Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/67 Mon, 23 Oct 2017 05:57:03 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Holland to Challenge Perkins in Primary for Harlem Council Seat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6761:holland-to-challenge-perkins-in-september-primary-for-harlem-council-seat http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6761:holland-to-challenge-perkins-in-september-primary-for-harlem-council-seat holland pic

Marvin Holland (Photo via Holland's campaign)


Union organizer Marvin Holland, the runner up in Tuesday’s special election for the District 9 City Council seat, has confirmed to Gotham Gazette that he will mount a challenge against the winner Bill Perkins when the seat is up for grabs again later this year.

The District 9 seat in Harlem was recently vacated by Inez Dickens, who was elected to the state Assembly, leaving just one year left in the term. A nonpartisan special election for the seat was held on Feb. 14 with nine candidates on the ballot. State Senator Bill Perkins, who held the District 9 seat between 1998 and 2005, won with 3750 votes, about 34 percent of the 11,149 votes cast, according to the New York City Board of Elections’ unofficial results (Final results are certified two weeks after the election). Perkins will serve the rest of Dickens’ term and will have to run for reelection, which will involve a Democratic primary in September.

Holland, who came second in the race with 2073 votes, believes that he can build more support and name recognition to pose a stronger challenge in the September primary. “In a few short months, we built a strong, diverse coalition amongst the people most under attack from Trump’s policies, and beat all expectations while highlighting some very important issues facing our community,” Holland said, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “With this race, the foundation has been laid for a new political future for Harlem.”

As political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, Holland built a coalition of labor and community support and his vote totals even surpassed Larry Scott Blackmon, the favored candidate of the Harlem old guard. Blackmon, a FreshDirect executive, came in fourth in the race with 1,324 votes, despite being endorsed by Dickens and former Assemblymember Keith Wright, who chairs the Manhattan Democratic Party.

Holland’s campaign pointed out that 66 percent of the voters didn’t choose Perkins, despite his long history representing the neighborhood and his familiarity in the community. “So, their vote could have been an anti-Perkins choice,” said Jon Greenfield, a spokesperson for Holland, in an email.

Greenfield said the race ultimately hinged on name recognition and that Holland can spend the next six months building his own. “Marvin can hold his showing in the East Harlem portion of the district (Assembly District 68), build name recognition in central Harlem over the next months, and gather anti-Perkins, anti-establishment votes,” he said.

Holland will also continue to consolidate labor support and reach out to Dickens and Wright for their support. “Harlem deserves elected officials accountable to them,” Holland said. “I intend to keep the promises made to the people during this campaign, and will continue the work we have begun to be their candidate in the September primary for City Council.”

The race will still be an uphill challenge for Holland. Perkins received endorsements from Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council’s progressive caucus in the special election. He’s confident that he will be reelected and hopes to do as well in September as he did in the Tuesday special. “I have every reason to believe I’ll do even better,” he said, in a phone interview.

He wasn’t surprised to hear Holland will run against him, and even welcomed the challenge. “I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other candidates that participated in the election are considering the same thing,” he said, insisting that he doesn’t take his frontrunner status for granted. Only one other candidate, Shannette Gray, has officially declared a run for the District 9 seat with the Campaign Finance Board. She did not participate in the special election.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Perkins said of the election. “We just ran the first mile.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Note: this article has been updated.

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Holland to Challenge Perkins in Primary for Harlem Council Seat Thu, 16 Feb 2017 22:59:09 +0000
Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6665:special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6665:special-election-for-harlem-city-council-seat-kicks-off marvin holland sylvia tyler

Council candidate Marvin Holland, right, with Sylvia Tyler (photo via Holland on Twitter)


It’s going to be a sprint of an election -- though it’s not clear how many candidates are running or how many voters will participate -- with ballots likely to be cast sometime in February.

The election of New York City Council Member Inez Dickens to the State Assembly creates an open seat in Council District 9 in Harlem, and a number of contenders have thrown their hats in the ring. As soon as Dickens officially vacates her Council seat, Mayor Bill de Blasio will be required to call a nonpartisan special election.

Among the candidates running for Dickens’ seat are union organizer Marvin Holland, State Senator Bill Perkins, community activist Charles Cooper, and Troy Outlaw, who serves on Dickens’ Council staff. Other, lesser-known candidates include Donald Fields, a local businessman and advocate, immigration advocate Mamadou Drame, and Shannette Gray. Brian Benjamin, who works in real estate and is involved in the local community board, is rumored to be considering a run, but hasn’t filed paperwork yet.

Many have been waiting to see if Assembly Member Keith Wright will join the race. A Democratic power-broker who Dickens is replacing, Wright declined to run for Assembly re-election after pledging not to during his attempt to win Charles Rangel’s Congressional seat. Some say that Benjamin could be Wright’s favored candidate, though the uptown establishment could support Outlaw, or another candidate.

Holland, the political director of Transit Workers Union Local 100, came out of the gate fairly early. In a recent interview, he said he is confident about putting together a broad coalition. “I’m well-rooted throughout the Harlem community, with young and old members,” said Holland, who sits on the boards of a number of community organizations including the Latino Leadership Institute, the NYC Labor-Religion Coalition, the the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the NAACP, and Community Voices Heard’s solidarity board.

Holland’s message is “Harlem belongs to us,” he said, stressing that investment in the neighborhood needs to benefit its residents rather than creating forces of gentrification and displacement. He wants to create jobs and infrastructure in the community, relying on his experience as a union leader to navigate the complexities of economic policy. “My first priority,” he said, “was to show people I’m a serious candidate...I’m in this race 100 percent to win it.”

In a crowded race, anything can happen, but Perkins is especially formidable given his position as an elected official with at least some name recognition in the community.

“I would say Bill Perkins probably has the most infrastructure and support in the district,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University. Pointing to the fact that State Senator Adriano Espaillat has been elected to replace Rangel, Greer said the community may be motivated to electe a black City Council member to replace Dickens, who is black. “It’s within U.S. Congressional District 13 and because there’s no African-American representative, Perkins will resonate with some voters who want to see an African-American representative in the district,” she said.

Greer said that Perkins’ chances could change significantly if Wright were to jump into the race, though he seems hesitant to do so at this point. It’s unclear whether Wright will be involved in the District 9 race at all. He was not made available for comment for this article. Dickens’ Council office also did not respond to a request for comment.

In phone interviews with Gotham Gazette, Holland, Perkins, Cooper, Fields, and Drame all indicated a similar initial approach to the election, formulating coalitions across the community and drumming up support on the ground. Each mentioned several of the same issues, chiefly focusing on creating and preserving affordable housing while bringing more development and jobs to the community. Calls to the candidate committees for Outlaw and Gray went unanswered.

Perkins previously held the Council seat for seven years before becoming a state Senator in 2006. He said his decision to attempt a return to city government was based largely on the opportunity to make more of an impact, which has been denied to Democrats who have been in the minority in the Senate. “I’m going to essentially be serving the same neighborhood with an opportunity to not only serve but to deliver,” Perkins said of potentially rejoining the Council, which currently has 48 Democrats and three Republicans.

Recalling his days in activist-oriented community work, Perkins said he is focusing on galvanizing community support. “It’s a winning formula for me,” he said. “I’m not a big moneymaker..I’m going where my strengths are, with the community, with the people.”  And he believes he has a good chance of winning the seat. “There’s nothing guaranteed but I feel that my support in the past for elected office has been encouraging,” he said. “I feel in sync with this district. They’re familiar with me over the years, they’re familiar with the work I’ve done.”

Perkins and Wright are not close. Wright is the leader of the Manhattan Democratic Party and a key cog in the state’s party infrastructure. Perkins is not expected to have a lot of institutional support, whether Wright runs or not. Because it is a city-level special election, there are no traditional party lines. The winner will serve for less than a year before having to run again in the fall, when all 51 Council seats will be on the ballot, as well as borough- and city-wide posts.

Perkins promised, if elected, to seek out alliances within the Council and join its Progressive Caucus. He’ll focus on affordable housing, he said, “not as it’s defined by developers but as defined by what’s in the pocket of the people in the community.” He said he’s not overly confident, stressing that the race will be competitive.

Perkins’ entry into the race hasn’t discouraged Holland, who is confident, especially given his union ties and organizing experience. Holland said in an interview that he is building a broad coalition of support including unions, district leaders, activists, and tenant leaders; he officially opened his new campaign headquarters Dec. 7.

For Charles Cooper, the election is an opportunity to get Harlem residents involved in community decisions. “I think oftentimes, especially in a special election, you have very low turnout which isn’t representative of the district as a whole,” he said, underscoring the need to spread awareness of the election and to get voters engaged. Special elections are notoriously low-turnout.

Cooper stressed the importance of people’s involvement, particularly after the election of Donald Trump as President. “We need to focus more and more on our local politics,” he said. “The City Council has a direct impact on the resources that come to our community.” Cooper, much like his opponents, said his campaign is a district-wide coalition of groups that will highlight issues of job creation, education, public safety, and housing.

Immigration advocate Mamadou Drame said he’s been planning his run for District 9 for the last two years, spurred into action by an older generation that has been more passive towards politics. He said he’s lost faith in the current crop of elected officials, who “come to the district every four years for your vote and then forget about the community.”

A Senegalese immigrant who has worked for years in immigrant services, he believes he’ll get support from the African immigrant population in Harlem. He’ll appeal to millennials and seniors alike, he said, with a campaign centered on reducing unemployment and “an inclusive approach to gentrification” that helps the community. “The question is, ‘how can we embrace development?,’” he said, “We can’t always be fighting it.”

“We need to forge a path of new leadership,” said candidate Donald Fields, a managing partner at Fields & Associates, a consultancy, who previously worked for the city’s child welfare agency. Fields emphasized the need for new blood to replace the “old guard” that has dominated the Harlem political scene for years. Although Fields said he respects them and their work, he believes that younger leaders will be able to bring about faster change.

Like Holland others, Fields is also undeterred by facing Perkins in the race. “It hasn’t slowed down my passion,” he said. “It hasn’t stopped my zeal to win or my focus on what the district needs.” His biggest priority is fighting gentrification while encouraging necessary development.

“Whoever wins this race must have a vision for the district and must be committed to deliver that vision,” Fields said. “That cannot be tied to backroom politics and special interests.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Special Election for Harlem City Council Seat Kicks Off Mon, 12 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
Keith Wright Weighs Options Amid Uptown Power Shifts http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6534:keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6534:keith-wright-weighs-options-amid-uptown-power-shifts dickens wright

Keith Wright and Inez Dickens (photo via Wright's Assembly page)


Before Assemblymember Keith Wright had conceded to Sen. Adriano Espaillat in their congressional race, speculation had already begun about which seat Wright would seek next if not victorious. Wright eliminated one option when he pledged in the heat of the race to replace retiring Rep. Charles Rangel that he would not seek reelection to the Assembly seat he has held since 1992. Wright challenged Espaillat to do the same as the state senator had repeatedly run for Congress only to return to the state Senate. Espaillat ignored the challenge.

On congressional primary day in June, Espaillat claimed a narrow victory, leaving Wright calling for a recount, but soon community leaders brought pressure on Wright to move on and accept defeat, which he did. No political observer believed the pledge would keep Wright, a close ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and one of the state’s most powerful Democrats and most prolific fundraisers, from seeking public office again.

Now that state legislative primaries are over, another Wright ally, City Council Member Inez Dickens, appears set to replace him in the Assembly. She ran unopposed among Democrats for Wright’s seat, raising a few eyebrows given that seats being vacated often attract multiple candidates.

While initial rumors focused on Wright running for the State Senate or Dickens’ City Council seat, The New York Post recently reported that Wright associate Charlie King is trying to gauge reaction and garner support for a Wright mayoral bid. Wright’s office didn’t do much to downplay the possibility of a challenge to fellow Democrat Bill de Blasio, who is poised to run for re-election in 2017.

Although Wright wasn’t made available for an interview, spokesperson Emma Forbes sent a statement to Gotham Gazette implicitly confirming his interest in the mayoralty.

“Keith's always been an advocate for all New Yorkers, and especially for Communities of Color,” Forbes wrote. “I think that when you look around today and see many shared concerns and challenges left unaddressed, it makes you consider the role you have in fixing things in government, be it appointed or elected, city or state, big or small."

Dan Levitan, spokesperson for de Blasio’s campaign, responded with the same statement he gave to The Post: “Under Mayor de Blasio, Crime just hit another all-time low, jobs are at record highs, the City is building and preserving affordable housing at a record pace, while graduation rates and test scores continue to improve. We are happy to match that record against anyone.”

As chair of the Manhattan County Democrats, Wright wields significant power and influence, and many observers believe he could easily clear the Democratic field in a special election to replace Dickens in the City Council. And if he wasn’t able to intimidate or convince all other potential candidates from running, Wright has access to the forces he would need to quickly raise money and marshall overwhelming turnout for the special election, which would likely take place in March. Wright has brought his power to bear on past elections; in some cases he has been accused of unfairly influencing certain contests.

While a mayoral run is probably less likely than a City Council one, the speculation does not end there. Wright is also touted as a possible replacement to Sen. Bill Perkins, who in such a scenario would run for and win Dickens’ Council seat, leaving his seat open for Wright. Perkins did not return calls for comment.

Concerning speculation about Wright’s legislative ambitions, Forbes said in a statement, "All options remain on the table, and the Assemblyman is carefully considering the best way to continue positively impacting the community that he loves."

Council Member Dickens is on board if Wright decides to run to replace her. “I will support him if he decides to run,” Dickens told Gotham Gazette in an interview. “I have not publically stated that, but I would be very interested in supporting him. He has done a phenomenal job in the Assembly.”

Dickens said that she knows Wright is weighing his options and that he has not made a decision yet. She told Gotham Gazette that she had no deal in place with Wright to clear the field for either of their seats or to swap positions. “I did not in anyway have a deal with him other than to ask him if he was going to seek this seat and he said “no,” so I ran for it.”

Dickens noted that she will be term-limited out of the Council at the end of next year. She speculated that she faced no Democratic challengers for Wright’s seat - which is centered in Harlem and represents almost exclusively Democrats - because of a number of factors, including the trips Assembly members must make to Albany, the last-minute nature of the opening, and what she said was insufficient pay for state legislators.

“We’re asking young people to go to college, get degrees, have bills they have to pay for it after they come out of school, have a family, have children that they have to take care of properly, and then tell them they have to live on $79,000 a year. The idea of free public service is over,” Dickens told Gotham Gazette.

At this point in the process it appears there are a variety of contenders considering a run Dickens’ Council seat. As of July, four candidates had registered with the city Campaign Finance Board. One of those registered candidates, Charles Cooper, a businessman from Harlem, told Gotham Gazette that he expects a crowded field.

“This is a Democracy and I welcome everyone. I am going to focus on uniting the community,” Cooper said. Asked if he was concerned about the prospect of Wright entering the race, Cooper said he respects Wright, but that it wouldn’t impact his plans.

Other registered candidates include Marvin Holland, an organizer for the Transportation Workers United union; Donald Fields, a businessman and advocate; and Shanette M. Gray. Fields is the only registered candidate to report any fundraising, but he’d raised $165 as of July.

A number of other names are being bandied about as potential candidates. They include Clyde Williams, who also ran to replace Rangel this Spring; Afua Atta-Mensah, a lawyer and former district leader candidate; and Sen. Perkins’ chief of staff Cordell Cleare.

When Dickens officially wins the Assembly seat in November, she’ll be set to replace Wright come January, and the machinations for a special City Council election will begin.

Espaillat and his allies are paying close attention to Wright’s moves as they hope to curtail any major challenges to his newly-won seat before they happen. Espaillat will be up for re-election in 2018.

A number of Wright’s allies insist he is still weighing whether to enter the private sector and spending time with his family, They say there is no bigger master plan at this point. To launch a campaign for any of the seats being mentioned, Wright would need to kick his fundraising apparatus into high gear quickly, although it would likely be far easier for him to raise the funds needed for a Council or state Senate run than a mayoral bid.

Wright’s Assembly campaign committee filed “no activity” statements with the state Board of Elections in January and July. Wright raised a total of $934,138 for his congressional bid, compared to Espaillat’s $628,000. There is little doubt among political experts that Wright could secure the cash he needs to run a well-financed legislative campaign.

“I don't know really know what Keith’s plans are at this point,” Dickens told Gotham Gazette during the September 14 interview at City Hall. “He had very difficult race, outraised all of his challengers, and it was a was fight to the finish. Keith worked very hard and it's difficult for any of us when you lose, so he's needed time to think and space to be with his family, who suffered a lot.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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Keith Wright Weighs Options Amid Uptown Power Shifts Sun, 18 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Senate Holds Second Mayoral Control Hearing, Without the Mayor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6347:senate-holds-second-mayoral-control-hearing-without-the-mayor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6347:senate-holds-second-mayoral-control-hearing-without-the-mayor de blasio business leaders buery farina

De Blasio at City Hall on Wednesday (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


Just one day after Mayor Bill de Blasio appeared at City Hall with a bevy of business leaders to push for extending mayoral control of New York City schools, the state Senate education committee held its second hearing on the issue right across the street. Administration officials, education professionals and advocates testified to make their case for and against mayoral control (mostly for) as state Senators demanded answers on a wide range of educational policies, while repeatedly noting the conspicuous absence of the mayor himself.

The debate around mayoral control has reignited as the June 30 deadline for extending it fast approaches. The Democrat-controlled Assembly gave the mayor a three-year extension on Tuesday and the ball is now in the Senate’s court, where Republicans who have control of the chamber have been reluctant to extend it beyond one year, if at all. The mayor has spent the last few weeks pushing his administration’s accomplishments to make his case for extending mayoral control for seven years. Having spent four hours at the first hearing in Albany on May 4 arguing for a seven-year extension, de Blasio declined to testify on Thursday. His absence was not taken lightly.

“We are missing the mayor, and he’s the chief player and he’s the person in charge and we would like him to have been here,” said Senator Carl Marcellino, chair of the education committee, in his opening remarks. Without giving examples, he stressed that many questions from the May 4 hearing had been left unanswered and the mayor should have been there to answer them.

Instead, the administration was represented by schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, who had testified by the mayor’s side in Albany. Throughout her testimony, Fariña sought to establish the gains from mayoral control - increased graduation rates, fewer dropouts, the implementation of universal pre-kindergarten, increased arts education investment, the success of the Renewal Schools program, to name a few.

“Mayoral control also allows us to plan more fully and with more confidence for the future,” Fariña said. “Without mayoral control it would be nearly impossible for a mayor to lay out a long-term detailed vision for our schools such as Equity and Excellence.”

Marcellino, while insisting that Fariña’s testimony was “fantastic,” bookended it with another call out to the mayor. “This would’ve been a better situation if the mayor was here to defend his, and I don’t mean defend in a negative way, but to defend his running of the city schools,” Marcellino said. Other Senators made similar remarks throughout the hearing, including Senators Jose Peralta of Queens and Simcha Felder of Brooklyn.

While the stated agenda of the hearing was mayoral control, it was quickly apparent that it would not be limited solely to the system as a governing structure for education policy-making. Over the course of four-and-a-half hours, the hearing touched on numerous aspects of education policy and planning in the city - overcrowding, school closures, school safety, the number of psychologists per student, the Panel for Educational Policy, and the ever-touchy subject of charters schools.

As he often does, Senator Bill Perkins of Manhattan in particular railed against charter schools, stressing that they are an outcropping of the “dictatorial” mayoral control system. At one point during the hearing, Marcellino seemed to rebuke Perkins for deviating from the issue at hand and even offered to hold a separate hearing on charters. A similar scene had unfolded at the May 4 hearing. In this case, Farina was forced to carefully answer charter school-related questions that the de Blasio administration would rather avoid. After battles with charter school, the administration has moved toward a peaceful coexistence model, especially after new state laws forced their hand.

About 20 advocates, education professionals, and experts testified and most were in favor of mayoral control, albeit often with caveats. Some proposed shorter extensions while others proposed reforms to the system at various levels. Some emphasized that their support of mayoral control did not necessarily imply support for all of de Blasio’s policies, or even some. Indeed, the current situation creates an often dissonant reality where some of those who were the strongest proponents of mayoral control under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first won the power in 2002, are now twisting in knots as they criticize de Blasio’s policies but do not go so far as to call for the end of mayoral control.

Others who testified did oppose mayoral control even while suggesting reforms if it is extended. “Any system of governance must have checks and balances,” said Teresa Arboleda, chair of the Education Council Consortium’s legislative committee, insisting on more local control and parent input in educational policy. “We cannot have a new school system every time there is a new mayor.”

Some of the reforms proposed included:

  • Changes in composition to the Panel for Educational Policy to allow it more independence and insulate it against ‘rubber-stamping’ the mayor’s decisions
  • Reforms in how Community Education Councils are constituted, making CECs more transparent and giving them increased authority
  • Expanding the Citywide Council on Special Education
  • Mandatory experience and qualifications for the schools chancellor
  • More clearly defined discipline policies
  • Equal treatment of charter schools as compared to district schools
  • More transparency in Department of Education contract procurement and policy making

Jacob Mnookin, founder and executive director of Coney Island Preparatory Charter School, supports an extension of the system, he said, but insisted that the mayor should stop letting his political agenda interfere with student education. The mayor has been a very vocal opponent of the charter school movement in the city. “All public school students deserve to be treated equally no matter what politics are at play,” said Mnookin. “The mayor must address these inequalities present in the public school system of New York City.”

The two most important people were not at Thursday's hearing, though: Mayor de Blasio and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. Flanagan, formerly chair of the education committee and a critic of de Blasio, had chastised the mayor's refusal to appear before the committee a second time in a Wednesday statement. Though he was not there, Flanagan had also criticized de Blasio after the May 4 hearing in Albany, saying he had not answered many of the questions posed to him in a satisfactory fashion, which surprised many who had witnessed it. Flanagan will negotiate extension of mayoral control with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a de Blasio ally, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is in a long-standing feud with the mayor. Cuomo did call for a three-year extension of mayoral control in his January budget.

Although there emerged plenty of ideas about how to change the system on Thursday, and ample criticism of its weaknesses, most people did not want to see a reversion to the old school board system. Not many could even articulate what would happen if mayoral control did indeed lapse. The final speaker of the day, Dennis Walcott, president and CEO of the Queens Library system, perhaps had the most informed perspective on that issue. Walcott served as Schools Chancellor before Farina and deputy mayor of education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He stressed that the old Board of Education system was chaotic and plagued by “patronage, waste, dysfunction” and that mayoral control reversed that. “Mayoral control is about making the mayor, elected by the people of New York City, take responsibility for the education of our city and effectuate the best education possible for our children,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Senate Holds Second Mayoral Control Hearing, Without the Mayor Fri, 20 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
In Albany, De Blasio Argues for Mayoral Control Extension http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6320:in-albany-de-blasio-argues-for-extension-of-mayoral-control http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6320:in-albany-de-blasio-argues-for-extension-of-mayoral-control de blasio testimony senate

De Blasio testifies in Albany (photo via @KellyCummings)


Mayor Bill de Blasio received a generally friendly welcome from Senate Republicans throughout several hours of testimony in Albany on Wednesday during a hearing on mayoral control of city schools. De Blasio was peppered with questions regarding issues such as special education, charter school co-locations, mental health services, and school space, but the issue of mayoral control as a governance structure was addressed head on only in limited doses.

For his part, de Blasio touted gains in graduation rates and test scores, he spoke of the growth of universal pre-kindergarten and community schools and explained new goals around literacy rates and computer science courses. He even pointed to the number of weak teachers let go during his administration. The mayor was flanked by his schools chancellor, Carmen Farina, who often added specifics to bolster the mayor’s argument or answer questions from legislators.

The hearing could have come at a better time for the mayor - Senate Republicans have recently seized on news of investigations facing de Blasio around his involvement in 2014 efforts to win the chamber for Democrats. De Blasio has been plagued by a series of investigations by federal, state, and city authorities into his fundraising practices.

Sen. Terrence Murphy was the only Senate Republican to bring up the matter during the hearing. "Why I should vote for mayoral control with all the allegations that are going on in your office?" Murphy asked de Blasio.

De Blasio asked Murphy to consider facts such as a 70 percent graduation rate and other successes, adding, “We don't literally know of any other alternative.” De Blasio addressed the allegations saying, "In a democracy, we don't judge by allegations, we judge by facts." Murphy countered that “trust” was still an issue.

De Blasio has served as an electoral boogeyman for Senate Republicans across the state for the last two years, but tensions have heightened in the wake of the investigations and the results of a special election on Long Island where Democrats won the seat that was long held by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Bad feelings, largely emanating from de Blasio’s involvement in the 2014 election cycle, resulted in a one-year extension of mayoral control last year. De Blasio cried foul pointing out his predecessor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was granted a seven-year extension.

This year, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan insisted mayoral control not be addressed as part of the state budget, an agreement on which was reached March 31, and invited de Blasio to testify at two public hearings. The second will be May 19 in New York City.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly has advocated a seven-year extension, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed three. At the end of his opening testimony, during which he highlighted his long support for mayoral control of city schools and the bipartisan nature of overall support, de Blasio asked for a seven-year extension.

Wednesday’s hearing was more dominated by specific concerns from Democrats about schools in their districts than any hostility from Senate Republicans. Education committee chair Sen. Carl Marcellino led the hearing with little fanfare, asking substantive questions and attempting to keep things focused and moving.

In his preparation for renewal this year de Blasio has referenced his predecessors and support from business groups in an attempt to paint the issue as non-partisan. It was a note he repeatedly hit during Wednesday’s hearing.

“We are in lockstep on mayoral control,” de Blasio said referring to Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg. “It's a system that is superior to what we had before and there is no third way.”

Marcellino, a Long Island Republican like Flanagan, who was his predecessor as education chair, began the hearing by bluntly asking de Blasio about his previous stance on mayoral control. “There was point in time you didn't think highly of mayoral control, why did you change your mind?”

De Blasio quickly countered that his voting record demonstrates his support of the system, but said that he had been concerned in the past about parental involvement.

With that out of the way de Blasio delivered prepared testimony where he touted a familiar list of achievements including the city reaching 70 percent graduation rates for first time in its history; the enrollment of 68,000 students in pre-K, and a commitment to new goals and standards. De Blasio repeatedly thanked legislators for their support, specifically pointing to their approval of funding for pre-K.

There were a few moments of drama.

Sen. Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, who is elected as a Democrat but caucuses with Republicans, complained of being ignored by the administration and demanded de Blasio promise to ease the process by which parents of students with special needs are ensured of an appropriate learning environment for their children by the beginning of the next school year. De Blasio commiserated with Felder on the importance of the issue, but declined to make such a broad promise. He did, however, commit to providing Felder with a letter describing what progress the city does intend to make. Felder appeared satisfied by the end of the exchange.

A number of Democrats including Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, a Brooklyn Democrat, appeared to urge de Blasio to distance himself from Bloomberg’s legacy on mayoral control but de Blasio declined, saying that he felt there had been “undeniable” progress made under Bloomberg, though he did note he thought recent improvements had been made to parental involvement.

De Blasio spoke carefully on the subject of charter schools, even while being offered several chances to criticize them by Senator Bill Perkins, a Manhattan Democrat who asked a series of charter-related questions. The mayor repeated his recent public opinions on charters by saying that they must enroll a student body representative of their surrounding areas and retain challenging students while also saying that the administration is working well with many charter schools.

Marcellino reminded Perkins that it was a hearing on mayoral control, not charter schools and Perkins explained that charters are a key piece of education policy, having noted that under Mayor Bloomberg charters began to proliferate in his district.

Gov. Cuomo and Senate Republicans have been very supportive of charter schools in the past, while de Blasio has often battled with the most high-profile charter network, Success Academy.

The individuals testifying immediately following de Blasio and Farina were tied to charter schools in various ways. They complained of the mayor’s treatment of the schools and expressed support for limiting the renewal of mayoral control. They noted that charter schools are subject to renewal after lengths of terms varying from five, two, or even one year. Testimony was by invitation only. A number of Democratic Senators said they had heard from parent groups that had requested to testify but were denied.

In one of the only direct questions regarding the city’s school governance system, Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, asked de Blasio what it would mean to have mayoral control renewed on a one-year basis.

“It creates instability,” said de Blasio, who added that it impacts larger initiatives to improve schools over a span of years. “It is a disservice to our children if we don't even know what our governance will be in a year. It doesn't allow us to achieve what we need to achieve.”

De Blasio and Farina both returned to a theme over their three hours of testimony that they haven’t been presented with an actual alternative to mayoral control. “To what end,” de Blasio asked of frequent debates over the system. “If there was an alternative on the table that is better I would debate it any day.”

Krueger suggested that perhaps the Legislature shouldn’t meddle in city school issues given that a lot of the issues discussed during the hearings including co-location and school space required hyper-local knowledge. “There are certain roles for the state Legislature that are important, there are others that we have to leave alone,” said Krueger.

De Blasio appeared to distance himself from that assertion. “We should be in regular dialogue,” he said. “There should be a partnership. We honor that fact and we want to be in regular communication about how we do things together.”

The mayor took a firm, but collaborative and deferential tone for most of the hearing, appearing to understand his audience and its power. He also surely knows, though, that Gov. Cuomo will have a lot of influence over the fate of mayoral control when the governor and legislative leaders negotiate any policy between now and the end of the session in June.

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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In Albany, De Blasio Argues for Mayoral Control Extension Wed, 04 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000