The upcoming official announcement that many more underperforming D.C. teachers are getting the ax could provide a boost to incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty's re-election bid, but only if he moves swiftly to portray the firings as school reform, experts said.

Improving D.C.'s troubled schools is key to both mayoral candidates' platforms, which means D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray can't attack Fenty for firing teachers who can't teach.

"Gray supports school reform," said community activist Terry Lynch, who has two children in the school system and heads the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. "He can't argue that some of the 6,600 teachers and staff can't be doing a better job."

The chairman, however, might get his chance if Team Fenty botches the teacher firing message.

"If they're not getting the message out quickly and transparently it will allow their opponents to get in on conjecture," said D.C. political and advocacy consultant Chuck Thies. "If [Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee] once again hide behind personnel matters, Gray can attack them on transparency."

Rhee flunked the transparency test during a round of firings last fall, analysts said. She said some of the 266 teachers she fired had sex with students, but then Rhee hid behind the veil of private personnel issues when pressed to disclose how many.

There are signs that Team Fenty could already be losing control of the public's perception of this firing round, too.

A Rhee deputy let slip that a "sizable" number of teachers are being cut not long after she turned a Thursday morning off-the-record meeting with reporters into one that was on the record. Rhee then refused to provide an exact number, leaving teachers, students and their parents in the dark just one month before school is set to start.

But if Rhee and Fenty can take control of the message, the mayor will find the opportunity to flaunt his success over his rival.

"Fenty will be able to show he can take the heat and make tough decisions," Lynch said. "That will reinforce his image as a change agent."