Editor’s Notes

Pub date November 19, 2008
WriterTim Redmond

› tredmond@sfbg.com

Is anyone else appalled that the Obamas are not even considering sending their kids to public schools? Seriously. This may not seem like the most important issue on the president’s agenda, but I think it’s a big deal.

According to The New York Times, Michelle Obama has toured Sidwell Friends, the pricey private school where Chelsea Clinton was educated. She’s also looking at Maret School and Georgetown Day, two institutions that cater to the children of the rich and powerful. There are no public schools on the list.

Adrian Fenty, the mayor of Washington, DC has urged the Obamas to consider the schools that most DC kids attend, but he has little moral suasion: Mayor Fenty’s twin sons go to private school.

I’m a public school parent, and this really bothers me. What the Obamas are saying, in essence, is that there is no public school anywhere in the district good enough for their kids. They’re saying that if you’ve got the money, you should flee for the safety of private academies. Those lowly public places are just for the peasants.

That sort of statement matters. It matters when you think about the new president’s priorities. It matters when you think about the role he wants to play not just as a chief executive but as an agent of change and a moral compass for the nation and the world. In a way, it’s his first test, and he’s flunked it.

I’m sorry: the children of the president should go to public schools. The children of mayors, and city council members, and county supervisors, and city attorneys should go the same schools as the kids of the majority of their constituents. And if those schools aren’t as good as they’d like, well then, join the team. The rest of us are working like hell to make the under-funded, over-stressed public schools better. You can, too.

And by the way, Mr. President-elect, my public school in San Francisco is giving my son and daughter a great education. And they’re growing up with kids who aren’t just like them. That’s worth way more than your fancy $21,000 private school can ever offer.

* * * *

The election of Sup. Ed Jew two years ago gave ranked-choice voting a bad rep. This year, however, I think we saw how the system can work.

I understand the critics who say that old-fashioned runoffs — second-round elections held a few weeks after the general — are more fair and allow for excitement, like Tom Ammiano vs. Willie Brown in 1999 and Matt Gonzalez vs. Gavin Newsom in 2003. But they also create a problem, particularly when one side has a lot more money than the other.

Downtown had almost endless resources to try to defeat Eric Mar, David Chiu, and John Avalos. The Democratic Party, thanks to the progressive takeover this summer, was supporting the three progressives, as was labor, the Sierra Club, and the Tenants Union. And while party chair Aaron Peskin raised a sizeable sum for slate cards and labor spent cash on organizing efforts, that was dwarfed by the landlords and developers.

Mar, Chiu, and Avalos had the advantage of a high-turnout election. If they’d been forced to run again three weeks later, downtown would have again dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into the races — and at some point, the good guys would run out of money. Plus, RCV gave the candidates an incentive to make alliances.

Not a perfect system, but better, I think, than the obvious alternative.