice and have a proven track record with it."
However, the Bush men already had Williams pegged as an invertebrate, and assigned Paige to keep up the pressure. It didn't take long for Williams to swallow Bush's private education agenda, whole. After a series of backroom meetings, Williams is now receptive to the full range of "innovations" dancing in the heads of the Bradley Foundation and its Republican think tanks - George Bush's brains. "We're willing to try an experiment," Williams said in an interview, last week. "We need to be putting together more good schools and shutting down bad schools, and to the extent we're doing this - and I think this helps - it's a good thing," he told the Washington Post.
In return, the DC public schools get - nothing. Williams threw up a smokescreen to conceal his surrender, first mentioning the District's crushing special education programs burden - as if he had been privately assured of White House assistance on that score - then admitting that the bargain included no substantive quid pro quo. The May 2 Washington Post reported:
Williams' statement is either a transparent attempt to cover his naked cowardice in the face of power, or the dumbest deal ever made by a Black adult. Just days before, Republicans in the House, having failed to tack vouchers proposals onto funding for special education, defeated a Democratic measure to phase in increased funding over a six or seven year period. The President's men in Congress have blocked increased special education money at every turn. "There will be no debate in the United States House of Representatives on the most critical issue facing special education today," lamented Democratic Rep. James McGovern (MA), following the vote.
Yet Williams hints that there is a reward, somewhere, for his abject surrender to vouchers. He is like Judas, desperately searching his pockets for the missing 30 pieces of silver.
Washington Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton once described Mayor Williams as "either naive or stupid." Confronted with word of his latest, bare ass tail-turning, Norton was furious. "He has not been candid with me, and he hasn't been candid with other elected officials. I'm telling you as a member of Congress, we can get that [new funding] without selling out" home rule, she said.
A no-win game
If the White House somehow finagles a special dispensation for DC schools, it will be a token gesture to save what's left of Williams' face. The privatizers have no interest in enhancing the quality of public education - quite the contrary. The "experiment" that Mayor Williams has agreed to facilitate in the nation's capital would be designed to prove the superiority of private education. Himself a product of Catholic schools, Williams reveals anti-public education sentiments similar to those expressed by his co-conspirator, Education Secretary Paige. ("In a religious environment the value system is set. That's not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values." - Paige, The Issues - April 24.) Mayor Williams is ready to throw out the entire public edifice. "We've got a model we've been using for 140 years," he told a reporter. "I think it's time to try something else."
That's exactly what rightwing Republicans say - only they don't hide their contempt for public schools, or their intention to privatize most of education, over time. Williams, like other gaseous Democratic Leadership Council Blacks, has nothing whatever to offer his constituents, yet trades away their public institutions in exchange for face-time with Power, refusing to fight for anything of value. Williams personifies the worthless vacuity of his hustling class.
"Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a so-called Democrat, is actually a Republican. And much of this city, which is said to be overwhelmingly Democratic, is in the closet with him," wrote Black Washington Post columnist Courtney Malloy, on May 4.
Malloy is a thoughtful professional, fed up with Williams' "Republicanesque 'pro-business' schemes." However, Malloy is too hard on the masses, and should be blaming the pretentious upper classes that dominate Black political discourse in the District. Fancying themselves players based on their relative wealth and vain titles, these men and women offer as public policy self-serving schemes washed down with cocktails. Sure in the belief that they are members of some talented fraction, they eschew the element of responsibility that Dubois intended the class to bear on behalf of the less mobile. They bargain away the people's possessions like a rump faction of drunken Indians wearing a dead chief's headdress to a meeting with the whites.
Selling the birthright
The voucher game was practically invented by the Bradley Foundation, of Milwaukee, authors of most of the Republican Party's social policies. Finding that vouchers were a non-issue among African Americans in the late Nineties, Bradley gave millions to a Black educational hustler named Howard Fuller to establish the Center for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University. Additional millions followed from a host of other far-right funders, allowing the Center to field a cadre of professional Black voucher shysters. Many of these mercenaries are now headquartered in Washington awaiting the deluge of Bush voucher dollars so that they can begin their "experiment" with the DC schools.
They are predators, hoping to profit from the failures of public school systems that have been deliberately starved by the privatizers' Republican paymasters. In our July 11, 2002 commentary, "Voucher Tricksters: The Hard-Right Enters Through the Schoolhouse Door," we wrote:
We think that DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton meant much the same thing when she accused Mayor Anthony Williams of "selling out" home rule. He has exposed himself as just another Voucher Trickster - albeit one lacking even minimal skills at sleight of hand. He robs the office of all dignity, and shames a Black city.
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