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Are City Politicians Smarter Than a Fifth-Grader? Maybe.



Mayor L. Douglas Wilder may beg to differ, but let it be known that City Council President William J. Pantele and School Board Vice Chairwoman Lisa Dawson are, in fact, both at least as smart as fifth-graders.

Both city leaders exchange their compulsory public official dunce caps for proper thinking caps June 1, going toe to toe against the collective brainpower of the student body at George Washington Carver Elementary School. The event: a homegrown version of the Fox game show "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"

The test of wits, in addition to a bit of good-natured self-mockery by Pantele and Dawson (no relation to game-show legend Richard Dawson), is a well-camouflaged test review for students in the throes of Standards of Learning tests.

"I am definitely smarter than a fifth-grader," boasts a cocksure Dawson before the event, which she helped organize. "And I certainly hope my city councilman is."

Pantele enters the contest with a humbler self-assessment than Dawson. "I'm going to do the best I can," he says, admitting that his training as a lawyer poses a "tremendous disadvantage" in contests of cleverness.

Facing such deceptively easy-sounding categories as "first-grade English" and "second-grade science," Dawson's first question is: "Which is longer, a kilometer or a mile?"

Dawson aces this one — she recently ran a 10K race. "I know I can't run 10 miles," she answers.

Then comes a tough one in the fifth-grade English category: How do you close a friendly letter? "I don't usually write letters," says Dawson, exposing a handicap unique to the digital age.

"Not friendly ones anyway," quips Pantele, as Dawson takes a wild guess. She gets it right (it's "Yours truly"), allowing her to give the hot seat to her colleague.

Pantele has faced his share of challenges during his tenure on council, but none had prepared him for his first question: When is the autumnal equinox?

The question nearly brings an early sunset to the game. But thanks to the intervention of the game's host and the student body, who provide a few well-placed hints, Pantele escapes a close call.

"I'm going to say September," he says finally, and the children erupt in cheers.

The competition is touch-and-go for both officials and for the two Carver teachers who round out their team.

In the end, Pantele negotiates his final two questions, handing over the game to the two teachers: Casey Rogers, the school's Carver Promise coordinator, and Ashley Wilson, an AmeriCorps volunteer. The teachers finish out the game to win.

"I think Mrs. Dawson put me in an impossible situation," Pantele says afterward. "I don't think my BlackBerry recognizes the autumnal equinox." S

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