Parks Director Rejection Raises Race And Gender Issues

Ximena Hartsock was appointed as the acting director of Washington D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation by Mayor Adrian Fenty last spring. But when she was nominated to fill the position permanently, she was rejected amid questions about how her ethnicity and gender would affect how she did the job. Host Scott Simon speaks to Hartsock about the controversy.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Ximena Hartsock is the acting director of Washington D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation, but not for long. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed her last spring, but when she was nominated for the permanent position, she was rejected after a contentious city council hearing in which questions were her raised about her ethnicity and gender.

Ximena Hartsock joins us now from the Department of Parks and Recreation in the District of Columbia.

Ms. Hartsock, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. XIMENA HARTSOCK (Department of Parks and Recreation): No, thank you.

SIMON: And it was Councilmember Marion Barry who raised questions as to whether you'd be able to relate to African-Americans, which are a numerical majority of Washington, D.C.'s population. He also wondered if, as woman, you might have a different approach to athletics than a man.

What's your reaction to those criticisms?

Ms. HARTSOCK: It's just its very unfortunate, and because it has brought a different discussion today about division in a city that I don't think is divided any more.

Maybe it was at some point but it's not now. And it's just very unfortunate for the African-American community and the Latino community, as well as the other communities.

On the gender aspect, I cannot imagine anywhere in the world today where women could be questioned about their capability to succeed in any environment, in any area, professionally or personally, because of gender.

SIMON: I understand you're in a politically sensitive position. But let me put it this bluntly: are you offended that those kinds of questions are even raised?

Ms. HARTSOCK: More than offended, I am disturbed and to some extent feel very embarrassed too that we are the nation's capital and that race and gender can become an issue on a confirmation hearing. So it's more than offended at the personal level. You know, when these things happen, you just take them for what they are.

But on a - as a resident of the District of Columbia, I feel disturbed and just deeply appalled and embarrassed about what happened.

SIMON: I wonder about some other questions that were raised. You have been working as a school principal in the District of Columbia, rather than in Parks and Recreation.

Were those fair questions?

Ms. HARTSOCK: Well, I was a principal before, about three years ago. For two years I was deputy of the Office of Teaching and Learning for Chancellor Michelle Rhee. And under my tenure with the chancellor, I ran a large number of offices with a budget very similar to the budget of the Department of Parks and Recreation. And I was responsible for After-School Programs for a hundred schools, Saturday programs and summer programs, and extracurricular activities which are all overlapping activities with the Department of Parks and Recreation.

And so a lot of the argument that my education background wasn't good enough for - to be the director of this agency, I found that argument flawed.

SIMON: May I ask, Ms. Hartsock, what are you going to do now?

Ms. HARTSOCK: In regard to the agency, I am more concerned about doing everything that we need to do here to - for the good transition for the new director. And that I want to make sure that we can transition to the new director without much interruption.

SIMON: Well, I meant what are you going to do?

Ms. HARTSOCK: I'm not sure yet, not sure.

SIMON: Going to stick around the District of Columbia?

Ms. HARTSOCK: Not sure.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. HARTSOCK: I'm not sure yet.

SIMON: Ximena Hartsock, acting director of the Washington D.C.'s Department of Parks and Recreation, speaking from her office.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. HARTSOCK: No, thank you for having me.

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