Tag Archives: Carl Heastie

If Democrats Control Both Houses of the State Legislature How Would It Impact Education Policy?

On Tuesday voters across the nation will cast ballots that will decide the control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, in New York State voters will determine the control of the State Senate.

The 150-member Assembly is firmly in control of Democrats, led by speaker Carl Heastie, who replaced the disgraced Sheldon Silver.

The 63-member Senate is currently controlled by a slim, a very slim Republican majority, a one-vote majority. If there is a blue tsunami, a blue wave or a blue ripple the Democrats will gain control of the Senate.

The history of recent control of the Senate is covered with shame, the last two Democratic leaders of the Senate, both Afro-Americans, were convicted of crimes and incarcerated. The current Democratic leader in the Senate is Andrea Stewart-Cousins, an Afro-American woman representing Westchester.

If the Democrats prevail they will convene after being sworn in and select a majority leader; while Stewart-Cousin will probably prevail there may an opponent: Michael Gianaris, The Democrats in the Senate have always been a contentious group, divided by geography, race and just plain old political ambition. The Independent Democratic Coalition (IDC) peeled away eight democrats and shared leadership with the republicans. If you want a friend in Albany: buy a dog!

I suspect Stewart-Cousins will become the majority leader.

Both houses if the legislature will be led by Afro-Americans.

Who will Stewart-Cousins appoint a Education Chair? from New York City? the suburbs? a person of color?  How will Stewart-Cousins meld her senior members with her new members? How will she avoid identity politics?  Can she build a  collaborative majority or a fractious membership, some of whom may split off into a new IDC-like coalition?

The session kicks off with the governor’s State of the State message, laying out his policy agenda for the session. followed by the governor’s draft budget; in New York State the governor sets the parameters of the budget and from January until the end of March the “three men in a room,” excuse me, the two men and Andrea, hash out the budget. Governors can add non-budgetary items to the budget, the courts sustained this practice.

While the democrats control both houses representatives, regardless of party, will fight for issues important for their district. The loudest voice in the room is the governor.

In the last session about 15,000 bills were introduced in the Assembly, fewer than 500 became law; with both houses in democratic hands legislators will push hard for passage of their bills.

Legislators are both collaborative and competitive. Some legislators introduce twenty bills and others a few hundred, bills are assigned to committees and the committee chair is the gatekeeper. Some bills are similar to others bills, whose bill makes it to the floor?  The speaker and the majority leader are the final gatekeepers. It is rare for a bill to come to the floor that will not pass. Each party has almost daily conferences, closed meetings at which the members argue/debate bills, if there is sufficient opposition the speaker/majority leader will set the bill aside.

Education funding, although not sexy, is at the top of any education agenda. The combination of the limit on state and local tax deductions (SALT) and the 2% property tax cap is stressful. On one hand suburban districts pay extraordinarily high property taxes and the property tax cap is popular, on the other hand school districts are eating into reserves.

I suspect the legislature will take a deep dive into the way schools in New York State are funded. I doubt a bill can be agreed upon before the April 1st budget date; however, the state could select a commission to address a new school funding formula.

To further complicate New York City legislators will advocate for the full funding of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) lawsuit – billions of dollars; an example of division by geography.

The State Education Department is currently creating a list of budgetary and non-budgetary asks, over the past decade budgets have been stingy when it comes to State Education funding initiatives.

Over the years democrats and republicans, urban and suburban, have worked out budgets within the fiscal constraints set by the governor.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is the union representing teachers in the 4400 schools in New York State; the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) is the union representing teachers in New York City.

A major issue for NYSUT is teacher evaluation, the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR). We are in the last year of a moratorium on the use of student testing data to assess teacher performance. In the post-budget legislative session the Assembly passed a bill championed by NYSUT that would have moved teacher assessment decisions to local school districts, at the last moment the Republican leadership in Senate held the bill hostage, and took no action. Will the NYSUT-supported bill pass the legislature early in the session, or, will the governor decide to delay the discussions until after the budget? The State Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, has made it clear; the Regents and the State Education should be involved in any APPR revisions.

Charter school advocates are nervous, and they should be!  For election cycle after election cycle charter school PACs poured money into Republican Senate campaigns, Republicans with no charter schools in their district.

The charter school cap in New York City is about to be reached, unless the governor decides to fully jump on the charter school bandwagon the cap will not be raised.

In number of areas the charter school law is permissive, charter school critics may advocate for a tightening of the legislation, more transparency, and, perhaps, limiting the contribution tax write-offs for charter school philanthropy,

The SUNY Charter School Institute decided it had the authority to certify prospective charter school teachers, a policy that was sharply criticized, and the courts ruled SUNY had exceeded their authority. Will the legislature limit the authority of the SUNY Charter Institute?  Merryl Tisch, during her tenure as leader of the Board of Regents attempted to move all charter schools solely to the Board of Regents.

Individual legislators will introduce bills that require that school districts to protect (you write in the noun) or provide curriculum for (again, you write in the noun) or prohibit or require (whatever), many of these proposals cost dollars that are not provided in the proposal.

Some proposals will be high profile, reported in the print and online media, be subject to public meetings and others quietly proposed and passed without much public scrutiny.

Virtually every organization employs lobbyists, from organizations representing school boards, superintendents, small cities, mid-sized cities, the Big Five, the Gates Foundation, Scores of organizations bring members to Albany, usually on Monday and Tuesday attempting to meet with legislators. I say attempting because legislators attend committee meetings and the session meetings; a grassroots type of lobbying.

Gideon John Tucker, a Surrogate Judge in New York Country wrote in an 1866 decision, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Who is Responsible for the Demise of Mayoral Control? Eva

Years ago I served on the teacher union negotiating team in New York City.  We started with formal meetings across the table with thick briefing books; each side presented “demands” and the other side agreed, disagreed or put aside for further discussion. Slowly, the number of “demands” was pared down to the core issues. We discussed an issue and management would respond, “We have to discuss among ourselves, we’ll be back in an hour.” The hour turned into two and three and more hours as management consulted with the city and school boards and “other interested parties.”

The ultimate decision-makers were management, the Board of Education, and the union; however. neither side wanted other organizations to publicly trash the ultimate settlement; consensus settlements are essential

In 1975 the negotiations began in the spring and moved through the summer as the differences narrowed, days before the start of school the city pitched toward default and layoff notices went out to  14,000 teachers. We rapidly moved from “Lets’ keep talking and start the school year” to a strike vote.  I still vividly remember the Delegate Assembly, after almost two days of around the clock negotiations, a strike vote was almost unanimously voted by the thousand plus delegates and teachers walked the picket line.

After a week on strike and a complex agreement teachers returned and later in the fall the union actually loaned the city money to avert default. (Read “How the UFT Saved the City” here) and in a couple of years all laid off teachers were offered jobs.

The 2002 mayoral control law in New York City has a sunset clause – unless it is extended the law sunsets, expires, the city returns to the previous management structure – a seven member board, one member appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor. In May the city would conduct school board elections in the 32 community school districts.

Under Mayor Bloomberg the legislature extended the law for multiple years, in 2009 the law did expire, the central board met and “re-hired” Chancellor Joel Klein and in August the legislature held a special session and renewed the law for multiple years.

This year the key players are the leader of majority Democrats in the Assembly, Carl Heastie and the Republican leader in the Senate, John Flanagan and Governor Cuomo.

Why is Flanagan, who represents a district on the north shore of Long Island, with no charter schools, such an avid supporter of charter schools?

The answer, in my view, is simple: dollars from national supporters of charter schools, i.e., Walmart, etc., and the major player: Eva Moskowitz

Eliza Shapiro at Politico writes,

“Moskowitz has run the network with the ferocity and urgency of a political campaign, with City Hall press conferences attacking the mayor, selectively placed op-eds and leaks in friendly media outlets, and a robust lobbying infrastructure in Albany that has helped cultivate support from Republican legislators outside the city.” 

“In January, during the fight over DeVos’ nomination, Moskowitz released a statement saying the nominee had “the talent, commitment, and leadership capacity to revitalize our public schools and deliver the promise of opportunity that excellent education provides.”

Most charter schools are community charter schools, idiomatically referred to as “Mon and Pop” charter schools. The question of whether the cap should increased has no impact on these schools. The network charter schools, charter management organizations with multiple schools, have opposed Trump policies. The only supporter of Trump policies in the charter world is Eva Moskowitz.

Moskowitz’s name was conspicuously absent, for example, from a public letter protesting Trump’s education budget, signed by the leaders of KIPP, Uncommon and Achievement First — the three other major charter networks in New York City. Shavar Jeffries, the president of Democrats for Education Reform, sits on Success’s board, but has urged charter backers not to join the Trump administration.

While not sitting at the table, Eva clearly has veto power over any settlement. Flanagan needs the charter school dollars to fund campaigns to make sure the Republicans maintain their slim, very slim, one-vote majority in the Senate.

What happens next?

The legislature can return and extend mayoral control. or,

The borough presidents will appoint members to the central board and the current 13-member Panel for Education Priorities, nine appointed by the mayor will dissolve.

Three of the borough presidents, Reuben Diaz, the Bronx, Eric Adams, Brooklyn and Melinda Katz, Queens, will be candidates for citywide office four years down the road, all will be elected in November to their last term, they are term-limited. Maybe they’ll simply re-appoint Farina as their predecessors did in 2009, or, act independently to raise their own profile citywide.  Maybe they will question de Blasio/Farina education policies and encourage a public debate. In the past the borough president appointed members who were highly political, seeking political advantage for their borough president. (“political advantage” is a polite way of saying patronage).

Esmeralda Simmons, a professor at Medgar Evers College was a Dinkens appointee to the central board – I listened to her describe a totally politicized board (unfortunately no longer online).

While Regents members are ‘elected” by the Democratic majority in the Assembly to the best of my knowledge they are totally free to make any decision, and, the members are highly qualified.

If the Brooklyn selectee to a new central board is Brooklyn College professor David Bloomfield, the mayor selections NYU Metro Center professor David Kirkland and education advocate Leonie Haimson, and other selectees who are highly regarded educators and advocates, a central board selected for expertise and advocacy, no political loyalty, the return to a central board might be fruitful.

While community school board authority was limited by 1997 legislation the elections might be highly contentious. The powers of local school boards could be limited, or, expanded by the central board.

Back in November, 2013, weeks after the de Blasio election I mused over whether we would engage in a wide-ranging public debate.

Tyack and Cuban in their seminal “Tinkering Toward Utopia,” a study of the school reform movement over many decades emphasizes that reforms are only embedded if they are bottom up, reforms must reflect the changes accepted by teachers and parents.

Tyack and Cuban argue that the ahistorical nature of most current reform proposals magnifies defects and understates the difficulty of changing the system. Policy talk has alternated between lamentation and overconfidence. The authors suggest that reformers today need to focus on ways to help teachers improve instruction from the inside out instead of decreeing change by remote control, and that reformers must also keep in mind the democratic purposes that guide public education.

The current reforms, regardless of their value, have been imposed from above. As teachers ask questions, push back, the administration shoves harder and harder, resulting in increasing frustration and hostility within schools.

The debate is currently over should we have districts or networks, the details of the teacher evaluation plan, letter grading of schools, closing of schools, etc., rather than the larger and more significant question: what are our core principles?

Do we want to continue a system based on choice and accountability, or, move to a system based on equity? Do we want a system driven by top-down proscriptive, requirements, a compliance-driven system, or, a bottom up system with key instructional decisions made at the district/school level?

Do we want a school system built around communities with a heavy dose of parent and community involvement or a school system driven by the goals of the mayor?

Do we want a school system in which parents, teachers and school leaders play a role in establishing policies at the school level, and if so, how do we monitor progress?

What are the “big ideas” that should drive teaching and learning in the 1800 plus schools?

Clearly, we have made substantial progress, clearly we have a long way to go. Past experience tells us that “politics as usual,’ behind the scenes wheeling-and-dealing for political advantage, would be destructive of all the gains over the last four years; returning to a central board without a selection process free from politics is returning to a seriously flawed management system. The current structure is far from perfect, some of my suggestions above are still absent from the mayoral control management model.

In my view the failure of achieving an extension of mayoral control is directly traceable to Eva Moskowitz – she holds millions of dollars to fund Republican campaigns in her grip, and, Flanagan and company could not afford, in political terms, to ignore her.

Not only is mayoral control being held hostage, so are the tax extenders that are crucial to supplement the budget of many upstate cities; if the tax extenders are not passed these communities will face staggering cuts in services.

As the legislature swirled toward adjournment a change was made in SUNY regs that allow charter schools to hire unlimited numbers of uncertified teachers and certify the teachers themselves – no edTPA, no exams at all (Read the story and link to the regulations here)

Gideon John Tucker (February 10, 1826 – July 1899) was an American lawyer, newspaper editor and politician. In 1866, as Surrogate of New York, he wrote in a decision of a will case: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Not much has changed.




Schadenfreude: Cuomo, de Blasio, Machiavelli and the Turbulent World of New York State Politics

When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity. John F. Kennedy

The Germans have a wonderful word: schadenfreude – taking pleasure in other people’s misfortunes.

Preet Bahara, the US Attorney for the Southern District is the most powerful person in New York State, for some the archangel bringing truth and justice to political maelstrom, to others, collecting scalps on his belt to burnish his own reputation.

For psychologists Andrew Cuomo is a fascinating study: Is he spending his life trying to fulfill his father’s dream – the highest office in the land? The honey-tongued elder Cuomo hypnotized the 1984 Democratic National Convention with his “Tale of Two Cities” keynote address (watch U-Tube here). In December, 1991 everyone knew that Mario was about to launch his presidential campaign – the plane was warming up on the runway, Cuomo was about to fly off to New Hampshire for the first in the nation primary, unexpectedly, he withdrew, never giving a coherent reason.

Son Andrew followed his father’s career, serving his second term as governor, at times acerbic, a very effective political street fighter. He tiptoes between Democrats and Republicans in the legislature, avoids ethics reforms, supported the “Fight for Fifteen,” failed to support the Dream Act legislation, went to war with the teacher’s union, and, backed off and pushed out  Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch. Every move carefully calculated for the run to the White House his father abjured.

Cuomo’s hatchet man, alter ego and a boyhood friend is Joe Percoco. His father called Percoco his “other son.” Percoco was the gatekeeper, whatever the issue, whatever the piece of legislation, you went to Joe. His title changed, his role never changed.

The leader of the Democratic Party was Andrew Cuomo. The election of the left-leaning progressive Bill de Blasio changed nothing and Cuomo immediately made it clear – he was the noble in the castle and de Blasio had to pay homage, or, face the consequences.

Every opportunity he got Cuomo made it clear – he was the liberal, the progressive, not de Blasio. Whether or not another Democrat runs against de Blasio a year from now is yet to be decided, Cuomo was not backing de Blasio, at best staying on the sidelines, maybe throwing support to an opponent.

8 AM, Thursday morning everything changed,  Percoco was arrested, along eight others and charged with a litany of crimes – basically accepting dollars for favors connected with the Buffalo Billions, a Cuomo favored project to revive upstate. The Buffalo Billion was at the core of the Cuomo resume – if he could revive Buffalo, revive upstate New York, he could do the same for the rust belts across the nation

There was joy in de Blasioville as the Mighty Andrew struck out (Excuse  me- I couldn’t resist – it’s the culmination of the baseball season).

A few hours later the joy ebbed. Scott Stringer, the popular Comptroller of New York City was the keynote speaker at the ABNY (Association for a Better New York) breakfast. The ABNY breakfast is an annual affair attended by elites in the city: from the business side, the labor side, everyone attends the ABNY breakfast. Stringer gave a speech that was close as one can get to an announcement that he’s a mayoral candidate. Stringer laid out his economic vision for the city, a speech one would expect to come from the mayor. He followed up the speech with an appearance on popular WNYC Brian Lehrer program.

de Blasio’s approval ratings are abysmal a year before the Democratic mayoral primary,

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s approval rating remains close to a record low as half the city’s voters say he doesn’t deserve re-election in 2017, a Quinnipiac University poll found.

De Blasio’s approval rating is 42 percent, little changed from a May 24 survey that showed support of 41 percent, his lowest since he took office Jan. 1, 2014. In the poll released Monday, 51 percent disapprove of the Democratic mayor’s performance and 50 percent say he doesn’t deserve a second term.

If Stringer, or Public Advocate Letitia James or Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams chooses to challenge de Blasio they could not run for second terms in their current offices. High risk, high reward.

Republicans are sharpening their political knives – a weakened governor and a chance to keep up the attack and seize the governorship in 2018. A very popular Democratic Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, waiting in the wings in case Cuomo does not run, or, becomes so unpopular that he’s vulnerable to a Democratic challenger.  The Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie, might find that a damaged governor needs friends, really needs friends. The arrogant lord of the Albany manor might not be as arrogant as the vultures begin to circle. Yes, lots of “mights,” politics is far from an exact science.

While de Blasio’s polling numbers; clearly beaten down with the assistance of the governor, might not be accurately reflected in the polls, minorities: Afro-American, Asian and Latino are a majority in voters in New York City.  de Blasio hosted an education forum in Canarsie Thursday night, a full house. Canarsie is a neighborhood of private homes, a middle class neighborhood with an Afro-American population, primarily of Caribbean descent. The mayor was well-received, the Department of Education upper echelons answered questions, the mayor chimed in, lots of applause; the mayor was at home. While Staten Island and the Upper West Side might deride the de Blasio mayoralty the majority of voters, the numerous ethnic communities might be firmly in the de Blasio camp.

Rumor has it there is a dog-eared copy of The Prince on the governor’s nightstand with the followed phrases highlighted.

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved” 

“If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared...”

“I’m not interested in preserving the status quo; I want to overthrow it.”

“…he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.” 

“A prudent man should always follow in the path trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent, so that if he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.”

Maybe Andrew’s been reading the wrong book, or underlining the wrong sections.

The Fox in the Hen House: The Flanagan/Cuomo Mayoral Control Bill

A friend responded to my latest post, “The ‘big ugly’ is really going to get ugly.”

As reported by Politico and the New York Daily News, on Friday night the Republican leadership of the Senate filed a bill,

The bill requires:

* extending mayoral control for one year

* An inspector, appointed by the governor, would provide the mayor and city schools chancellor “oversight, guidance and technical assistance.”

* The inspector would attend all Panel for Educational Policy meetings, including executive sessions, and can appeal any PEP decision to the State Education Department commissioner, MaryEllen Elia.(“The city board, mayor and chancellor shall fully cooperate with requests for information made by the inspector,”)

* The bill would allow the inspector to have oversight over the PEP’s handling of charter school co-locations.

* The city would also be required to report a long list of new information to the state annually, including statistics about teachers, principals, admissions, student demographics, school overcrowding, expenditures, etc.,

* The bill also includes a new provision that PEP members cannot be lobbyists or clients of lobbyists.

Read full text of the bill: http://legislation.nysenate.gov/pdf/bills/2015/S8016

In other words, a “fox in the hen house.”

The key player is the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie.

If the Assembly takes no action the city reverts to the previous system, a central board made up of seven members, one appointed by each borough president and two by the mayor, and, a procedure to elect community school boards, or, Heastie can make a deal with the Republicans and the governor, or, Heastie can go on the attack.

Understand, the major players have no interest in mayoral control, the governor is a political hermaphrodite, and he switches sides to fit the situation.  He sidles up to Senate leader Flanagan to weaken de Blasio, Flanagan cuddles with the governor hoping to put the Republicans in a position to seize the New York City mayoralty in 2017.

Are politicians so duplicitous that you would make deals with the opposition party?

In 1999, with the support of the Democratic members in the Assembly outside of New York City; a law was passed that ended the 33-year old commuter tax .

ALBANY, May 17— The State Legislature brushed aside Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s protests today and rescinded a 33-year-old tax on commuters in the state who work in New York City, unabashedly using its power to try to influence an upcoming suburban election.

The measure, which Gov. George E. Pataki said he would sign, carves at least $210 million — and as much as $360 million — from the city treasury. It was approved after legislative leaders from both major parties, acting with surprising dispatch in a year when the Capitol has seemed mired in partisanship, decided that a tax cut could bolster their respective candidates in a May 25 special election for a State Senate seat northwest of New York City.

The Democratic majority in the Assembly had turned fractious after the Speaker, Sheldon Silver of Manhattan, unexpectedly voiced support for the measure last week, but Mr. Silver pushed it through tonight, 92 to 49. The Speaker spent the day inviting lawmakers into his office to insure their votes; some referred to it as courting, others as arm-twisting.

Silver was willing to deprive the city of a quarter of a billion dollars a year, albeit the city had a Republican mayor, to perhaps prevail in a special election, or, who knows what other deals were consummated in that “smoke-filled” room.

How vigorously will the speaker, with only a year under his belt, battle Flanagan and Cuomo?

If de Blasio continues to stumble a Democrat might take a run at him in the September, 2017 primary, even if he wins de Blasio would be vulnerable in November to a popular, well-funded Republican – think Eva Moskowitz.

I am not disparaging the members of the legislature; the members that I know are extremely hard-working pursuing legislation within their area of specialty and interest. Linda Rosenthal (Upper West Side) fights for tenant rights and a range of other bills. She recently passed a law that makes women’s personal health products tax-free.  Jeff Dinowitz (Bronx) chairs the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee  and fights for consumer protections.

Mayoral control is purely politics at the leadership level.

In 2009 the legislature extended mayoral control for seven years; a parent commission  held extensive hearing and produced a range of suggested changes in the law, the legislature had no interest.

I suspect the various interests will seek a face-saving compromise – maybe a blue-ribbon commission to convene and come up with a report by March 1, 2017 and a year extension.

Of course that “event” on November 8th 2016 could impact

Albany. Teacher Evaluation, Cuomo. Seeming Chaos and the Heritage of James Madison

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made. Otto von Bismarck

Thousands upon thousands of emails, texts, tweets; hundreds of visits, scores of demonstrations and rallies all challenging decisions of the governor. Millions of dollars funneled into the governor’s campaign, each day the tension builds towards decisions on teacher evaluation, tenure, “receivership’ and school aid.

It all seems chaotic and confusing, and James Madison would be smiling.

The “chaos” in Albany is the essence of democracy, the rough and tumble of politics was described by Madison as “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition,” exactly how decisions should be made. Madison, in Federalist # 51 wrote,

… the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. 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. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions (Federalist # 51, 2/6/1788)

Yes, men are not angels.

The Democratic controlled Assembly, the Republican controlled Senate and the governor are jousting. The “public” casting arrows at the governor, the governor defending, deals offered, rejected, with a ticking clock.

Carl Heastie, the newly elected Speaker of Assembly meets with his members before and/or after each session, called “conference.” The speaker takes the “temperature of his members.” Under his predecessor, Sheldon Silver, the conference was pro forma, Silver ruled with an iron fist, any disloyalty. or perceived disloyalty was treated with retribution. Heastie, on the other hand, has been open to his members. The dumping of two long time incumbent regents and the election of four new regents clearly was the will of local members of the Assembly.

At the Monday conference a proposed teacher evaluation plan, referred to as a “matrix” was discussed and looked upon with suspicion by the members. On Tuesday a new plan, a six member committee, two each appointed by the governor, the Assembly and the Senate, and reporting back by June 1st, all state aid would be held up until the committee reports. Thursday a plan to turn the creation of a new teacher evaluation plan over to the Regents.

And probably new “concepts” coming fast and furious as we move toward the March 31 end of the fiscal year.

State aid could be held hostage until teacher evaluation is resolved. As the governor’s popularity rating continues to tank the legislators are more emboldened.

Perhaps members will have an opportunity to run home Sunday, do laundry and run back for the Monday through Aril 1 almost round the clock sessions.

If the factions cannot reach a budget by April 1 the governor can take the nuclear option, issue “emergency budget extenders” and force through his budget. See the background on the extender option here
and the current Cuomo “threats” here.

The extender option would be declaring war on the legislature and with a falling popularity rating the extender option, if popular with the public could revive his reputation or sink him to the depths.

I am asked “Aren’t the Republicans on the governor’s side?” Yes, the Republicans support charter schools, as long as they’re not in their districts; however the Republicans need the Democrats on the issue of “ethics,” a rather obtuse term. The key factor is a limitation on outside income, Many in the Republican leadership retain high-paying jobs as lawyers, and some may have “Shelly Silver ” problems. The Republicans need the Democrats to avoid being squeezed by the governor.

All sides need an artfully crafted solution that will allow everyone to claim “victory.” The Governor, the Assembly, the Senate, the teacher union and the public, all must appear to have saved face and come away with a piece of the pie.

It is rare to be able to claim victory while holding the still warm heart of your enemy over your head, although when Shelly Silver was led away in handcuffs it was the gratifying equivalent.

I was arguing a grievance before an arbitrator, while I knew I was right the Department was arguing the grievance was untimely, they would agree they were wrong, they would not agree to back pay.

A light bulb flashed! I convinced the arbitrator, and eventually the Department to put days into the grievant’s absent teacher reserve that equaled the value of the lost salary. The Department didn’t have to write a check and the grievant received a remedy that probably exceeded the actual back pay. A win-win.

Can the contending sides craft a “win-win”?

For Madison the essence of government: In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government.

Ultimately the labyrinth that are the halls of Albany will be mastered by the people. That is the magnificent beauty that our founding father left to us to cherish and defend.

Mixed Martial Arts in Albany: Cuomo versus Heastie versus Skelos

The mixed martial arts bills are progressing through the state legislature, the actual mixed martial arts, the combat in the octagon, the real blood sport is in full bloom. The featured bout: Cuomo v Heastie v Skelos.

The 150 members of the Assembly and the 63 members of the Senate gather in Albany the first week in January, some are deeply involved in introducing bills, other spend their time on constituent services and some work on their outside employment. Over the next term, the 2015 and 2016 sessions, over 15,000 bills will be introduced into the Assembly, about 500 will become laws, less than five percent of the bills introduced.

Members from Manhattan may file hundreds upon hundreds of bills, members from the inner city fifty bills, and chairs of major committees may file hardly any bills. Introducing a bill is a long way from passage, bills require democratic sponsorship in the Assembly, republican sponsorship in the Senate and gubernatorial support for final passage, a long, long road.

From January until the end of March the legislative leadership is consumed with the budget and the leadership has to gauge the temperature of their caucus, called the “conference.” Before or after a floor session members will meet in conference,’ a closed meeting, members and top staff only, no votes are taken, no minutes, the members can speak freely. How “tough” are the members? Do they want to risk going beyond April 1 without a budget? Do they want to “take on” the governor directly? Do they want to risk antagonizing core constituents? Who are the members more afraid of: the governor, their constituents? Or, the speaker?

Sheldon Silver ruled with an iron fist, he probably kept a copy of The Prince at his bedside, and one of his favorite quotes might have been,

“It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Why am I quoting Machiavelli? Was he a totalitarian or a human rights respecting republican (Read Phillip Bobbitt, The Garments of the Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the World That He Made (2013)).

Heastie, the speaker, needs the total support of his members, the 105 democratic members of the Assembly, the conference. He has to create a team, a united group who supports the speaker without reservations, a team who knows they cannot back away, that unless they stand up to the governor he will roll over them. You gain loyalty by acts, by making decisions that support your members.

Those of you who have played sports or played in an orchestra or danced in a company understand leadership, under the synergy created by teamwork, the sum is greater than the parts in a synergistic organism.

Five Regents are seeking re-appointment and there are two vacancies. In the Westchester-Rockland judicial district the speaker clearly approved of the Assembly democrats making the selection. Open interviews were conducted in Westchester, about a dozen applicants. Apparently the legislature will select Judith Johnson, a retired superintendent who is highly regarded across the counties, who was the choice a majority of the legislators.

Robert Bennett was the Regents from the Buffalo area, Bennett served as the chancellor prior to Merryl Tisch, served on the Board for twenty years, and his bio on the SED website recounts a long and illustrious career. Recently Bennett has begun to antagonize more and more sectors within the community, supporting charter schools, supporting the Common Core, supporting testing and, mostly, unconditionally supporting former Commissioner King. At the Albany interviews Assembly member Ryan skewered Bennett. Bennett proudly announced he was heading a task force to review special ed regulations, Ryan asked Bennett to what extent he was responsible for the failures of the last decade, and Bennett stumbled.

The Sunday Buffalo News reports that Regent Bennett has withdrawn and will support Catherine Fisher Collins,

Dr. Collins is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and the first African American nurse practitioner to graduate from the University of Buffalo’s School of Nursing Nurse Practitioner program. In addition she holds three certifications in health education.

The new speaker understands power, he defers to his members to fill a vacancy and is willing to dump a twenty year incumbent to acknowledge bubbling anger among voters.

Heastie is building a team, a team willing to follow their leader wherever he chooses to go, to the edge of the cliff, and, if necessary, over the edge.

Cuomo will bully, threaten, and try to undercut the speaker; veiled threats, not so veiled threats, waiting for the speaker to take whatever is on the table at the eleventh hour.

Senate majority leader Skelos has his own list, how much does he cede to Cuomo, and, can he partner with Heastie against Cuomo?

Speaker Heastie is the most powerful Black elected official in New York State, and, in time, potentially, one of the most powerful in the nation. Standing up to an incumbent governor only increases creds, and standing up to an incumbent governor and losing reduces his image.

Cuomo wants to be standing on the podium early on the morning of April 1st announcing the fifth straight on time budget, how can he reach an agreement without appearing to lose face? Can he “win the battle and lose the war,” by defeating Heastie and alienate Black and liberal voters?

In the Cuomo camp some advisors are probably telling him to follow the Scott Walker path, attack public employee unions unrelentingly, after all, it may be a path to the presidency. Other advisors will remind Cuomo, he’s running as a democrat, not a tea party republican.

I don’t know how Cuomo, Heastie and Skelos get to that April 1st stage, I don’t know the deals, the trade-offs, I don’t know how the questions of teacher evaluation, testing, tenure and “receiverships” will be resolved, for the three men in a room, the endgame, how the public views the “winners” and “losers” will drive the decisions.

“All courses of action are risky, so prudence is not in avoiding danger, but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli

Heastie/Skelos to the Governor: You’ve Failed, A Receivership Model for Economic Policies


Jim Malatras
Director of State Operations
State of New York
Executive Chamber
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Mr. Malatras,

Over the last few months you have communicated with the Chancellor of the Regents, the Commissioner and the Acting Commissioner of the State Department of Education, sharply criticizing policies, demanding responses and directing the Chancellor/Acting Commissioner to “investigate” removing schools from supervision of schools districts and turning them over to “receivers.”

We share your concern with the education of the children of the State of New York; however, we note that the schools that you designate as “failing” schools are also schools in low wealth, high poverty sections of the state. Your just-released report fails to indicate that the schools and school districts highlighted in the report also lead the state in “risk factors,” namely, poverty, unemployment, English language learner, students with disabilities, children in shelters and foster care, single parent households, parent incarcerated, crime data in school catchments areas and other factors.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment and the 2% Property Tax Cap inhibit the ability of school districts to effectively fund schools. The entire school funding system in New York State should be rethought, not slashed.

The purpose of this letter is not to argue the governor’s education policies; the purpose is to question the effectiveness of the governor in addressing the economic issues plaguing too many cities around the state.

The Annual New York State Poverty Report is discouraging,

[Using the following indicators:] child- hood poverty, the gender wage gap, racial economic disparities and living wages: New York has the fourth largest number of people living in poverty, behind only California, Texas and Florida … The gender income gap continues to grow and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos experience poverty at more than double the rate of white New Yorkers.

Our cities continue to have very high levels of childhood poverty – several more than triple the national poverty rate: Syracuse (51.3%), Rochester (51.1%), Utica (48.5%), Binghamton (47.9%) and Buffalo (46.5%). Statewide, 22.1% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty – nearly a million (935,477) children! Across the state, 54% of children are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch (76% of children in New York City and 40% of children in the rest of the state).

Blaming cities, school districts and teachers for the failures of the governor are unacceptable.

Each year legislators listen to the State of the State message, a long list of promises and priorities, and each year we are disappointed.

The governor has failed to revive the urban and rural areas across the state, jobs continue to erode, childhood poverty numbers grow, tax revenue shrinks, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested have not reversed the economic and social disintegration of too many areas across the state. (See county by county poverty data here)

We no longer believe the governor’s policies will revive the state.

We are considering establishing “receiverships” for sections of the state, removing designated sections of the state and turning these areas over to “receivers,” organizations with turnaround experience in reviving cities and counties that will work closely with local stakeholders.

We increasingly believe that the answers are not on the second floor of the Capital, the answers are in the town halls across the state. Local elected leaders, community organizations, unions and faith-based organizations, working with “experts,” perhaps universities or other not-for-profits, can be more effective than state agencies directed by the governor.

As expeditiously as possible we are asking you to explore a process that will enable the state to relinquish economic development and other revenues to the local level and report your findings to us.

At the national level the Congress is increasingly uncomfortable with the Executive driving policy outside of the usual legislative process; an example is the Department of Education. At the state level we have lost confidence in the ability of the governor to drive economic recovery, and, blaming schools and teachers is absurd.

We look forward to exploring the empowerment of cities and counties.

Yours truly

Carl E. Heastie
Speaker of the Assembly

Dean Skelos
Majority Leader of the Senate

Marshawn Lynch, Carl Heastie and the Media: Is the New Speaker As Tough as the Seattle Running Back?

Marshawn Lynch is the all-star running back for the almost two time Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Lynch grew up in Oakland, attended the University of California, Berkeley, and left after his junior year to play professional football, first in Buffalo, now in Seattle, and, ” … his teammates joke that he loves chain restaurants … [and] is also known for his frequent community involvement. In 2013 he was featured in Red Bull’s campaign ‘Athletes Give Back’ when he put together a very successful food drive for his home town.” However, he has always been reticent to speak to the media, The NFL fined him a number of times, at the required press availability at the Super Bowl Lynch showed up and answered every question with “I’m just here so I won’t get fined”

The room, full of media, asked him question again and again knowing full well that he would answer with his “I’m just here …” response. It was difficult to watch as Lynch repeated his “answer” time and time again.

The NFL is a $19 billion corporation that panders to media outlets who intensely “cover” pro football and pump up the viewership and revenues. It is commonplace to arrange for pool coverage, a small number of journalists interview and all the journalists share in the event through pool coverage, the NFL forced Lynch to confront a room full of media who chose to crucify him; to ask him questions over and over again, getting the same nonresponsive reply, the purpose: to play the charade again and again and watch Lynch squirm on national TV.

If Lynch had been a white player from an Ivy League school would the journalists have treated him the same way?

Carl Heastie is the newly elected speaker of the NYS Assembly, and, the first African-American leader. In his fifteen years as an Assembly member Heastie moved up the ladder, in 2008 he maneuvered himself into the position of leader of the Bronx Democratic Party and two years ago was appointed as chair of the Assembly Labor Committee. Most members of the Assembly lust for moments on TV or mentions in the press; the members love the publicity and the media loves the tidbits, the sound bites.

Carl Heastie never sought the spotlight of the media, in fact, he avoided the spotlight; he majored in mathematics and statistics at Stonybrook and earned an MBA at CUNY. No matter, in article after article the media wrote critical articles, mentioning his imperfections, and, always mentioning his penchant for silence; comparing him to the taciturn Silver.

The Assembly formally elected Heastie earlier today: Watch his 8-minute acceptance speech beginning at minute 25 here.

The NY Times reports on his first address to his Assembly colleagues,

“This will actually be the longest speech I’ve ever given,” [Heastie] said, before speaking for nearly eight minutes.

In his first moments as speaker, Mr. Heastie delivered a wide-ranging speech promising to fight for liberal ideals: raising the minimum wage, improving education, promoting women’s equality and reforming the criminal justice system. He promised, too, to try to raise the salary of Assembly members, a contentious point in the capital; the suggestion earned a roar of approval from his colleagues … Among the issues Mr. Heastie said must be addressed were “the way we regulate legislative outside income …

We have to make sure that tax money is spent carefully and transparently.”

“There must be accountability,” he added. “Never again can there be a question about the integrity of our members or this institution.”

Governor Cuomo in his State of the State and Mayor de Blasio in his State of the City each spoke for over an hour: Cuomo, the bully, threatening legislators and demeaning teachers and de Blasio using term “affordable housing” many, many times, and, oh yes, planning a five-borough ferry.

News story after news story emphasized Heastie’s worts, or perceived worts, comparing him to Silver over and over again. They could have emphasized his college major: mathematics and statistics, or, his MBA in finance from Baruch, the shining jewel in the CUNY crown.

I believe Heastie will be up to the challenge of dealing with a bullying, overbearing Cuomo. It was easy to leak negative story after negative story to the press about Silver; while Silver was a superb negotiator he was an unsympathetic figure, feared more than loved.

Can Cuomo attack or demean or threaten the first African-American speaker? Will trying to undermine Heastie unify the Assembly? Will Heastie standing up to Cuomo gain him wide public support?

Cuomo blithely warned the legislature that if they didn’t pass his ethics reform and his budget there would be no budget. If no budget is passed by April 1 the legislators will have their salary frozen; if Cuomo repeats the threat Heastie can simply tell his members, save up your dollars.

The governor who failed the bar exam four times may find the mathematician from the Bronx is a tough, popular and effective negotiator, and perhaps as tough as the Seattle running back, who, if given a chance would have won the Super Bowl.

Presumptive Speaker Carl Heastie: Why the Speaker is a Really, Really Important Position and Why Heastie Can Become the Face of Progressivism in New York State

On Tuesday afternoon, February 10th, the New York State Assembly will probably select Carl Heastie, an Assembly member from the Bronx, as the Speaker.

Heastie has served in the Assembly since 2000 and is a graduate of the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he earned a Bachelor’s of Science in applied Mathematics and Statistics, which he followed up with an MBA in Finance from the Bernard M. Baruch College (CUNY).

Joe Lentol, a 40-year member from Brooklyn who chairs the Committee on Codes has withdrawn his candidacy and Cathy Nolan, a thirty-year member from Queens who chairs the Education Committee is still in the mix.

City and State parses the wheeling and dealing that has been going on behind the scenes.

Another factor is Wright’s recent announcement that he would run for the seat of Rep. Charles Rangel, a longtime ally who plans to retire in two years … Wright was in discussions with Heastie, the chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, about stepping aside to secure the support of his Assembly colleague and the Bronx delegation in his 2016 congressional bid.

A New York Post editorial advocates for a reform agenda,

The bigger problem is [Silver] used his office to ensure the New York state Assembly’s sorry distinction as the least deliberative body in the United States.

The fixes are clear.

It starts with transparency about [Assembly member] outside income. But it also means reforming the entire structure so that the Assembly can operate the way a legislature is supposed to in a democracy: with bills put forth and debated, committees moving legislation, legislators considering amendments and so on.

Instead, we have a top-down Assembly where the people’s elected representatives are merely rubber stamps for the deals their leaders have already worked out behind closed-doors with the governor.

The crucial question is does the next speaker have the cojones, the toughness, the thick skin, if necessary the ruthlessness, to stand up to the governor and the Senate majority leader.

Silver both ran the Democratic Conference with an iron fist and managed the conference’s incredibly diverse membership. Dairy farmers, inner city representatives from New York City, as well as Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo, representatives from high tax affluent suburbs, the Afro-American and Hispanic caucus, the thirty-six female members, and the long line of lobbyists and campaign contributors.

Over the next two years members will submit over 10,000 bills, some high profile, for example:

* legislation to extend rent control, which expires on 6/30/15
* whether to raise the charter school cap
* the Governor’s Education Reform agenda
* the Dreamer legislation

and others, the overwhelming percentage, reflects
the interests of the members,

see Assembly member Rosenthal’s hundred plus bills/laws.

see Assembly member Nolan’s dozen bills,

The Albany legislative bodies have been the subject of scathing criticism for years. An NYU Brennan Center Report quotes a 1948 description of the functioning of the body,

Someday a legislative leadership with a sense of humor will push through both houses resolutions called for the abolition of the bodies and the speedy execution of the members. If read in the usual mumbling tone by the clerk droning on in the usual uninquiring manner, the resolution will be adopted unanimously.

A few of the younger members have asked for “reforms,” in fact, self-serving reforms. Term limits for committee chairs, questioning the use of seniority for committee chairs, committee staff selected by the members not the leadership; of course, they oppose term limits for themselves and might not care if committee chairs didn’t receive additional remuneration.

Heastie will suddenly become a high profile leader, the highest ranking Afro-American elected official in the state who will have to establish himself, (“there’s a new sheriff in town”), he will have to immediately stand up to the governor.

I hope he says,

“I look forward to working with the governor, however:

“There’s no reason to increase the charter school caps. I intend to appoint a committee and hold hearings: Have charter schools improved education in public schools? Are charter schools more effective than public schools? Are there lessons to be learned for public schools from charter schools? Why aren’t we closing low achieving charter schools? What is the impact on public schools when you open charter schools?”

“Washington should not impose testing and teacher evaluation rules on New York State, educational decisions should be made by educators and elected officials in New York State; the Congress is considering making changes in No Child Left Behind, there is no reason for New York State to change any rules, let’s wait for Congress, and let’s urge the Regents to do everything within their power to reduce testing.”

“The funding disparity in New York State is distressing, the lowest wealth districts receive the lowest levels of funding, the current property tax capped system is unworkable, and we have to reform the entire system.”

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party has been adrift; the philosophic leader of party has been Zephyr Teachout, the loser in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Parents, teachers, trade unionists, seniors, civil rights organizations and advocates look to Mayor de Blasio; however, the mayor has been regularly diminished by the governor and trashed by the print media.

Heastie can be the new voice, the anti-Cuomo, a voice for the voiceless, from an anonymous Bronx legislator to a national figure.

Cuomo was able to effectively crush de Blasio, and continues to show the mayor who is in charge. Cuomo “stole” pre-kindergarten by torpedoing the de Blasio “tax the rich” plan and funding pre-k through the state budget; the mayor now is dependent on the governor to fund the program at the core of his mayoralty; the decision to close the subways and keeping the mayor out of the loop was also a sign of disrespect.

The governor will have a hard time slapping down the presumptive speaker – he needs the speaker, and, with a Moreland Commission indictment hanging in the air the last thing the governor needs is an open fight with the first Afro-American leader of the Assembly.

For Heastie there is no boot camp, no pre-season practice, it’s learning to swim by being pushed off the end of the diving board. He could replicate Silver, the taciturn leader who operates behind the scene, the eminence grise, powerful and barely visible, or, the face of the Assembly, reviving the moribund Assembly that has been led by handful of shady powerbrokers.

The editorial board of the New York Times agrees,

“… more independence for legislators is only one item on a long list of reforms, and yes, such openness would make the Capitol a lot noisier. Also, it might take longer to craft and implement legislation. But the vote to replace an authoritarian speaker is a rare opportunity to breathe fresh air into a very stale place, and to begin reforming New York’s very broken system of government.”

Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the presidency,

“In his first address to Congress, on November 27, 1963, a few days after Kennedy was shot, LBJ told the legislators, ‘No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long.’

Using his consummate arm-twisting skills and bolstered by ongoing civil protests in the South, LBJ got the Civil Rights Act – outlawing segregation in restaurants, buses, and other public facilities – through Congress and signed it on July 2, 1964. It was the first significant civil rights bill since Reconstruction and changed the country forever.”

Johnson followed with the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The presumptive new speaker is noted for his political skills, and, while we can’t expect him to emulate LBJ he will be in a unique position, the opportunity to become the voice of a current sharply divided party that has meekly followed their sullen leader who was more concerned with enriching himself than enriching the citizens of the state.

Something tells me that until the vote on February 11th the governor’s operatives will be doing everything possible to sink Heastie’s candidacy. Did I see this episode on Scandal?