- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

For months, lots of frustrated folks have been meeting, mailing and talking about feeling shut out by their elected leaders in the District regarding the contemptuous mayoral school system takeover plan.

But this week, one woman took action.

Lisa Comfort Bradford, 40, a single mother of two who lives in Petworth, took the lonely and courageous step of seeking a remedy for this gross democratic oversight through the local courts.

“I’m doing the work now; I’m executing action, not just talking,” she said. “Our voices were not being taken seriously.”

Often, it is not whether you win but whether you can hold your head high because you stood up for what you think is right, against what you know is wrong.

“God always takes the underdog and makes an example, to make a statement,” said Ms. Bradford, who said she filed a lawsuit against the D.C. Council as “an example for my children.” Her 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter attend Catholic school because “I wanted them to have God for them every day.”

But like many, Ms. Bradford is upset that the council would vote on such a critical change in the government power structure — under the guise of educational reform — without representatives from Ward 4 and Ward 7, where the majority of the school system’s students reside.

Ms. Bradford is a former legal assistant in a personal injury law firm who “has filled out those forms a thousand times.” She went to D.C. Superior Court on Tuesday to file for a temporary injunction, without an attorney, to have the council delay voting on the mayor’s school takeover plans until after the May 1 special election to fill the two vacancies on the council.

“I wasn’t completely sure it would work, but I had to do something to hold up the process,” she said.

D.C. Superior Court Senior Judge Bruce S. Mencher denied her request, agreeing with city attorneys that the case was premature. Undeterred, Ms. Bradford intends to appear this morning to seek a preliminary injunction against the council.

Judge Mencher also noted that the matter was a “political question,” but he suggested that the at-large council members could vote on behalf of unrepresented Ward 4 and Ward 7 residents.

That’s not good enough for Ms. Bradford, who said, “You have to tell me ‘no’ 25 times.”

“This vote is going down in history. … On Tuesday, we were not on the record, and we want to be on the record, and that’s why I did what I did.”

So she’s “still got a little fight left in me,” especially for those who cannot fight for themselves. “Even if the judge slaps me on my behind again and says go home,” she’ll know she tried.

“I can’t see what’s ahead of me … but I’m consistent. I’m not a show-and-tell person. What you see is what you get and it isn’t always pretty. But I came from LeDroit Park, and it’s not a lot that’s going to scare me.”

Granted, a few have accused Ms. Bradford of ulterior motives for filing for a temporary injunction because she is a Democratic candidate for the Ward 4 seat vacated by Adrian M. Fenty when he was elected mayor.

Though she denies the charge, some say Ms. Bradford’s lawsuit is merely an attempt to break out of the 19-member field.

A number of city residents have mentioned the lack of black women on the current council.

“Black women are needed if we are to have diversity to the council. … It would be nice, but I will not run my campaign off of that,” Ms. Bradford said.

Also running in Ward 4 are Lisa P. Bass, Muriel Bowser, Renee Bowser, Marlena D. Edwards and Judi Jones.

In Ward 7, Emily Washington (no relation), a longtime community activist, teacher and former representative on the appointed school board, is one of at least eight black women vying for that seat. Others are Yvette M. Alexander, Mona Odom, Christine M. Tolson, Julie Rones, Iris Toyer, Johnnie Scott Rice and Dorothy Douglas.

Running on the premise that she is “unbought and unbossed,” Mrs. Washington said, “Some people have expressed a desire for a black woman [to be elected to the council] but, of course, there are plenty of people in the race who are not women.” Like others who want their wards to be represented, Mrs. Washington said, “Two weeks [isnt] too long to wait.”

“The home rule charter is a different story,” she predicted.

The mayor and the council intend to circumvent the home rule charter to push through their legislation to wrest control of the school system by nullifying the elected school board and making those officeholders a perfunctory advisory body.

It comes as no surprise that the council passed this power-grabbing measure overwhelmingly.

What is surprising is that many of those who fought for the District’s limited democratic rights are the very same people who are denying those rights to their constituents.

It is the ultimate hypocrisy to ask the electorate to forgo their home-rule rights but turn around and ask those same disenfranchised voters to rally Congress for a vote in the national legislature.

“Selective disenfranchisement,” as local civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot notes, “is never an acceptable solution regardless of the depth of a problem. In America, there is never a rationale for one American to disenfranchise another American.”

Kudos to one woman, Lisa Comfort Bradford, who is taking action so that the silent voices of many will be heard, if not heeded.

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