Earlier today, National Rifle Association C.E.O. Wayne LaPierre and other leaders from the gun group held a much-anticipated press conference to react to the ongoing controversy surrounding the shootings at a Sandy Hook elementary school one week ago. For those hoping for a grand speech, Mr. LaPierre certainly didn’t disappoint. In the address, Mr. LaPierre pushed back hard against those calling for additional gun control measures while accusing the media of being “silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators” in the violence. He also seemed to hold a host of other entities and events responsible, such as Hurricane Sandy.
“Violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years,” Mr. LaPierre said. “Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization. And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bulletstorm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Kombat,’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’…A thousand music videos, and you all know this, portray life as a joke and portray murder, portray murder, as a way of life. And then they all have the nerve to call it ‘entertainment.’ But is that what it really is? Isn’t fantasizing about killing people as a way to get your kicks really the filthiest form of pornography?”
Though the bluster of the Chicago teacher strike calmed down last week, the tensions between teacher’s unions and prominent mayors have not ceased. For his part, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is siding with his Second City counterpart, Rahm Emanuel, who pushed for changes to Chicago’s public school system despite opposition from the local teacher’s unions. Mr. Bloomberg discussed the situation this morning at NBC’s third annual Education Nation Summit at the Bartos Forum of the New York Public Library.
“I think Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, was quite right to move towards a longer school day,” he said. “I also think Rahm was right in pushing towards evaluations as a reform that the Obama administration made as part of Race to the Top.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a $100 million grant to the public school system in 2010. Now, according to CBS News, officials are considering using some of that cash on buyouts to get rid of poorly performing teachers.
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.”
Ku Klux Kontroversy
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.’”
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.”
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.
Church & State
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.
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.