Tag Archives: Bill Thompson

How Can the Democrats Build a Coalition to Win the November Midterms: Fire Arne

President Obama is in trouble, real trouble.

Each and every day in the House and the Senate the single goal of the Republicans is to damage the Democrats and increase their chances of maintaining control of the House and winning control of the Senate, and, the Democrats are worried, they should be.

Nate Silver, in his FiveThirtyEight blog predicts,

When FiveThirtyEight last issued a U.S. Senate forecast way back in July — we concluded the race for Senate control was a toss-up. That was a little ahead of the conventional wisdom at the time, which characterized the Democrats as vulnerable but more likely than not to retain the chamber.

Our new forecast goes a half-step further: We think the Republicans are now slight favorites to win at least six seats and capture the chamber.

If the Republicans seize control of the Senate they will begin to undo six years of Obama legislation – beginning with the Affordable Care Act and working through worker rights, social issues and appointing as many conservative justices as possible. Six years of an Obama administration can be undone in his last two years, as well as setting the stage for the 2016 presidential election.

The policymakers, the Harvard and Yale graduates are at the top of the policy junta. From education to healthcare to the environment and energy policy the intellectual “elites” design policies. How do we assure that every American has affordable healthcare? How do we reduce and/or eliminate poverty? How do we save the environment? How do we improve the economy, reduce unemployment, and lessen income inequality? How do we both secure our borders and create a path to citizenship for the undocumented? How do we improve education for all students?

The next level is the policy implementers, the bureaucrats who steer the regulations and legislation through the maze of government into actual implementation.

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committe (DCCC) are in full campaign mode with six months until November elections.

Motivating the core, fundraising, building an army of foot soldiers, expanding social media, all preparing for that Tuesday in November.

Outside of the loop, or more accurately on the edge of the loop are the strategists, the guys and gals on the ground that actually run campaigns, for a fee.

SKDKnickerbocker, Pitta Bishop Del Giorno, Red Horse Strategies, there are scores of firms, some regional, others national, some only work for Republicans or Democrats while others will work across the political spectrum.

John Del Cecato at AKPD Media crafted the “Dante” TV commercial that is credited with pushing Bill de Blasio’s campaign ahead of the pack of candidates.

Browse a directory of consulting firms here

There are frequently tensions between the policymakers and the folks that actually run campaigns. Bill de Blasio ran a brilliant campaign, beginning as a lightly regarded much too liberal candidate and besting the favorites Christine Quinn and Bill Thompson and avoiding a runoff. The brilliance of the campaign has not transferred into the first few months of his mayoralty, the glow of victory has worn off, and there whispers are a one-term mayor.

If I were invited to a meeting of policymakers, strategists and consulting firms I would advise:

“In 2008 and 2012 new voters, Afro-Americans, women, LGTs, millennials and progressives across the age spectrum; a coalition that came together only for the elections; in 2010, the midterms, the coalition never came together; the Republicans seized the House and eroded the Democratic majority in the Senate. Are we doing anything differently in 2014?

Will the 2008 and 2012 new voters come back to the polls? Have we motivated the core constituency? Not only is the answer “no,” we have lost voters in the middle.

The Affordable Care Act has become Obamacare, a tarnished plan that has motivated the Republicans and the uncommitted. Will the eight million who signed up for the Affordable Care Act vote in 2014? Will they vote for Democrats? The rollout of the Affordable Care Act was a disaster, an avoidable disaster, a disaster that could cost seats in the Senate. A disaster that is not remediable.

Another bubbling disaster is the Common Core and the alienation of teachers.

There are three million teachers: they vote, they get involved in campaigns, they man phone banks, they knock on doors, they are respected in their communities, they were key players in 2008 and 2012, and Arne Duncan has driven them away from the administration.

Whether the Common Core and Race to the Top are disasters or wonderful is irrelevant. Teachers and increasing numbers of parents perceive them as disasters. A Republican Congress will dismantle the Obama education policies and Democrats will join them.

I hear the policymakers and strategists argue that progressives and teachers have no other place to go, after all Republican policy is anathema. They are shortsighted, the alternative is staying at home, not to volunteer, not to contribute to campaigns, to walk away from involvement.

There is one action that would motivate and invigorate teachers and progressive voters.

Fire Arne Duncan (and select a highly regarded career educator).

I know, I know, he’s Barrack’s best bud, he’s a homeboy, the President would never consider dumping Arne.

If the Republicans control Congress the President will spend his last two years vetoing bill after bill and trying to convince other Democrats not to vote to override his veto – with only limited success. The Republicans and the Democrats will be in full 2016 election mode and you better believe the President will not only be irrelevant, he will attacked by his own party.

For six years Arne Duncan has skillfully evaded Congress, he has created a circle of loyal supporters: governors and corporate leaders, an elite intelligentsia that has distanced themselves from teachers and parents. On one hand Duncan consistently repeats a mantra, “education is the civil rights issue of the 21st century;” on the ground, in classrooms, in living rooms, electeds in state legislators and in Congress, have moved from suspicion to outright opposition.

David Tyack and Larry Cuban, in their seminal study of school reforms, “Tinkering Towards Utopia,” (1997) tell us,

We do not believe in educational Phoenixes and we do not think the system is in ashes … we suggest thst reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from inside out rather than top down … Reforms should be designed by educators working together to take advantage of their knowledge of their own diverse students and communities and supporting each other in new ways of teaching. It is especially important to engage the understanding and support of parents and the public when reforms challenge cultural beliefs about what a ‘real school’ should be and do.

Duncan has lost the confidence of teachers and parents.

The President has to fire Arne now and change the path of education, or, remain loyal to his best friend and watch the Congress reverse his education policies.

I fear the policymakers will prevail; the President will stay the course, remain loyal, and watch his legacy crumble.

I don’t know how to resolve Ukraine, or Syria, or the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, I’m pretty good at winning elections.

A choice: three million teachers with feet on the ground or sitting at home marking papers.”

And I don’t charge a million dollars for my advice.

Whispering in de Blasio’s Ear: Running a City Versus Winning an Election: Who is Advising the Mayor Presumptive?

The day after Bill Thompson conceded the folks who ran de Blasio’s campaign packed up their laptops and moved on to the next race. They earned their fees.

600,000 Democratic voters selected a mayor for eight million New Yorkers, the de Blasio team knew how to push the right buttons. The TV commercial featuring his son’s Afro, the constant drumbeat on “stop-and-frisk,” the “tale of two cities” scenario carried the day for the 270,000 voters, the 40.3% who “elected” Bill de Blasio.

With a forty point bulge in the polls Bill de Blasio will be swept to victory on November 5th – his opponent’s chance of winning is about the same as the Mets winning the World Series and the Jets winning the Super Bowl.

The team that won the election is not the team who will run the city and the mayor presumptive is faced with a pre-election dilemma. How does he go about assembling a team that can satisfy his campaign promises? How does he address the long line at the Gracie Mansion door wanting to be paid back for their support?

Bill has to be careful; friends he trusts may not be giving him the professional advice he needs.

In the Carter administration I was having lunch with a “mover and shaker,” a partner in an important law firm that had guided national policy on a wide range of issues – he was bemoaning the selection of Carter’s fellow Georgians as his inner circle.

“This Carter guy told me, ‘You think only the Northeastern elite can run the country, only the Harvard/Yale crowd?’ to be perfectly honest, yes, we are the only ones.” BTW, the nine members of the Supreme Court come from, yes; you guessed it, only Harvard and Yale.

Carter felt “comfortable” with his good old boy pals, and he turned out to be a one- term president.

The two most important appointments to de Blasio’s administration, appointments that will frame his administration will be a new police commissioner and a new chancellor for the school system.

The speculation about the police commissioner was featured in the NY Times,

“For a change-oriented mayor, there’s a benefit to bringing in somebody from the outside,” said Jeremy Travis, the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who has discussed policing policy with Mr. de Blasio. “The next police commissioner faces two equally compelling imperatives: first to continue to bring crime down, and second to help the city navigate its way out of the current conundrum about the stop-and-frisk tactics.”

There appear to be a number of highly regarded candidates ranging from Bill Bratton to others both in and out of the current police hierarchy.

On the school front the choice is far more complex, there is no obvious candidate; there are many suitors.

Rumor has it that a former superintendent, Carmen Farina is the “whisperer” in the presumptive mayor’s ear.

A mistake.

Farina had a long career: principal to superintendent to regional superintendent to deputy chancellor, she left under a cloud. (Read details here)

Sources tell parent advocates’ reporters that Ms. Farina placed the daughter of former Brooklyn Technological High School Principal Lee McCaskill in PS 29, a violation of NYC BOE policies (McCaskill lived in New Jersey). Special Investigators were angry with Mr. Klein for permitting Mrs. Farina to retire before she was convicted. Farina, as well as Chancellor Joel Klein, have no contracts with the NYC DOE, and there’s the rub: How Do they get away with this?

While it may be comfortable to sit down with someone you know critical decisions must be made with the advice of the “wise men,” the city fathers (and daughters) who understand both the complexities, the skills required to govern as well as the politics.

De Blasio should listen to Randi Weingarten, Bill Thompson, Dick Parsons, Diane Ravitch, Mathew Goldstein, David Steiner … the best minds in the city.

His high profile campaign pledge, full day pre-kindergarten appears “dead-on-arrival” in Albany. In an election year, all of Albany is up for re-election, the Republicans on the Senate side and the Governor are openly cool to any increase in taxes to fund anything; by the 4th week in March the budget will be done – does de Blasio “fight the good fight,” and lose – or is there a way to “save face?”

Police commissioners and chancellors must support the policies of the mayor; earn the support of the public and the employees they lead.

The mayor needs a chancellor who can navigate Scylla and Charybdis, who can steer around the whirlpools and eddies and not be tempted by the bewitching song of the sirens. The chancellor, learning from Odysseus may have to bind himself tightly to the mast, his men blocking their ears with wax to avoid the alluring seductive melodies that would bring him, and the administration to doom.

Enough Greek mythology, although we can learn a great deal from the Greeks; listening to the guy next to you on the bar stool will empty your wallet and chase away your girlfriend.

Finding sages who have “been there and done that,” who have a vested interest in your success, crafting polices that are morally, ethically and politically attainable is the path a mayor must follow.