Four years ago, Fenty carried every precinct in the city. In office, he has drawn national attention for his appointment of Michelle Rhee as school superintendent. Rhee's reforms have produced higher test scores, stable rather than declining enrollment, a teacher evaluations system that has resulted in dismissals of dozens of incompetents and a union contract giving administrators greater flexibility in assignments.
Rhee won national acclaim but antagonized politicians like Gray with deep roots in Washington's black community. Blacks here, as in most large cities, have been more likely than average to work in public sector jobs -- a legacy of the days half a century ago when governemnts, at least north of the Potomac, didn't discriminate against blacks as many private firms did.
As a result, Gray struck a chord with black voters when he denounced Rhee's teacher layoffs -- the same layoffs that gentry liberals hailed as eliminating bad teachers who hold back children from poor families.
This divide is apparent when you look at the election returns. Gray won citywide by a 54 percent to 44 percent margin. Fenty won 72 percent in Ward 2 (Georgetown and West End) and 79 percent in Ward 3 (west of Rock Creek Park), both dominated by gentry liberals. Gray won 82 percent in Wards 7 and 8 (east of the Anacostia River), both heavily black.
Gentry liberals and public employee unions were allies in the Obama campaign in 2008. But now they're in a civil war, in city and state politics. This raises the question of whether the Democratic Party favors public employee unions that want more money and less accountability, or gentry liberals and others who care about the quality of public services. Right now, the unions are winning.
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