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Klein on Moskowitz Again
May 11th, 2011

Joel Klein just cant help himself. Even though the former school chancellor recently told the New York Times he would “say with neither pride nor regret that I am not personally close to Eva Moskowitz,” in his current long piece in The Atlantic on The Failure of American Schools. Klein goes out of his way to laud Moskowitz and her achievements once again.

Klein’s relationship with Moskowitz has drawn repeated scrutiny because of the education department’s turning space in its neighborhood public school over the Moskowitz’s charter school empire. A series of emails released last year revealed how Moskowitz cajoled and flattered Klein — and complained about his subordinates — in order to get her way. The exchange, Michael Winerip wrote in the Times ” is a civics lesson in how things work in the Big City.”

In The Atlantic, Klein describes Moskowitz, who now runs the Success Academy charter network, as “brilliant, savvy, ambitious, often a pain in the neck and atypically fearless for an elected official.” Maybe. Maybe not.

But at least one of his claims about her that deserves a bit more scrutiny.

Moskowitz, then a member of the City Council, was “widely expected to be elected Manhattan borough president” in 2005, according to Klein. He then goes on to tell the oft-quoted story that her all-but-certain ascendancy was blocked by the teachers union. She earned the enmity of the United Federation of Teachers after her education committee held hearings on the teachers contract and, in Klein’s words, “exposed its ridiculousness.” As a result, Randi Weingarten, then head of the union “made sure that Moskowitz’s run for borough president came up short.”

Nice, pat story. Too bad its more complicated than that.

I covered the Mnahttan beep race for Gotham Gazette in 2005. As many as 14 candidates vied for the post, many — including Moskowitz — elected officials with long records. As one of them — Assemblymember Keith Wright — said at the time, “It’s one of the best groups of candidates I’ve ever seen — and I’m including myself.”

Among those running were Moskowitz, who had distinguished herself as energetic chair of the council’s education committee; a fellow council member, Bill Perkins, who championed efforts to limit exposure to lead paint and has since gone on to the State Senate; Adriano Espaillat, a State Assembly and community board member who now serves in the State Senate as well; and Scott Stringer — the eventual winner — who was a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and then a member of the assembly for more than 10 years.

Following the race in the primary — the election that mattered — it seemed to me that with such a large field of candidates and a relatively small electorate no one had a clear shot at this.

And that’s not just my recollection. The Times reported, ” Ms. Moskowitz and Mr. Stringer have been considered the two leading candidates in fund-raising and endorsements, but any one of several candidates could win because of the large number of contestants.”

And in an editorial the paper said, “The sheer size of the field makes this race one of the most unpredictable in the Sept. 13 primary.”

Unions –notably the Working Families Party — backed Stringer, as did the teachers union. At the time, Weingarten praised him as “being like the Eveready battery bunny… a tireless worker and a fighter.”

But other groups also liked Stringer. The Times for one, which hailed him as a “candidate who has both the credentials for the job and a sterling reputation as a catalyst for reform.” The paper also had kind words for Espaillat, Perkins and former City Councilmember Stanley Michaels.

As for Moskowitz, the Times praised her as “smart and driven and an expert on education issues” but added — fairly or not (and many would say this smacks of sexism), “Her style — often described by those who have worked with her as abrasive — would not be well suited to this office.”

The Donwtown Express also supported Stringer while echoing concerns about Moskowitz’s reputation as “someone who doesnt build coalitions, though we have not observed this quality in her.”

Citizens Union (whose sister organization publishes Gotham Gazette), hardly an ally of the UFT, also preferred Stringer, although praised Moskowitz and several of the other contenders as well.

Looking back six years, I recall that, while Moskowitz had lots of fans, many Manhattan Democrats, a pretty liberal bunch, doubted her progressive credentials. Those who felt that way voted for Stringer (or Perkins or Espaillat or ….). No doubt some of those voters felt their decision was affirmed when Moskowitz a few weeks later endorsed Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his re-election bid against Democratic Fernando Ferrer.

Seven other Democrats also ran for borough president and lost lost. But to my knowledge known as attempted to portray the campaign as depriving them of something to which they were somehow entitled.

Certainly labor supported Stringer. And that helped him score a resounding victory over Moskowitz, who came in second. But Moskowitz had her supporters as well — many from business and law, whose gifts helped her lead in fundraising.

That is — for better or worse – how politics works. And it’s rarely as cut and dried as Moskowitz and Klein would have us believe.

By on May 11, 2011, 2:48 pm
In category: City Hall,Education,Electoral Politics | 5 Comments »

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5 Responses to “Klein on Moskowitz Again”

  1. Anni Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    Thank goodness. Some clarity and actual journalism! The media lets Klein get away with this story and other oversimplifications all the time(especially re: charter schools and all forms of – lacking – DOE accountability). Klein aside, there is a lot of digging to be done re: Moskowitz’s Success charter chain.

  2. Roger Baldwin Says:
    May 11th, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    Ms. Robinson, this is woefully incomplete. It almost makes me think you were not around for the 2005 BP primary.

    You forgot to mention that Eva was endorsed by the Post, the DN, and the NY Observer, but added that Stringer was endorsed by the “Downtown Express”? Really?

    But more importantly, you did not mention that the Working Families Party sent out negative mail and lobbed robocalls which only mentioned Eva in the last few days before the primary. No other BP candidates were targeted by the unions like that, were they? See article: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2005-09-13/news/18310250_1_primaries-finance-rules-party-web-site

    I think that someone needs to correct these sins of omission, and “The Wonkster” needs to be a little more wonkish or change its name.

  3. Cline Says:
    May 12th, 2011 at 7:38 am

    The Downtown Express — like its sister paper The Villager — is a lapdog for the corrupt Scott Stringer and Christine Quinn.

  4. Gail Robinson Says:
    May 13th, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    In response, to Mr. Baldwin, Ms. Moskowitz did get many endorsements, including that of the News”, which is available here. In it, the paper praised both Moskowitz and Stringer for being among “an all-too-small group of reform-minded public officials,” but said they preferred Moskowitz “because she has played for bigger stakes and has taken greater risks.”

    That said, I did not mean to imply that Moskowtiz had no support — or even that she might not have been the best candidate. I only meant to point out that the situation was not nearly not cut and dried as Klein (and Moskowitz too, I think) would like people to believe.

  5. Roger Baldwin Says:
    May 16th, 2011 at 5:05 pm

    But Ms Robinson, you dismissed the idea that Eva was targeted by the unions as a “pat story,” do you have any response to your omission of the critical fact that the Working Families Party only targeted Eva directly with its mail and robocalls?

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