District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee should be more transparent about school reform, said Clark Ray, at-large candidate for D.C. City Council, during a speech to about 45 supporters on Thursday, July 15.

“She has to bring more people to the table before making decisions,” Ray said in an interview following the speech.

Ray, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, supports Rhee’s efforts but is disappointed by her failure to seek input, a flaw Mayor Adrian Fenty shares, Ray said.

Ray, 46, was born in Arkansas but has lived in the district for 23 years, he said. He is openly gay.

Ray worked in the Clinton administration, in several executive departments under former district Mayor Anthony Williams and was Director of Parks and Recreation under Fenty.

Ray developed an Obama-like cadence when he spoke about visiting Kennilworth Elementary in Northeast and witnessing the security procedures young students endure to enter the building.

Ray’s passion for public education reform was shared by his audience, which was composed almost exclusively of gay men, several of whom have children in district schools.

Partners Jeff Allen and Stan Cowan listened to Ray’s speech with their 3 1/2-year-old daughter Anna Cowan-Allen, who was recently enrolled in public pre-kindergarten.

Allen is pleased with Rhee’s performance. He submitted a message on the “Ask the Chancellor” page of the D.C. Public Schools website, seeking clarification about the school choice lottery system.

Within an hour, Allen received a reply e-mail from Rhee. He had an answer to his question later that afternoon, Allen said.

Ray’s chief opponent in the Democratic primary, three-term incumbent Phil Mendelson, is one of two council members who voted in early 2007 against Fenty’s school reform legislation that created an executive department for the management of district schools.

“[Mendelson] is invested in the success of the D.C. Public Schools,” said Andy Litsky, Mendelson’s campaign manager, in a phone interview on Monday, July 19. Litsky added that Mendelson’s daughter is enrolled in an in-boundary public school.

But Mendelson believes that Rhee could use more guidance, Litsky said.

“Rhee has a shallow bench,” Litsky said, contrasting Rhee to the district’s Police Chief Cathy Lanier who, he said, has many advisers. “Education reform is not a one-person show.”

The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, an LGBT group active in district politics, endorsed Mendelson on July 13.

The Stein Club endorsement of Mendelson, who is straight, did not come as a surprise to Litsky, who is gay and HIV-positive.

“Phil [Mendelson] has a long record of supporting the LGBT community,” Litsky said, referring in particular to Mendelson’s dedication to marriage equality.

Litsky criticized Ray for his failure to establish a record of support for LGBT rights during his time in the Clinton administration.

“Where was Clark Ray on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ DOMA and the HIV/AIDS travel restriction?” Litsky said.

Other members of the Clinton administration publicly denounced these policies and were ostracized for it, Litsky said. Litsky gave the example of David Mixner, an advisor to Clinton’s 1992 campaign who was arrested outside the White House in 1993 during a protest of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

During his speech, Ray also addressed business and transportation issues of concern to audience members.

“The cost to do business in the district is about 30 percent higher than the surrounding areas,” Ray said. If elected, Ray would advocate streamlining business regulations and would explore the possibility of tax relief for small businesses.

Litsky said that Mendelson has talked about providing economic relief for businesses along H Street, where construction has obstructed the flow of traffic to businesses for many months.  

Ray, who supports the council’s plan to install streetcars, also said an enforceable funding plan for Metro needs to be developed that would prevent Maryland, Washington and Virginia from viewing financial support for the transportation network as voluntary.

Ray, who spoke for about 20 minutes, closed his speech with a request for campaign donations from members of the crowd, who each paid $50 to attend the event that was hosted in a Dupont-area townhouse.

Ray began campaigning in September 2009.

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