- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Hillary’s ‘swamp’

At a Senate committee meeting on Head Start last week, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton made a case for why Congress should stop a nationwide test of Head Start 4-year-olds, which is already under way.

The test is “culturally insensitive,” said the New York Democrat and former first lady. For instance, she said — pointing to a big poster with drawings of a dam, a river, a valley and a swamp — disadvantaged 4-year-olds are being asked to look at the pictures and “point to swamp.”

This is an unfair question for urban children, such as those in the Bronx, because they are unlikely to have ever seen a swamp, said Mrs. Clinton, who asked for the test to be delayed until it can be “fully vetted by experts.”

Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for families and children at the Department of Health and Human Services, which has oversight of Head Start, says there’s no reason for the national test to get bogged down over some pictures.

First of all, the “swamp” question comes directly from a Head Start test developed during the Clinton administration, he said.

Second, when Head Start 4-year-olds were asked in 2001 to “point to swamp,” “urban children were slightly more likely to get that item correct than rural children,” said Mr. Horn, noting that 22.4 percent of urban children picked the right picture, compared with 20.2 percent of rural children.

“So much for the urban-bias theory,” he said.

New think tank

Liberals were out in force on Monday night as the Center for American Progress — a new think tank headed by John Podesta, who served as President Clinton’s final chief of staff — celebrated its opening with a gala party at the International Spy Museum in Washington.

The think tank is being advertised as the liberal answer to the slew of conservative think tanks that have come to dominate the Washington policy scene.

The star of the show Monday was Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who took to the podium to urge potential donors to open up their wallets. She was followed by comedian and author Al Franken, who went on an extended diatribe against Fox News.

Florida free-for-all

Sen. Bob Graham’s decision to retire plunges both major parties into a political free-for-all, with four Florida Democrats already jockeying to replace him and Republicans crowing about their own chances of taking the seat.

Mr. Graham announced Monday that he would not seek a fourth term in 2004, a month after dropping out of the White House race.

Four Democrats and four Republicans are among the candidates seeking nominations in their primaries late next summer, the Associated Press reports. Mr. Graham’s departure also could lure other candidates into the fray.

Mr. Graham described the Democratic hopefuls as “a very strong group” and said he was confident the party’s nominee would prevail. They include Reps. Alcee L. Hastings and Peter Deutsch, Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas and former state lawmaker Betty Castor.

Republicans seeking Mr. Graham’s seat include state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, legal activist Larry Klayman, former Rep. Bill McCollum and state Sen. Daniel Webster.

Those ‘silly’ debates

Teresa Heinz Kerry, the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, says nine-way presidential debates are “silly” and a waste of time for the candidates and the voters.

“I don’t think it really helps the American people. I don’t think it helps the candidates,” Mrs. Heinz Kerry told the Boston Herald in an interview published yesterday, the same day her husband was to face his rivals in a debate in Boston, his hometown.

Mrs. Heinz Kerry said debates have become about scoring a punch with quick sound bites.

“It’s just silly,” she said. “I think those debates are really unproductive and they made it hard for all of them to [get their message across].”

A foe for Schumer

The Republican Party’s desperate search for a challenger to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, “is close to coming to an end,” the New York Post’s Fredric U. Dicker writes.

“Republican sources told the Post yesterday that Gov. [George E.] Pataki, at a private meeting last week, offered Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, an antiabortion conservative with a controversial personal life, the chance to run against Schumer next year,” Mr. Dicker said.

“The politically ambitious Spencer, who must leave office at the end of the year because of term limits, told Pataki that he was ‘interested’ and would ‘think about’ the offer, the sources said.

“Spencer plans to consult top Republican strategists in New York and Washington over the next few weeks before making his decision, according to a senior Republican official.

“The official said Spencer recognizes the race is an all-but-certain suicide run because of Schumer’s popularity — and his massive $18 million-and-growing war chest.”

Mr. Spencer’s personal life became the focus of public attention “after it was revealed that Spencer fathered two children with his chief of staff, Kathy Spring — whom he recently married — while still married to his first wife,” Mr. Dicker said.

Gov. Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger will be sworn in as governor of California on Nov. 17, at the state Capitol, an aide said yesterday.

California Chief Justice Ronald George will conduct the swearing-in.

About 7,500 guests will get tickets to the event. Arrangements will also be made for the general public to view the event, Rob Stutzman, Mr. Schwarzenegger’s communications director, told the Associated Press.

AP reported the event is being sponsored and paid for by the nonprofit Arnold Schwarzenegger Swearing-in Committee. The group has budgeted about $250,000 for the event, which will be raised from private donations.

Despite Mr. Schwarzenegger’s roots in glitzy Hollywood, the inaugural committee does not plan to host any galas or balls, Mr. Stutzman said.

“It’s important to strike the right balance in light of the state’s budget crisis,” he said.

Sharpton’s debut

The Rev. Al Sharpton, whose snappy one-liners have added laughs to the Democratic presidential campaign, will host “Saturday Night Live” next month.

Mr. Sharpton will host the show on Dec. 6. The show may be a natural fit for the preacher, who has used humor effectively to get his message across during debates.

“He said he was actually — for the first time — nervous,” said Sharpton spokeswoman Rachel Noerdlinger.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-385 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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