Dial 'M' For Mayor
Howard Wolfson’s phone was ringing off the hook yesterday. As of this writing, the deputy mayor for government affairs has received at least 1,024 calls on his office line today from constituents asking him to preserve funding for child care and after-school in the Mayor’s Executive Budget. The telephone tempest was organized by Campaign for Children, a group dedicated to fighting proposed cuts to childcare and after-school programs run by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Youth and Community Development that were included in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget plan.
Council Members Al Vann and Robert Jackson, who is chair of the Education Committee, introduced a resolution today asking the State Legislature to limit mayoral control of city schools. The resolution, which comes following growing controversy over recent school closings, calls on the legislature to give community councils approval over school closures and co-locations.
“The process for proposing and approving these significant changes to schools has disenfranchised communities and parents,” Mr. Vann said. “Providing a significant role for CECs in the co-location and school closure process will not only ensure that proposals are thoughtful and truly include input from communities and parents, but also will enhance community and parental involvement in our public schools.”
Members of the City Council’s Queens delegation are fighting back against the Department of Education’s plan to close eight schools in Queens. All of the schools were part of the Restart or Transformation model programs. The delegations held a rally against the closures yeasterday and is sending a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott.
“The common dominator to the eight schools slated to be closed is that they all service high rates of English Language Learners and Special Needs children,” Councilwoman Diana Reyna said at the rally. “By turning his back to students with the highest need, Mayor Bloomberg is abandoning the principle of equal opportunity for all children regardless of race or disability. This Mayor claims to be known as the “Education Mayor,” but I think a more accurate title is the ‘Highest School Dropout Mayor.’”
Ku Klux Kontroversy
Last Friday, Gay City News reporter Andy Humm printed a column accusing Councilwoman and likely candidate for Public Advocate Tish James of defending “KKK access to schools.” The story was based on a testy exchange about the controversy over whether churches should be allowed to hold worship services in public schools when class is not in session that took place between Ms. James and Ms. Humm after a public forum on stop-and-frisk at the LGBT Community Center where both were speaking. Ms. James, who supports allowing religious organizations access to school buildings, gave her side of the story to The Politicker and clarified her position on the controversial issue.
“The comment was made in jest, and apparently, it was taken very seriously by a reporter who obviously was very disappointed in my position regarding allowing access to organizations of faith, who have used and want to continue to use public schools on days that schools are closed,” Ms. James said.
Mr. Humm’s story, which was subsequently picked up by other media outlets, quoted Ms. James as saying the Klan is “entitled to equal access.” Ms. James, who said she knows Mr. Humm, described her interaction with Mr. Humm as a conversation that devolved into a “shouting match” and said she made the remark in an attempt to end the argument:
Reverend Jesse Jackson served as guest minister for the church service of the annual New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus association weekend at Wilborn Temple in Albany today and his sermon included a call to eliminate super PACs that allow corporations and individuals to contribute unlimited amounts to political campaigns. In a conversation with reporters after the service, Mr. Jackson reiterated his belief super PACs are leading to the “corrupting of our political process.”
“Now we see our politics corrupted by the super PAC process where a few very wealthy people can use their monies to tear down and tear up people, and discourage leadership from emerging in a democratic way. Not one super PAC ad has been on eliminating poverty, or building affordable housing, or making healthcare affordable, or reducing student loan debt, which is greater than credit card debt,” Mr. Jackson said. “The one person one vote is dead until these super PACs become illegal again.”
Queens Assemblyman Rory Lancman, who’s currently campaigning for Congress against GOP Rep. Bob Turner, held a press conference today focusing on nuts and bolts of education policy and lambasting Republicans in Congress for failing to do enough. A source close to Mr. Lancman indicated today’s event was an attempt to draw contrast with Republicans (like his opponent, hint, hint) while at the same time focusing on a meat and potatoes sort of campaign.
“Students are graduating with the equivalent of a mortgage’s worth of debt, with no house to show for it,” Mr. Lancman said. “Our students deserve better, and Congress needs to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released today is sure to turn some heads in the education debate as it found New York State voters trust Governor Andrew Cuomo more than the teachers’ union by a 50% to 38% margin “to protect the interests of New York State public school students.” This all comes as the state is in last-minute negotiations over teacher evaluations.
“The teachers’ union is a political punching bag these days, and New York voters share that negative view,” Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in the press release. ”Support for the union isn’t high even in union households.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg blamed a recent poll showing a majority of New Yorkers disapprove of his handling of the schools on the United Federation for Teachers’ ad campaign criticizing his record on education.
“Somebody goes and runs a bunch of ads every day on television, you can create exactly that poll,” Mayor Bloomberg said.
The mayor went on to suggest he could turn around the numbers by buying his own ads.
“I guess I could go spend some money and reverse the poll, the press would love it,” he said.
Last time the UFT took out ads against Mayor Bloomberg in March that’s exactly what he did. At that time, the mayor opened a campaign committee to fund a $5.6 million campaign defending his record on schools complete with polling, mailings and TV ads. Mayor Bloomberg subsequently shut his committee in October, on the exact same day The Politicker wrote a story about its activities.
Mayor Bloomberg’s education policies have come under fire in recent weeks due to the closing of several city schools. After the mayor’s preliminary budget presentation today, Department of Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended mayoral control of city schools and said he doesn’t “buy into” criticism the city hasn’t been transparent enough about school closures.
“Mayoral control has worked, it’s worked well, and we are continuing to improve and refine it to make sure it’s even better,” Mr. Walcott told Politicker.
Church & State
Assemblyman Nelson Castro sent out a statement yesterday evening urging fellow legislators to support his bill to allow the use of public school buildings for religious meetings and worship. As of February 12, religious organizations will be barred from using school property in New York City. Mr. Castro, who represents the 86th District in The Bronx, described this decision as “discriminatory.”
“This issue is particularly affecting my district and my constituents. It is my responsibility to protect my community,” Mr. Castro said.