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Michelle Rhee's Future in Doubt After Fenty Loses D.C. Primary

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The future of District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee is uncertain after her boss, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, lost yesterday's Democratic primary to challenger Vincent C. Gray, the D.C. Council chairman.

Delays caused by the use of new voting machines and procedures meant the election picture did not become clear until the wee hours of the morning. Because D.C. is heavily Democratic, and there is no Republican mayoral candidate, Gray's primary win essentially assures him victory in November's general election.

Before the voting was over Tuesday, CNN's John King asked Gray if he would keep Rhee on if he became mayor, a question Gray has studiously avoided answering in any direct fashion over the past six months. His answer to King: We'll see.

For her part, Rhee, who campaigned for Fenty in her capacity as a private citizen, has strongly hinted in the past that she would not work for Gray, but she has not ruled it out.

The American Federation of Teachers, whose local affiliate, the Washington Teachers' Union, endorsed Gray, wasted no time in issuing a statement congratulating him.

"The AFT is confident Vincent Gray will bring a culture of positive, sustainable progress to City Hall, through leadership, hard work, a willingness to listen and engage, and a commitment to ensuring that parents, community members, and elected leaders are all rowing in the same direction," AFT President Randi Weingarten said.

Robert McCartney, a Washington Post columnist, says Gray should find a way to get Rhee to stay.

"He ought to try to have her stay," McCartney wrote. "That would infuriate many of his supporters, so he needs to move slowly. It also might be an impossible quest, because it's not at all clear that Rhee is willing to even consider working for Gray. In his victory speech early Wednesday, Gray hinted Rhee might be replaced.

"But keeping her would be the right thing to do for the city, its students, education reform, and Gray and Rhee themselves."

Keeping Rhee as chancellor, McCartney said, means Gray would be living up to the vision of his "One City" campaign, and Rhee would live up to her mantra of putting the interests of kids above those of adults.

As I have written over the course of this year, Rhee has played a significant role in some Washingtonians' decisions on whether to vote for or against Fenty, but his loss comes primarily at the hands of citizens who said in several polls over the past year that they enjoyed the improvements in education, crime reduction and economic development during the Fenty administration, but found the mayor to be arrogant and unwilling to listen.

So what's next for D.C. Public Schools? We plan to bring you answers from some of the players involved this afternoon, so stay tuned. And in the next edition of Education Week, we'll take a look at what's happened in D.C. since Rhee took over in June 2007, with thoughts on this progress and perils from a cast of characters that includes the chancellor herself.

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