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They had a unique partnership, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee did. Fenty placed a high priority on education and appointed Rhee as his reformer-in-chief. Rhee ignored most political risks as she took on reform because Fenty was always there backing her up. Then Fenty lost his reelection bid, and the dream team fizzled. Many believed the mayor had spent all his political capital on Rhee; his loss was a “referendum on Rhee” and her unapologetic approach to innovation and change. Some blamed it on issues related to the mayor himself, and still others on the power of the teachers’ union to sway voters. The real lesson to be taken from this difficult tale of civic innovation might, however, be entirely different. Traveling down any path to truly transformative change generates an enormous amount of highly focused and intense opposition. Without an engaged and supportive general populace to counter the inevitable opposition, serious reform is unlikely. At the very least, change cannot be sustained.


Goldsmith, Stephen, and Tim Glynn Burke. "Ignore Citizens and Invite Failure." National Civic Review 100.1 (Spring 2011): 14-18.