Payback is a Bitch: de Blasio, Cuomo the Senate Republicans and Mayoral Control

Payback is a bitch!!

The New York State legislature is due to adjourn on June 16th – two more weeks till the end of the session – commonly referred to as the “big ugly.”  The 150 members of the Assembly, the 63 members of the Senate and the Governor all wheeling and dealing to bring their favorite bills to votes.

One of the few major outstanding issues is mayoral control of schools in New York City.

A little history: after two contentious teacher strikes (1967 and 1968), inner city riots around the country and the assassination of Martin Luther King, the mayor of NYC, John Lindsay was desperately seeking a way to pacify the bubbling racially-based anger across the city. The “answer” was decentralizing the school system. The decentralization law created a seven-member central board, one appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor, and thirty (later increased to 32) community school districts with elected boards and wide-ranging power over budget, curriculum and the appointment of school and district leadership.

A handful of districts thrived, the poorest districts became patronage pits for the local electeds; scandal after scandal and extremely low student achievement. The legislature that created the patronage system had no interest in ending it and the mayor, Ed Koch, effectively manipulated the system; claiming credit for successes and trashing it over perceived failures.

In 2002 newly elected mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he favored legislation to repeal the decentralization system and create a mayoral control system. A school board, the majority appointed by the mayor and community councils with extremely limited authority. Mayoral control was supported across the political landscape as well as supported by the unions.

The legislature passed and renewed the law a number of times without opposition – except from Sol Stern. In the City Journal, Stern sharply criticized Bloomberg, who Stern felt was skillfully manipulating school data to burnish his own reputation. Stern presaged what became an all-out assault on Bloomberg’s education policies in his final term.

Last year the legislature, at least the Republican-controlled Senate balked and mayoral control was only extended for one year.

In the spirit of his predecessor de Blasio has spun out presser after presser announcing educational initiative after initiative, Among de Blasio’s first achievements was to negotiate a contract with the teacher union, who had been without a contract, and a raise, for five years. Universal Pre Kindergarten was funded in Albany, a major achievement.

de Blasio; however, has not been skillful in using his school achievements to burnish his own reputation.

The local tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, pro-Bloomberg, have challenged de Blasio’s school initiatives, and, de Blasio’s forays into state politics have backfired badly.

de Blasio decided to challenge the Republican majority in the Senate, who held a slim majority. With the support of the Working Families Party and the unions the mayor raised dollars (now under scrutiny by the US Attorney) and supported six upstate Democrats. When the smoke cleared the dems only won one race and alienated the Republican leadership in Albany.

Additionally there is only one perch on the top of the progressive pulpit, and, Governor Cuomo sits in that nest. Cuomo has, at every opportunity, slapped down perceived progressive challenges from de Blasio.

What does all this backroom politics have to do with mayoral control? Everything

Cathy Nolan, the chair of the Assembly Education Committee supports and extension of mayoral control, with caveats,

A group of parent representatives from our district came to Albany recently to share their concerns about education and the effects of mayoral control. I came away from this meeting with a clear sense that parents are frustrated and angered by the DOE’s inability to really listen to them.

The Mayor convinced everyone including myself that his system of parent advocates and small academies would initiate a new era in New York City’s Education. Parents would have a voice in how their children were educated. We voted to give the Mayor control but from where I sit good intentions are not enough.

In the Senate Republican leader John Flanagan, quixotically mused,

“Let me be clear: I don’t think anyone has said we should throw mayoral control out the window”  ….  “The governor said three years, the Assembly said seven years, and to an extent, we’re essentially agnostic”

The “message” to the mayor from Flanagan was clear – stay in the five boroughs; you’re the mayor of New York City not New York State.

The “message” from Cuomo was clear – there is only one progressive in New York State, and he’s in Albany.

You might say, “Isn’t this petty, why can’t they just run the state and do what is best for the people?”

A few dirty little secrets:

The 1787 Constitutional Convention was a secret meeting, no press, the only notes we have are from James Madison who restricted access until after the death of all the participants. The key compromise was the Three/Fifth Compromise – although slavery is not explicitly mentioned,

The issue of how to count slaves split the delegates into two groups. The northerners regarded slaves as property who should receive no representation. Southerners demanded that Blacks be counted with whites. The compromise clearly reflected the strength of the pro-slavery forces at the convention. The “Three-fifths Compromise” allowed a state to count three fifths of each Black person in determining political representation in the House.

A blatantly racist “deal” is at the core of our constitution – note the last three words.

Representatives and Direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their representative Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of Free Persons, including those bound to service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed and three fifths of all other Persons

Abraham Lincoln was determined to pass the Thirteen Amendment,

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Lincoln “… used high pressure arm-twisting, political patronage, and outright lies to accomplish his goal:” the passage of the amendment – it passed by two votes. Does the passage of the iconic amendment outlawing slavery justify the use of “political patronage (offering lucrative jobs for votes) and outright lies”?

James Madison, in Federalist Paper 51 wrote,

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition …  But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.

Politics is a reflection of human nature, the rough and tumble of politics mirrors the real world. We are not angels, so the media, the other branches of government and the public are the controls. Politics is messy, 19th century German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck quipped, “Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.”

Mayor de Blasio is ambitious, perhaps too ambitious, only time will tell. His ambition was countered by the ambition of the governor and the Republican leadership. Threatening to refuse to renew mayoral leadership, or add restrictions to the law, or only extending for one year is simply making him pay for his ambition. If the Democrats seize control of the Senate in the November elections the last laugh will come from Gracie Mansion.

The powers in Albany, who may see themselves as modern day feudal lords who require oaths of fealty from mayors and electeds have the power to punish. Those lowly lesser nobles have been known to rise up … heads have been lost.

Payback may be a bitch, but for whom?

5 responses to “Payback is a Bitch: de Blasio, Cuomo the Senate Republicans and Mayoral Control

  1. leonie haimson

    Sol Stern was NOT the only person who opposed mayoral control under Bloomberg. most NYC voters, parents, and many advocates opposed it. See our parent commission report for example.

    Click to access parent_commission_Final_Report.pdf


  2. Agreed, however Stern wrote from the Manhattan Institute, the conservative think tank that has supported most of the “reformy” Bloomberg initiatives .. he was one of the few (only?) ultra-conservatives who challenged Bloomberg/Klein


  3. Marc Korashan

    There is a long history around school governance in NYC that, when seen as a whole, looks like a pendulum, swinging back and forth between centralized, politically corrupt control, and decentralized, politically corrupt control. The real issue is that Education as an essential public service should not be a political football. What the legislature needs to is extend Mayoral control in its current form for a limited time and use that time to convene a working group of educators and parents to start to talk about creating a system that is first and foremost about educating students.


  4. I feel the truth in Marc Korashan’s statement: Education as an essential public service should not be a political football. What I can tell anyone who has NOT been a teacher is that each and every time that the school board — or in some cases simply the mayor alone — comes up with suddenly “new” ideas about how to run schools, they miss at least half the story…so that whatever new idea/policy is instigated creates havoc with the half of the story which has been ignored. Teachers and students are most often simply bystanders in the game, never asked for input. Input which in many cases would be: Leave things alone and we can get a lot more done.


  5. James S. Vlasto

    The NYC Public schools need a very e xperienced Chancellor steep in political know how and a visionary. Mayoral Control is better than a Board of Education of the early 1990s whose sole policy to undermine the Chancellor and his staff. Later followed by Joel Klein and a Mayor who silenced critics .

    We have a large number talented educators in NYC . Let them run the schools. The Governor and Mayor fighting over control is not good for the students, teachers or the city.


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