Ire In The Empire (State)

Ire In The Empire (State)

Ire In The Empire (State)
March 18, 2014

Last year, like many political junkies, I traipsed behind the New York City Democratic mayoral hopefuls from one earnest but repetitive candidate forum to another. As a camp follower, I was most interested in their education proposals.

At the June 2013 NYC Parents Mayoral Forum on Education, sponsored by a coalition of labor unions, community organizations and parents’ advocacy organizations, candidates signed a pledge vowing to making good on their responses to questions about special ed services, school governance, parent empowerment, class size, co-locations, testing, privacy, safety, diversity, closing the achievement gap and providing after-school services.

That forum’s pledges—as well as others—can serve as checklists for measuring to what degree Mayor Bill de Blasio keeps his campaign promises.

Back then, like now, a segment of education reformers and parents of children in public charter schools, as well as those on the wait lists to enter them, were fearful of the Democratic mayoral candidates. There was reason for the advocates’ apprehensions: de Blasio and the other leading Democrats denounced co-location, the rent-free space given charters in public school buildings, and railed against Eva Moskowitz, the scourge of the UFT, as they vied for the teachers union’s endorsement.

At the advent of the de Blasio administration, the charter school movement seemed dispirited over the prospects of the post-Bloomberg era. There was talk of running TV commercials to pillory and chasten de Blasio into continuing Mayor Bloomberg’s charter school program.

Since becoming mayor, de Blasio has symbolically eliminated building aid for charter schools in his preliminary budget. Truth be told, that money was never real. It was a budget booby trap on which the outgoing Bloomberg administration left behind for de Blasio to obligingly trip.

It must have come as a surprise to the new mayor that Gov. Andrew Cuomo would use his budget “cut,” his pledge to charge some charter schools rent, and his rescinding of three co-locations as bludgeons in their re-election year budget battle. Cuomo’s effective use of de Blasio’s “anti-charter” stance brought new meaning to the statement “with Cuomo as a friend, who needs enemies?”

Despite their education policy disagreements with Mayor Bloomberg, none of the mayoral candidates pledged to abandon Bloomberg’s signature achievement: mayoral control. De Blasio and Thompson fully embraced mayoral control because it puts the city’s chief executive in charge.

At the NYC Parents Forum, de Blasio declined to cede three of his Educational Priorities Panel appointments to direct election by citywide public school parents. 

This month Cuomo and the state Senate co-leaders suddenly proposed curtailing mayoral control of city public schools—at least as it pertained to charter schools. It was a move akin to the Russian navy blockading Ukrainian naval vessels in their home port of Sevastopol.

A wily Cuomo had outmaneuvered de Blasio once again.

The next few days will provide some insight into the future of the Cuomo–de Blasio relationship in areas of policy disagreement. This isn’t a mere clash of personality; it’s a clash of different approaches to politics. It’s a fight between two old Democratic operatives: a ruthless asymmetrical tactician who plays the angles versus a chummy ideologue who eschews street fighting.

It’s a fight for the soul of the state, if not the national Democratic Party. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the Clinton-Obama electoral fracas in 2008.

I think Cuomo knows how that one turned out. No doubt he aims to come out on top in every clash with New York City’s mayor.

Meanwhile, I’ll be traipsing along with everyone else chronicling the “Ire in the Empire (State).”

Former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin (@SquarePegDem on Twitter) represented the Bronx for eight years.

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Michael Benjamin
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