Only One Dog per Hydrant: Cuomo and de Blasio Battle for Power – 4-Year Olds May Be the Victims

Bill de Blasio ran a brilliant campaign for mayor, a textbook campaign, a motto: “A Tale of Two Cities” and two policies, stop and frisk and universal pre-K. Mayor Bloomberg had already sharply curtailed the number of police “stop and frisks,” one of the core campaign issues was resolved prior to Election Day.

The number of street stops under the police department’s heavily criticized stop-and-frisk tactic has plummeted 80 percent in recent months compared with the same time last year, (11/8/13)

The pre-K plan – a pre-kindergarten class in every public school and an after-school program in high poverty at-risk middle schools, the funding was embedded in the “A Tale of Two Cities” mantra – tax the rich, at least the richer, a small increase in taxes for earners of over $500,000 a year. The campaign rhetoric was reality,

“There are some who whisper that our drive to tax the wealthy to fund pre-K and after-school is just political posturing — an effort to heap scorn on the wealthy to win an election,” Mr. de Blasio told lawmakers at a hearing on the state budget, “But the election in New York City is over,” the mayor added, “and we are here to work with our leaders in Albany to govern.”

Within weeks of his inauguration deB released a 14-page plan laying out how the city could have classes ready by the fall.

In New York State all taxes are set by the legislature in Albany including local sales and income taxes. A heavily democratic Assembly, a democratic Governor and a Senate with shared leadership – if pressure could be brought on the republican leader, Dean Skelos, the new mayor’s two core policies would be in place – a sharp decrease in stop and frisk and universal pre-K. The campaign began: endorsement after endorsement, community organizations, business leaders, faith-based leaders, the momentum was building.

Surprisingly, the democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, not only had doubts, he had his own plan, to phase in a voluntary pre-K program across the state with funding in the state budget.

“I know the ‘tale of two cities’ the answer to the tale of two cities is not to create two states,” Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview blasting de Blasio’s plan to hike city income taxes on the rich to pay for universal pre-K classes within the five boroughs. “The answer to inequity and inequality is not to create more inequity and inequality,” Cuomo added.

The two elephants began to fight, An African proverb: when elephants fight the grass gets trampled.

Bill de Blasio appeared to be a long shot in the NYC mayoral stampede: the favorite, Christine Quinn, the Speaker of the City Council, John Liu, the NYC Comptroller, Bill Thompson, the former Comptroller, who was outspent by 10:1, came within five percentage points in the 2009 mayoral election. de Blasio was a City Council member from Brownstone Brooklyn and the NYC Public Advocate. The pundits dismissed de Blasio, too far to the left, no citywide appeal, there was no way he could end up in the top two and make it into the runoff – clearly no candidate had any chance of accumulating 40% of the primary vote.

John Liu was dragged down by rumors of campaign funding improprieties, Christine Quinn too close to Bloomberg and Bill Thompson too “wishy-washy,” running too safe a campaign. de Blasio attracted voters from across the spectrum, white and black, in Manhattan and the boroughs; he garnered 40% of the primary vote and swept away his republican opponent in the November general election.

Eliot Spitzer, a hard-charging governor shouldered aside all opposition, resigned after his prostitution escapades, his successor, stumbled badly and Andrew Cuomo was catapulted into office. Secretive, bullying, demanding and extraordinarily popular Cuomo has carefully burnished his reputation. Socially liberal Cuomo piloted a marriage equity law through the legislature, in education a teacher-evaluation plan supported by the NYC teacher union and fiscally conservative, a statewide property tax cap, lowering business taxes, supporting increases in the number of casinos, and advocating for low tax economic zones in high unemployment regions, environmentally suspicious of hydraulic fracking and increasing and protecting state park lands. In an era of politician approval ratings in the 20% to 30% range Cuomo’s favorable ratings remained inconceivably above 60%.

Hillary Clinton is the presumed 2016 democratic presidential candidate, however, if Hillary does not run – then whom? Vice President Biden, California Governor Jerry Brown, Senator Elizabeth Warren, or, a number of governors, why not Andrew Cuomo?

There is only room for one elephant in the state, or, more coarsely, only one dog per hydrant.

Derailing the deB pre-k plan both weakens a rising elephant and adds to the Cuomo resume as a fiscal conservative, opposing the ultra-liberal mayor.

deB can either do battle with the incumbent lord of the castle or pay homage, swear an oath of fealty to the occupant of the Albany executive mansion.

The governor avers, “The answer to inequity and inequality is not to create more inequity and inequality,” if so, why does he continue to support one of the most unfair, the most unequal education funding formula in the nation?

Bruce Baker, an economics professor at Rutgers University and the author of the school finance 101 blog skewers the funding formula. The difference between the high wealth and low wealth districts are staggering. The high wealth districts spend many, many thousands more dollars per student, have more music and art courses/programs, more Advanced Placement classes, more elective subjects, lower class sizes, by every measurement high wealth districts provide more elaborate educational programs. High wealth district have more psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors and nurses, the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, with each year more and more districts are slipping in the “stress’ category, rising expenses and declining revenues.

The governor’s budget would continue and add to the inequality, offering funding for universal pre-k classes when districts cannot afford full day kindergartens.

The Lord of the Manor has to keep his vassals in line.

If we want to break the cycle of poverty universal pre-k is a step, however, we have to start as early as possible:

• Workshops for expectant and new mothers in neighborhood schools.
• Workshops for caregivers and toddlers, once again, in neighborhood schools.
• Pre-school beginning at age 3
• A Community School model: a wide range of school-based social services
• Linkages to job training, housing placements and employment
• GED (TASC) opportunities located in the community, preferably the neighborhood school.

Unfortunately the road to the White House doesn’t trek through communities of poverty. Creating a persona that matches potential voters leads through middle class suburbs, not through Brownsville or East New York.

Than again, Louis XVI did lose his head.

One response to “Only One Dog per Hydrant: Cuomo and de Blasio Battle for Power – 4-Year Olds May Be the Victims

  1. The problem is that solutions are not political. They are arrived at in a political process, but they either work or they don’t in the real world based on facts, not on what politicians believe. While we (progressives) may all believe that universal pre-K is a good thing, making it work is about a whole lot realities, the available space, the curricula in the programs (high-quality is a descriptor, not an actual curriculum), and the ability to hire (and retain) qualified teachers to implement that curriculum.

    The Governor is much better at the political game. He has taken deB’s argument for the “Tale of Two cities” and is using it against him, while, as Ed notes, doing nothing to change the vast inequalities in the State or even living up to the requirements of the CFE settlement that sought to address them

    The Mayor finds himself on the short end of all the political arguments, but the facts are that it will take real money to create high quality pre-K programs and the City needs to know that the revenue stream will not be interrupted by new political realities for an ambitious Governor.


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