11/6/09

The courtship of Michelle Rhee

It was announced on the local DC news last night that former basketball star Kevin Johnson and DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee have gotten engaged.

I heard the rumor about them dating so long ago that I thought they were already married and on the verge of divorce...

* * *

A few months ago I testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. As I recall, I was on the second panel, Rhee was on the first panel. I thought about saying something to her in Korean but just greeted her in English.

From previous press reports she had always seemed a bit melancholy. That morning, she was upbeat, optimistic. She even SMILED during her testimony as she testified without any notes. I'm guessing that she enjoyed talking with the members of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission more than she does dealing with local DC activists. Just like presidents are more popular when they go abroad, politicians and other government leaders are more popular with outsiders than insiders.

* * *

As soon as it was announced a few years ago that Rhee would be the Schools Chancellor, the local activists went into overdrive. They were still upset that Mayor Fenty had pulled a rope-a-dope. After being seen as a friend of the public schools when he was on the city council, he announced soon after he won the primary that would take over the schools. I was there on inauguration night when some of the activists walked around with their signs denouncing Fenty. A mayor getting denounced on inauguration night? I'm not surprised that his poll ratings are so low and that some (such as Council chairman Vincent Gray) are considering running against him.

Many people were still upset at the way Superintendent Janey had been dumped by Fenty. After leaving Janey twisting in the wind for a few months, Fenty suddenly fired him, cut off his email within minutes, then introduced Rhee as the new schools chancellor. It was a really cold thing to do...and just the way I would have done it, even though I met Janey a few times and liked his arrogance.

* * *

I just checked my email, the local disgruntled activists are as disgruntled as ever. As one said, Rhee is ambitious so she sees Johnson (currently mayor of Sacramento) one day being governor of California, so she'll be first lady of the state. Rhee, another says, is on her way out so this is her exit strategy, to be a consultant to the city while Fenty is still mayor of DC.

Once they find out what she had for breakfast this morning they will probably also complain about that.

* * *

So there was Rhee. Separated from her husband, as the Washington Post mentioned in just about every one of the stories about her for the first month. Getting attacked by activists questioning if an Asian woman could lead a school system with mostly black students. Others were upset she was getting paid so much ($275K annually). In just about every photo of her she seemed to be frowning.

I had read in the travel books that Koreans are taught not to smile in public. Politicians in Korea were notorious in the past for never smiling. I had guessed that Rhee was just being a good Korean city administrator.

* * *

Kevin Johnson was one of my favorite NBA players. So I was delighted a few years ago when he gave a great luncheon speech at the annual Black Alliance for Educational Options symposium. He had a great story, he was incredibly optimistic. The guy always seems to be smiling. I suspect his enthusiasm has rubbed off on Rhee. Or, at the least, he may have told her, "Honey, you gotta show some teeth when you're dealing with ya peeps." Another assist for the point guard!

After Johnson finished his remarks that day I tried to get to him to invite him to be on my radio show to talk about charter schools. But after seeing the herd of women lining up to talk to him, I thought better of it. I didn't want to get between him and those women...

I guess now that he is hitched with Rhee that the sisters may be less enthusiastic than before.

CJL

Update: Here's the Washington Post confirming the story

2 comments:

padaajoshi said...

Casey:

This is Rick Ruffin. You wrote an article a while back claiming that Korean schools don't want their students to succeed. Can you email me on where I can find such a thing.

Thanks,

rickunderscoreruffinatyahoodotcom

Casey Lartigue said...

Rick, I am sure you have me mixed up with someone else or misunderstood something I wrote.