Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/691 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 19:31:39 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Children Lose in Faulty Charter School Accounting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7183:children-lose-in-faulty-charter-school-accounting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7183:children-lose-in-faulty-charter-school-accounting success academy rally crop

A charter school rally (photo: @SuccessAcademy)


Questions: How do you turn a 25 percent graduation rate into a misleading claim of 100 percent success? When does a school’s 30 percent proficiency rate on an 8th grade reading test translate into the assertion that nearly half of the students passed?

Answer: when charter schools do their own accounting, and authorizers allow them to paper over the fact that huge percentages of the children who start in charter schools get driven or eased out.

Charters claim that they serve the same children as city public schools, but the truth is that they enroll and keep half the percentage of English Language Learners, dramatically fewer special education students, including those needing the highest level of intervention, and far fewer children who are homeless or in temporary housing.

district versus charter schools

Not content with starting out with more favorable demographics, many charters then rely on student attrition, boosted by draconian discipline strategies, to keep their academic numbers up. In New York City, charters enroll 8% of the students but account for 45% of the suspensions.  

Suspensions and pressure on students who struggle academically help charter schools force or ease out students with learning difficulties. And unlike regular public schools, charters often leave empty seats vacant.

As one charter organization -- Democracy Builders -- noted, when schools refuse to "backfill" or replace students who leave, the result is charters hyping their results (“artificially inflating perceived performance” in Democracy Builder’s words).

Here’s how it works.

At Success Academy Harlem 1, 73 students began first grade in 2007. By now this class has dwindled to 18 students as they reached the 11th grade. Assuming all 18 stay this year and graduate, Success Academy will no doubt claim a graduation rate of 100 percent. But in fact there are only 18 “survivors” of the original 73; even if all 18 graduate, the school should only take credit for a grad rate of 25 percent of the original cohort.

Success enrollment

The same logic can be applied to test score claims. Teaching Firms of America Professional Prep Charter School in Brooklyn claims that nearly half -- 47 percent -- of its sixth graders were proficient on the most recent state reading test. But that sixth grade class had only 36 students, far short of the 57 students who were in that class in third grade.

So counting the vanished children, only 30 percent of the original cohort actually scored proficient on the 2017 reading test, a rate well below the 40 percent passing rate average for all public schools.

None of these facts will stop charter propagandists from repeating misleading claims about their schools’ “success.” But charter authorizers, especially the SUNY Charter Schools Committee, need to be considering these issues as charters come up for re-authorization.

The committee has recently taken a tougher line against some charters, criticizing the chair of the board of Success Academy, Dan Loeb, for his indefensible statements comparing the actions of State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and teachers unions with the KKK.

But the committee's recent proposal -- to permit some charter schools to drastically reduce the amount of preparation teachers must undergo in order to be certified – is an ill-considered favor for a sector that has proven itself not only incapable of honest accounting, but also unable to retain a qualified workforce.

If charter schools are to perform their original mission -- to act as laboratories of innovation -- it is up to authorizers to ensure that charter schools take seriously their obligation to educate all kinds of children, and to give New York parents a realistic view of both their successes and their failures.

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Michael Mulgrew is the President of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter @UFT.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

Note: this opinion column has been corrected to reflect that one organization cited is Democracy Builders, not Democracy Prep as originally stated.

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Children Lose in Faulty Charter School Accounting Mon, 11 Sep 2017 04:00:00 +0000
With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7121:with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7121:with-some-contracts-now-expired-de-blasio-administration-begins-next-labor-negotiations 23589013804 3bdd4cedec z

Mayor de Blasio at DC 37's union headquarters (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


As numerous labor contracts for thousands of city employees begin to expire, the de Blasio administration is already in the midst of new talks with municipal unions. The process revisits a key element of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s early tenure -- when the city faced an unprecedented situation wherein all the city’s labor contracts were expired -- and of the incumbent mayor’s first-term record: de Blasio regularly boasts of bringing to terms the outstanding workforce uncertainty he inherited.

With negotiations underway with several unions, fiscal watchdogs say the de Blasio administration needs to implement cost cutting and efficiency measures while ensuring contracts are resolved without inordinate delay.

Upon taking office, de Blasio and his team, led by labor relations chief Bob Linn and budget director Dean Fuleihan, moved to quickly settle the city’s labor union contracts, all of which had been expired for years under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Of the city’s 355,286 employees, 337,666 are represented by unions and the city settled contracts with all but 1,350 or 0.4 percent of them. But, even as the administration touts that success, both sides are already back at the table as 30 of the settled contracts have expired, between 2016 and 2017, and 27 more are set to expire in the next few months. Bob Linn and his team are in regular negotiations, according to mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, and he was not made available for an interview based on that busy schedule.

Fiscal watchdogs generally praise the administration’s efforts in settling the expired contracts, particularly the inclusion of healthcare savings for the first time and reasonable wage increases, but recommend improvements that will ensure long-term fiscal stability. Some wanted to see municipal employees required to contribute to their health care, but that did not happen, while others said the administration should not have pushed the cost of retroactive raises as far into future budget obligations.

Among those unions whose contracts have expired are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents around 22,200 rank-and-file NYPD officers, and the Uniformed Firefighters Association, which represents more than 8,000 firefighters. De Blasio and the PBA just celebrated coming to terms on a largely retroactive contract in January.

In September, the contract for District Council 37, the union that represents the second-largest group of civilian employees in the city, is due to expire. With more than 84,000 city employees on its rolls, accounting for about 25 percent of unionized city employees, DC 37 is second to only the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the union whose deal was perhaps most-anticipated and, when reached in 2014, set the “pattern” for the other unions in terms of annual raises.

Unions, including the likes of DC37, UFT, PBA,1199SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council, also employ significant political clout in the city. DC 37 and its affiliated political action committee, for instance, have made campaign contributions to candidates for mayor (they donated the maximum $4,950 to de Blasio), public advocate, comptroller and City Council. DC 37 endorsed de Blasio for reelection in January. The endorsement came just two days after the mayor released his preliminary budget for fiscal year 2018 that proposed creating 100 new school crossing guard supervisor positions, which were created for DC 37 workers. The mayor later denied that the endorsement was part of the deal, and the positions were eventually included in the adopted budget that passed in June. De Blasio has also been endorsed for reelection by a number of other prominent city unions. The PBA, which has been a thorny opponent of Mayor de Blasio and the progressive-dominated City Council, has decided to focus on swaying City Council races in this year’s election cycle. It’s unclear if the union will get involved in the mayoral race. De Blasio is seen as an overwhelming favorite in both the primary and the general, in no small part because of his support from labor unions, which help drive voter turnout in what are expected to be very low participation elections.

Union labor issues pose significant challenges to the city’s fiscal health, particularly if -- or when -- the city experiences an economic downturn, experts say.

“One of the measures of prudence is what the costs were supposed to be when Mayor de Blasio took office compared to what they actually are,” said Nicole Gelinas, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. The last budget under Mayor Bloomberg predicted that salaries and wages for city employees in fiscal year 2018 would account for $26.4 billion in the city’s budget, Gelinas pointed out, but have actually reached nearly $27.3 billion. “That clearly adds strain to the budget,” she said.

Part of the increase stems from pay raises that didn’t match accompanying savings. “The mayor signed these agreements without really asking for givebacks in return,” Gelinas said.

Maria Doulis, vice president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan fiscal watchdog, echoed Gelinas’ point. Doulis said the last round of negotiations lacked a needed focus on efficiency in work rules, for instance negotiating staggered shifts for NYCHA workers or the causes of overtime in uniformed departments. “Those are important but weren’t done last time because the pressure was to get [agreements] done quickly and responsibly.”

But Doulis also said that the city had shown significant progress by working collaboratively with the unions on including health care savings in the negotiations. The de Blasio administration bargained with the Municipal Labor Committee, which collectively represents the city’s labor unions, to implement what it pegged as $3.4 billion in health care savings -- from $400 million in fiscal year 2015 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2018. There are a variety of measures in those savings plans, including a focus on preventive care so that union members avoid costly emergency room visits. Savings in excess of that projection are meant to provide bonuses to the city workforce. Doulis said the administration should build on that success.

The urgency with which the administration moved in 2014 to put labor agreements in place owed to long-expired contracts. But that also meant the city missed an opportunity to agree upon significant savings, Doulis said. “The savings that can come from productivity enhancements can only be recognized prospectively, not retroactively,” she said. “So it’s important to get contracts done in a timely way. Letting contracts go too long introduces fiscal risk to the city. And employees need to be able to plan their lives too.”

Gelinas reiterated that urgency is costly in labor negotiations. “Expired contracts, de Blasio really used that as an excuse,” she said. “It’s not good to have them expired for years on end but it’s not good to do a bad deal just to say that you did a deal.”

Gelinas said the city has fared well so far because of a strong and stable economy, and that a downturn after such an extended period of expansion would put the city in fiscal jeopardy as well as give the mayor less flexibility to cut costs. “Health care costs are increasing less fast than a few years ago,” she acknowledged, “but they’re still going up. The only reason the city can afford it is the economy is doing so well.”

She insisted that any further salary and wage increases should be paid for with cuts in the costs of benefits, namely health care. Although pensions are another part of the equation, and the city’s pension obligations have ballooned over the years, the city has a limited role in that respect since pensions are decided by the state Legislature.

In a view shared by other fiscal watchdogs, Gelinas suggested that workers share some of the costs, which currently fall almost entirely on taxpayers because of guaranteed benefits for city employees. She noted that health care benefits currently cost the city $10.1 billion and will grow to $11.7 billion in two years. “Keeping that from growing would be good savings,” she said. “Avoid the increase and share costs half and half with workers.”

And the onus is on the mayor to devise creative solutions, she said. “Bill de Blasio certainly hasn’t wanted to cut labor costs in his first term,” she said.

De Blasio, for his part, has recognized health care savings as an avenue where the city can go further. “I think the last agreement was very affirming to me that there's, again, much more where that came from,” he said at the annual State Financial Control Board meeting on August 2, referring to health care costs for public employees. “There's a willingness from our labor partners to think creatively. They understand this is about the longer term fiscal health of the city, they understand that if they want government to be effective, we have to keep finding healthcare savings, and I think there's a surprisingly strong atmosphere of partnership compared to, sort of, what the assumptions were previously. I think everyone has become sober together about the fact that we have to do a lot more on that front, and it is available to us.”

Asked about the current round of negotiations, de Blasio spokesperson Freddi Goldstein said the process was ongoing. “When this Administration came into office, no city worker was under contract,” Goldstein emailed. “Today, over 99 percent of the unions have reached a fair deal. As contracts begin to expire over the next year, we're confident we'll once again be able to reach deals that are both fair to workers and fair to taxpayers.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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With Some Contracts Now Expired, De Blasio Administration Begins Next Labor Negotiations Thu, 10 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Charter Schools Can't Suspend Their Way to Success http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6891:charter-schools-can-t-suspend-their-way-to-success http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6891:charter-schools-can-t-suspend-their-way-to-success mulgrew classroom

Michael Mulgrew, the author (photo: UFT)


Children who miss 20 or more days of school in New York City have lost so much instruction time that they are classified as chronically absent, which studies have linked to lower test scores and higher dropout rates.

So it is hard to see the educational purpose behind Success Academy's suspending a special-needs 7-year-old for 45 days, even if some form of alternative instruction was provided. This one recent example is part of a much larger pattern, both for Success Academy and the larger charter school sector it is the leader of.

Sadly, Success Academy is far from the outlier in the charter sector in the use of suspensions as a punitive tool.

A 2016 study by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles, found charters nationwide suspended African-American and special-needs students at a disproportionately higher rate than their white or non-disabled classmates. The report was the first national review of charter school discipline.

In New York City, although the charter school student population was less than 7 percent of the system's total enrollment, charter schools accounted for nearly 42 percent of all suspensions, according to a review by The Atlantic of 2014 state suspension data.

Charter schools accounted for 48 of the top 50 New York City schools with the highest suspension rates for the same year. The Icahn Charter #7 in the Bronx reported giving out 142 suspensions to its 99 students that year, the highest suspension rate in the city. Achievement First Crown Heights Charter reported issuing 200 suspensions to its roughly 940 students that same year.

Teachers know that there is a place for suspension of children who are dangerous to themselves or others, or who constantly make learning impossible for their classmates. The UFT fought to ensure that the system's new discipline policy included the ability for a principal to suspend even the youngest children, though the potential loss of learning time means that suspension should always be a last resort.

But we also know that it takes time, energy, and public scrutiny to move from punitive, after-the-fact discipline codes to pro-active, restorative practices that can change school climate. At the UFT, we have joined with the city Department of Education to create a package of training and techniques to help staff identify and deal with issues proactively, known as the Positive Learning Collaborative.

At schools enrolled for three years in this joint venture, suspensions are down, as are the kinds of incidents that used to trigger them. And perhaps more important, the satisfaction of children, staff, and parents in the schools is up.

Charters need to do similar work, and do it publicly to regain the trust of the public, particularly parents and students.

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Michael Mulgrew is president of the United Federation of Teachers. On Twitter @UFT.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Charter Schools Can't Suspend Their Way to Success Tue, 25 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Facts About Fair Student Funding in New York City http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6828:facts-about-fair-student-funding-in-new-york-city http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6828:facts-about-fair-student-funding-in-new-york-city james merriman nyccsc

James Merriman, the author


The New York City Independent Budget Office, the nonpartisan government watchdog, recently issued a report with some startling findings: Students in public charter schools will receive a lot less public funding and support this year than students in district schools. How much less? The IBO found that the gap started at $1,100 per student if the charter school is co-located in a public school building and shot up to nearly $5,000 if it isn’t.

And, the IBO found that the future is even grimmer—that gap will grow in 2017-18 and beyond as district expenditures rise by billions more a year.

None of this is a surprise to those in charter schools. For the past several years, they have watched as Mayor de Blasio poured millions into failing Renewal Schools, and increased the district’s budget to pay for raises for teachers. As a result, DOE’s budget has grown by 16% over the last three years while the amount that charter schools receive grew by only 3.7%.

That’s why this year the city’s public charter schools and the families they serve are united around getting more equitable funding. Proposals put forth by Governor Cuomo and the state Senate are a step in the right direction.

Apparently, though, simple fairness in funding between a child in a district school and a child in a charter school is an idea that UFT President Michael Mulgrew cannot stomach. That’s why the UFT is throwing everything it can at the wall to deny charter students more funding, hoping that people will ignore the IBO’s findings.

The UFT’s latest hail Mary is a “report” that shows that the 216 public charter schools in New York City last year had substantial cash assets, some $325 million. Thus, says Mulgrew, charter schools don’t need additional funding.

Unfortunately for the union, the report doesn’t stand up to basic scrutiny.

If you average $325 million across the city’s 216 charter schools, that means each school has roughly $1.5 million in the bank. It’s a pittance when you take into account that charter schools are organized as not-for-profits and best financial practice requires that they maintain three to six months of operating revenue as cash on hand. After all, a public charter school doesn’t have a dedicated tax base, can’t go to the bank (or state) and quickly access credit if they get hit with unexpected expenses like needing to fix a roof or put in a new boiler. That’s why so many schools prudently hold funds to plan for emergencies.

The UFT also ignores the fact that, unlike their district counterparts, charter schools have to find their own buildings where they can create new schools or expand. They don’t have multi-billion dollar capital budgets as does the city for its own schools. At the same time, the UFT has been pressuring Mayor de Blasio to squeeze public charter schools by refusing them space in district-owned buildings.

In other words, the UFT has done its darndest to create conditions that have caused charter schools to plan for a rainy day and then damned them for buying an umbrella.

These inconsistencies don’t surprise us, but they do become a distraction from the real story about New York City’s charter schools – that they are consistently among the best and most popular public schools in the state, particularly for disadvantaged African-American and Hispanic students. Not focusing on that is undoubtedly the UFT’s intention. But in the end we are confident lawmakers will make their budget decision on the merits, and here the facts are clear: charter schools aren’t receiving their fair share of funding. They, and the children they educate, deserve to. It’s that simple.

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James Merriman is CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. On Twitter @Charter411.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Facts About Fair Student Funding in New York City Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Charters: Flush With Cash, Yet Still Trying to Pull Funds from Neighborhood Public Schools http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6824:charters-flush-with-cash-yet-still-trying-to-pull-funds-from-neighborhood-public-schools http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6824:charters-flush-with-cash-yet-still-trying-to-pull-funds-from-neighborhood-public-schools uft teacher floor

(photo: UFT)


Even as they are pleading poverty to the Legislature in Albany, charter schools across New York State are sitting on nearly half a billion dollars in cash and unrestricted assets.

An investigation by the state teachers union has shown that New York City charter schools alone have at least $323 million in unrestricted net assets, most of it in cash. When you add in charters in the rest of New York State, the sector as a whole has unrestricted assets of more than $450 million.

Those are resources that can be used to pay for academic programs, support staff, and rent of school facilities.

But despite these available funds, New York's charter chains are lobbying for more public support in the form of increased tuition reimbursements, additional rent subsidies, and the elimination of the cap on the number of charters – all of which would siphon off public funds that could go to the state’s traditional public schools.

Charters are famously resistant to transparency, and anyone wanting to find out how much cash charters have on hand, or how much they pay their top managers, has to track down audits and non-profit tax returns on the internet.

A review of these documents shows that in New York City alone the Uncommon Schools chain has cash and unrestricted assets totaling more than $28 million; Success Academy has more than $22 million; and Democracy Prep have more than $14 million.

Ignoring these facts, Republicans in the state Senate have proposed to eliminate the charter cap and drain an additional $334 million statewide that could go to traditional public schools, sending that money instead to charters.

Charter cheerleaders constantly complain that the UFT is an enemy of charters. But the fact is that we represent teachers at a number of New York City charter schools and support their original purpose: to be incubators of innovation that can then be spread across the public school system.

But to achieve that goal, charters have to be a vibrant part of the system and also be accountable to parents and taxpayers. Right now, New York charters are not.

Despite a 2010 change in charter law, too many charter chains still fail to accept and keep all students, and they have significantly lower numbers of English language learners, special education students, and homeless children than neighborhood public schools.

And too many charter chains have fought even the most basic accountability measures, such as audits of their finances or reviews of their school discipline policies.

As budget negotiations continue in Albany, the state Assembly right now is seeking to hold charters more accountable.

Charters would have to be transparent in how they raise and spend their funds to make sure tax dollars are spent in the classroom. They would need to report how much they pay their top managers and management companies.

They would need to abide by guidelines that they accept and keep all children and make sure the number of high-needs children they educate is comparable to the number educated in neighboring public schools.

As a measure of good faith, one of the first things charters could do is to acknowledge that many of their schools do not need the tuition and rent hikes they seek, particularly when their increases would come at the expense of New York City’s neighborhood public schools.

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Michael Mulgrew is President of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). On Twitter @UFT.

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Charters: Flush With Cash, Yet Still Trying to Pull Funds from Neighborhood Public Schools Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Players in 2009 Mayoral Control Fight Take Different Positions in 2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6349:players-in-2009-mayoral-control-fight-take-different-positions-in-2016 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6349:players-in-2009-mayoral-control-fight-take-different-positions-in-2016 de blasio albany testimony state senate

De Blasio testifies in Albany, May 4 (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)


In 2009, then rank-and-file Assembly Member Carl Heastie was the lead sponsor of a bill designed to weaken then Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ability to determine education policy in New York City. Seven years later, Assembly Speaker Heastie is thought to be Mayor Bill de Blasio’s greatest ally in the fight to renew the system of mayoral control of city schools as is.

The 2009 bill, called the Better Schools Act, would have removed the mayor’s ability to name the majority of members of the Panel For Educational Policy, allowed the city’s Independent Budget Office to audit "financial investments and academic achievement," and provided training for parents and teachers to be more involved in the system.

The bill never came to a vote in the Assembly as then Speaker Sheldon Silver was a supporter of mayoral control. The bill died in the education committee two years in a row. It did, however, get a vote in the Senate in July 2009 where it was voted down. Bloomberg, in 2002 the first mayor given mayoral control of schools, won a six-year extension.

That extension came due mid-way through de Blasio’s second year in office last year and the mayor was given just one year more as his ongoing conflicts with Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, dominated policy-making in a turbulent Albany rocked by scandal.

Both Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo disagree with de Blasio on several aspects of education policy, like support for charter schools, while also having major political problems with the mayor.

Cuomo has proposed a three-year extension and stayed out of the public discussion, but the dynamics between de Blasio and Senate Republicans appear to have killed any chance at a nuanced debate as an extension is again being considered and de Blasio was asked to participate in two May hearings on mayoral control of the schools. He attended the first, in Albany, and sat for four hours of testimony, but declined to appear at the second, in New York City, letting his schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña appear. Senate Republicans, especially Majority Leader John Flanagan, were not happy.

The irony, which applies to many involved in this education debate, is that de Blasio’s belief in the concentrated system of power that mayoral control provides more closely aligns with his biggest critics, while de Blasio’s allies are forced to support a system they largely criticized under Bloomberg.

Education reform groups, largely funded by major donors to Senate Republicans, have staged protests of de Blasio’s policies, but continue to support mayoral control as a governing system. The city’s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), was often at odds with Bloomberg and is very close with de Blasio, but has not been a vocal supporter of mayoral control. The UFT and Senate Republicans are often antagonists and the union declined to testify at either hearing this month.

Sen. Diane Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Conference from Staten Island, was a cosponsor of the Better Schools Act and said it was obvious to her why the tune in Albany has changed. “Then it was Bloomberg and now it’s de Blasio. It’s just about who is mayor,” Savino told Gotham Gazette. “Quite frankly politics has taken over the issue in both houses. We should be talking about how to make the system better. The concerns everyone had in 2009 are still concerns today. If the PEP was a problem then, the PEP is a problem now. If parental involvement was a problem then, it’s a problem now.”

Heastie’s office did not return request for comment on his past support of the bill and whether he would be interested in voting on a bill that alters the current school governance system. A spokesperson for Senate Republicans declined to comment on Heastie’s support and whether Flanagan is considering changes to mayoral control. Flanagan has been critical of de Blasio on a number of fronts, including in a statement after the mayor’s Albany testimony in which Flanagan said de Blasio had not answered questions to his satisfaction.

The Better Schools Act would have expanded the PEP from 13 to 17 members serving two-year terms, with the mayor appointing eight members, each borough president one, one by the City Council, one by the Governor, and one by each head of the Assembly and Senate majorities.

Now, the panel’s 13 members include eight appointed by the mayor and one each by the five borough presidents.

“Bloomberg had gravitas and immense wealth; de Blasio has neither,” said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College, when asked what he saw as the major difference between the 2009 and 2016 battles for extending mayoral control.

In 2009 Senate Republicans were Bloomberg’s greatest ally. The mayor was seen by many as the conference’s financier, but for the first time in decades they were technically no longer in control of the chamber. That is until then Senator Dean Skelos teamed with rogue Democratic Senators Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate to stage a coup, suddenly casting a leadership vote that other Democrats protested. The following legal and political battles saw the chamber sit empty for months. State government was crippled and mayoral control expired. Technically, the system reverted back to the old Board of Educaiton set-up with more decentralized power, something many have called inefficient, ineffective, and rife with nepotism and corruption.

When Democrats regained control of the chamber in 2009 then Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson insisted on making a number of changes to mayoral control to increase parental involvement, angering Bloomberg. Sampson and other Democrats continued to hold a grudge against Bloomberg for his generous financial support of Senate Republicans.

Despite their general support for Bloomberg, a number of city-based Republicans at the time also advocated changes to increase parental participation in education decision making.

Some of the major players against mayoral control included Sampson, Espada and Senators Carl Kruger and Shirley Huntley. All of them have since been convicted on corruption charges (as has Skelos).

Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters, a group that is opposed to mayoral control, said she recalls being disillusioned after having a much-anticipated meeting with Assembly Speaker Silver (also since convicted on corruption charges). “He just shrugged and blew us off. We made no headway with him whatsoever,” said Haimson. “We didn't have a chance in hell getting anything through because Shelly Silver wouldn't do anything and we knew Senate Republicans were going to do anything Bloomberg wanted, that was very clear.”

Eventually Bloomberg abandoned negotiating with Senate Democrats and invoked Neville Chamberlain in a an interview. Senate Democrats were outraged saying Bloomberg had compared them to Nazis. Asked by a reporter whether he meant to compare Democratic state senators to Nazis, Bloomberg replied: “I certainly did. What part of that did they not understand? This is ridiculous." The mayor’s team later walked things back, saying he hadn’t heard the question.

The New York Post, meanwhile, ran a month-long series of pieces highlighting the benefits of mayoral control, titled “City Schools, City Rules.” The Post later celebrated its own coverage, running an August 2009 story with collected quotes from public officials, including Bloomberg, praising its reporting on the subject and taking some credit for the deal that was reached. Post front pages that spring had been unsparing, salacious attacks on the dysfunction in Albany - the paper even sent a clown and had her pose for pictures with legislators. Those pictures later became even more salacious covers.

The deal that was struck gave Bloomberg a six-year extension, but included new checks and balances: the IBO with more oversight over education spending, required hearings over the potential closure of underperforming schools, and Panel for Education Policy approval of Department of Education contracts worth more than $1 million.

Last year, as mayoral control was heading toward sunset, the Legislature was rocked by the indictments of its legislative leaders - Silver and Skelos. The Legislature was finding its footing under the new leadership of Assembly Speaker Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Flanagan as the mayoral control deadline approached. Bloomberg was no longer mayor, his large donations to Senate Republicans had ceased. Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, and de Blasio were developing a strong alliance.

De Blasio not only wasn’t donating to Republican candidates - quite the opposite - he was finding creative ways to donate to swing-district Democratic candidates in their bids to unseat Republicans and win back control of the chamber. Flanagan balked at proposals to renew mayoral control by the six years it been extended under Bloomberg or even the three proposed by Gov. Cuomo and others. De Blasio was calling for it to be made permanent. When the legislative session’s “big ugly” hodgepodge of legislation was unveiled, de Blasio was left with a somewhat shocking one-year extension.

The mayor knew Senate Republicans were behind the minimal renewal, but he also blamed Cuomo for not going to bat for him - part of why de Blasio unleashed a very public tirade against Cuomo on June 30.

This year, de Blasio’s position is even weaker and Albany only slightly less chaotic. The year started with the convictions of both Skelos and Silver and then news of federal investigations into de Blasio’s fund-raising and Cuomo’s economic development programs. Senate Republicans are now on edge as they lost the seat Skelos held for decades to Democrat Todd Kaminsky and they face the prospects of a number of aging and retiring members. But the de Blasio scandal has given them hope as the probe into his 2014 fundraising for those state Senate races has led investigators to a number of districts with races that could determine control of the chamber. Democrats are sure to continue to dominate the Assembly. Carl Heastie remains de Blasio’s most important Albany ally.

Flanagan has held hearings on mayoral control over de Blasio’s head. The first hearing, on May 4, went smoothly by most accounts, with Democrats and Republicans praising the mayor’s responses and saying they expected a renewal. But Flanagan later issued a statement criticizing the mayor’s testimony, saying, “Too often, the mayor showed a disturbing lack of personal knowledge about the city schools. In addition, he has left too many unanswered questions and failed to provide specifics on many of the issues raised by my colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Until that occurs, I will not entrust this mayor with the awesome responsibility of operating the New York City school system.”

De Blasio then decided not to testify at the second hearing last week, further angering Flanagan.

"I am extremely disappointed the Mayor doesn't believe this hearing is significant enough to attend," he said. "With the future of mayoral control at stake, Mayor de Blasio has left too many unanswered questions about his stewardship of the New York City school system."

During both hearings this year, Democratic Senators have repeatedly mentioned that they favor renewing mayoral control for de Blasio but are concerned about how another mayor might run the system. The issues of oversight and parental involvement have been raised yet again by people on both sides of the aisle. De Blasio and many others - including the 100-plus business leaders who announced their endorsement of an immediate extension - have argued that the discussion is not about a particular mayor’s policies, but about the mayoral control system as a governance structure.

“Politics seems to be major factor in people's positions now, and politics should not decide the governance of the education system for the largest city in the country,” said Haimson. “Whether you are for or against a particular mayor shouldn't come into it. It is supposed to be about whether the system works.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Players in 2009 Mayoral Control Fight Take Different Positions in 2016 Sun, 22 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Is Mayor De Blasio Putting Students First? http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6146:is-mayor-de-blasio-putting-students-first http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6146:is-mayor-de-blasio-putting-students-first de blasio education

Mayor de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office)


Mayor de Blasio's annual State of the City address is a natural time to take a step back and review his performance running the largest school system in the United States. For StudentsFirstNY, our most basic litmus test for policymakers is a simple question – are they putting the interests of students first? After two full years with Mayor de Blasio, we can definitively say that the answer is "no."

In analyzing Mayor de Blasio's stewardship of city schools, there are several themes that emerge. First, there is a distinct lack of urgency in delivering results for students. Second, his policies are not based on research. He has ignored evidence that programs like small schools and expanded choice work. Third, he has not shown results on failing schools. And finally, the mayor has ignored teacher quality.

Throughout the course of his time in office, this mayor has not shown much fondness for the details of his job. He seems more comfortable pondering the course of progressive philosophy or knocking on doors in Iowa, for example, than he does in setting specific timelines and metrics for results. Take his much-hyped program to have every child read by third grade. The goal is noble, but he doesn't promise results that can be measured until 2026 – long after he is gone from office. What good does that do for kids who will be trying to learn to read this year, or next year, or for years after that?

A strong education leader understands that setting realistic short-term targets is essential to tracking results and ensuring progress towards a greater goal. Without real, deliverable metrics, these programs are little more than press releases with empty promises that may never come to fruition.

Another hallmark of Mayor de Blasio's time in office has been a fundamental rejection of data and research-based decision-making. Under Mayor Bloomberg, the school system was improving – but Mayor de Blasio has rejected the use of evidence as a personal rebuke of his predecessor. In its place is a menu of nice sounding initiatives that have never been shown to actually improve educational outcomes for kids.

Time and time again, Mayor de Blasio has opted to make education decisions based on politics, even when it means rejecting policies that have a proven track record of success. Take small schools as an example. Countless studies have shown that small schools work, but the de Blasio administration has rejected them for political reasons.

The same is true with charter schools. Even though New York City has the longest waiting list in the country, with tens of thousands of parents hoping to get spots for their kids in charter schools, the mayor has fought tooth-and-nail against them. Why? It's not about serving kids; the mayor's political allies in the teachers union want to stifle their competition.

These politically-motivated decisions threaten to trap another generation of students in failing schools, with no hope of a turnaround. The "Renewal" model was supposed to be Mayor de Blasio's signature program, but so far it has accomplished little for kids in the city's lowest performing schools. Some Renewal schools hit their target goals before the program had even started – a sure sign of artificially low expectations. And despite the claims of progress, objective student achievement measures show that these schools continue to perform poorly.

Finally, Mayor de Blasio has not lifted a finger to improve teacher quality. He missed a golden opportunity to improve teacher quality with fundamental reforms during the 2014 teacher contract negotiations. Instead of reform, de Blasio caved to the UFT on every key issue – everything from merit pay for great teachers to eliminating the unwanted teachers from the ATR pool. The mayor likes to call this "collaboration," but in reality, the UFT gets what it wants at the expense of kids. So students are stuck with ineffective teachers and the teachers that no principal wants are forced back into the classroom.

At the end of the day, we need to know that students are learning and have access to the highest quality schools possible. Halfway through Mayor de Blasio's term, it's not enough to talk a good game. It's time to deliver results.

***
Jenny Sedlis is the Executive Director of StudentsFirstNY. On Twitter @JennySedlis & @StudentsFirstNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Is Mayor De Blasio Putting Students First? Thu, 04 Feb 2016 17:04:12 +0000
Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5926:kleins-newspaper-touts-his-ability-to-bring-home-the-bacon http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5926:kleins-newspaper-touts-his-ability-to-bring-home-the-bacon klein riverdale record

Sen. Klein's "newspaper"


The latest edition of the "newspaper" being published by state Senator Jeff Klein features frontpage news celebrating his ability to bring cash home to his Bronx district.

"UFT, educators herald Klein's $1.5M support for community schools," reads one frontpage headline.

Another: "Community applauds Klein for securing $250K for Hudson River Greenway study."

The timing is interesting given that the latest edition of "Riverdale Record" - circulation 37,000 - hit mailboxes just as Klein and the large sums of funding he secured have come under scrutiny by the press and good government groups.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo once railed against member items and pushed to abolish them but this year they returned with a vengeance, given Cuomo's approval, and Klein, an ally to both Cuomo and Senate Republicans, appears to be the biggest beneficiary by far.

The leader of the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, Klein has been in a unique bargaining position over the last several years. Klein has brought home over $11.7 million in earmarks from the State and Municipal Projects Fund over the last three years, more than three times that of any other Senator, Politico New York reported on Monday. That funding is allocated through the Dormitory Authority to projects like building basketball courts, improving parks, and installing security systems in public places.

The funding Klein touts on his new front page do not appear to be from that allotment of cash, nevertheless it fuels Bronx-based critics who say Klein has been leveraging his largesse to combat or silence local media outlets. Those critics say Klein's "newspaper" is just another weapon that allows him to avoid scrutiny and damage the legitimate Bronx press.

klein paper

Klein's Democratic critics say his take home in pork projects is a reward from Senate Republicans for helping them keep their thin majority instead of enabling Democrats to seize the chamber.

Good government groups say the current member item system is ripe for corruption and political abuse. "It is stunning that the process of handing out legislative pork was restarted during the most disastrous session in history after the two most powerful Senators and the most powerful Assemblyman were toppled by corruption inquiries," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, referring to Tom Libous, Dean Skelos, and Sheldon Silver. "To restart the process now shows utter obtuseness to the corruption that is going on."

Klein broke from Senate Democrats in 2011 after Republicans won the majority, creating the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). Klein said the move was motivated by dysfunction in the mainstream Democratic caucus, but Democrats and advocates have since accused Klein of creating the party simply to increase his power and ability to bargain with Senate Republicans.

Klein did in fact partner with Senate Republicans to give them a majority in 2012 when Democrats won a numerical majority. The IDC has enjoyed increased staff funding and more legislative input. Even after Republicans won an outright majority, they have continued to try to keep Klein happy as an insurance policy against future Democratic victories.

Now critics have even more ammunition against Klein's motives as the cold hard numbers are available. To put Klein's State and Municipal Projects Fund awards in perspective you just have to look at what the most senior members of the Senate Republicans were awarded. Former Majority Leader Dean Skelos won $3.6 million, Sen. George Martins, $3.5 million, and former Sen. Tom Libous, nearly $3 million.

A spokesperson for Klein defended the member items to Politico New York, saying it "funds important government projects throughout New York State."

Many legislators argue member items are important because they allow politicians to deliver for the most worthy causes in their districts. The Bronx has traditionally been underserved by state government, but Klein is not the only representative of the area and according to the list of member items released by Senate Republicans, only Republicans and members of the IDC were able to deliver this type of funding for their districts.

Good government groups note that the process has been abused many times and has led to embezzlement and corruption. Some groups call for depoliticizing the process by giving members discretionary funding based on the population of their districts.

Kaehny, of Reinvent Albany, said he believes if the state insists on giving out member items it should follow the model created by the New York City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

In 2014, the Council overhauled its member item process after a number of members were caught directing funds to projects that benefited them or their friends and family. The old process was also routinely criticized because it allowed the council speaker to punish and reward Council members. Now members bring home nearly equal funding to their districts, with some variance based on poverty levels.

[Related: In Battle with Local Bronx Media, Klein Starts Own 'Newspaper']

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

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Klein's 'Newspaper' Touts His Ability to Bring Home the Bacon Wed, 07 Oct 2015 23:32:21 +0000
How To Become a New York City Council Member http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5862:how-to-become-a-new-york-city-council-member http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5862:how-to-become-a-new-york-city-council-member bdb cms muni id alatriste

Mayor de Blasio, a former Council member, with several current CMs (William Alatriste)


Ask any New York City Council member and they'll tell you— there is no set formula that will send an aspiring candidate to City Hall.

"If you want to be a lawyer, the path is the same: get a bachelor's degree, take the LSATs, go to law school, take the bar exam, and voila, you're a lawyer," Ritchie Torres, the 51-member Council's youngest rep, told Gotham Gazette. "Whereas in politics, there is no single path."

Torres' ascent to deputy leader in the Council— he is an openly gay, Afro-Latino, college drop-out who grew up in public housing in the Bronx— is perhaps most emblematic of this truth, reflected in the broad expanse of backgrounds present in today's class of Council members.

The sole member of the Council with a doctorate of medicine, Mathieu Eugene, has another unique story. "I grew up in a country of many challenges. If somebody told my mother when I was a child, 'your son will be an elected official in New York,' she would've said, 'you're crazy,'" said the Haitian-born Eugene, of Brooklyn.

But while it's true that there's not a single path to becoming a member of the New York City Council, it is also true - as indicated by data and Council members' own admissions - that some paths are more commonly travelled than others.

Gotham Gazette found that nearly 40 percent of current Council members have served on the staff of a Council member or state Assembly member, with 60 percent of that group serving as chief of staff; and nearly 30 percent of Council members served on a community board.

Several Council members have come to the body directly from the state Assembly, the path being taken by soon-to-be Council Member Joseph Borrelli, of Staten Island. Borrelli is running unopposed in a special election to replace former Council Member Vincent Ignizio, who resigned recently to take a non-profit leadership job.

Meanwhile, last Thursday's primary day saw Barry Grodenchik emerge from a crowded Democratic field in a race to fill a vacant Queens Council post. Grodenchik, a former Assembly member and current aide to the Queens Borough President, still has to defeat a general election opponent, but is favored to do so.

Asked about his government experience preparing him for the Council, Grodenchik emailed Gotham Gazette to say that elected officials deal with many challenges in office, one being "the level of bureaucracy you sometimes face in navigating government on behalf of constituents." He believes that "experience doing so matters - and I believe my experience in the Assembly, as well as at [Queens] Borough Hall will help me be a better Councilman if elected."

Grodenchik continued to say that throughout his "career in public service" he's "gained insight on how to get things done in government." His experience likely appeals to voters, especially the small number willing to vote on a Thursday in an "off-year." It is also what led him to garner the support of the Queens County Democratic "establishment," which helped him get elected - establishment support is often a key to electoral victory in City Council races.

While many Council members come from other parts of government, including elected bodies like the Assembly, their predecessors' staffs, and local community boards, others come from community organizing and labor. Some enter the Council from the private sector, but usually have community ties to speak of.

Gotham Gazette spoke with current Council members about their journeys to City Hall and how the demographics of the Council are changing.

Chief of Staff
Many Council members who served in the role of chief of staff look back on the job as a pivotal position that gave them the tools to be an effective Council member.

"I think that anyone considering running for office should have some experience in government because I think it's important for people to know about the job that they are seeking," Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos said. Kallos served as chief of staff to former Assembly Member Jonathan Bing. "I can say that being a chief of staff, I was able to learn about the most important part of the job, which is constituent services and helping individuals with their cases."

Kallos also said he was able to learn about "how the legislative process works, how to get things done in a collegial environment...and ultimately as a chief of staff you get to learn a lot about the different jobs and what is necessary to run a well-functioning office."

Queens Council Member Costa Constantinides told Gotham Gazette his experience working as deputy chief of staff to former Council Member James Gennaro provided him with a strong skillset on which to run.

"When I made the choice to run for City Council I had a foundation in policies and I felt that was really important," Constantinides said. "I talked about, 'I have a record of getting bills passed, I have a record of knowing how this institution works, I have a record of taking on real fights already.'"

Council Member Torres, a former constituent liaison for now colleague Council Member Jimmy Vacca, said the role of chief of staff is particularly crucial: it allows for "far more access to the political establishment" than employees in a Council member's district office have.

"Yes, one path to elected office could be employment in the office of an elected official, but within that category there are huge differences between chief of staff and the role of a constituent organizer," Torres said. "The center of political action tends to be in City Hall and if you're in the district office, you're disconnected from the political dynamics."

Underlining the importance of working for an elected official: when asked what advice they would give a college student aspiring to serve as a Council member, each current member interviewed by Gotham Gazette suggested interning for a Council member or working on a campaign for City Council.

Community Boards & Name recognition
For many interested in helping their community, joining a community board is a natural first step, and one that may develop into the desire to run for City Council. For some, the perception exists that community boards may be used a springboard or requisite stop along the road for aspiring elected officials.

"Absolutely, community boards are supposed to be a voice for the community and naturally those that are providing that voice will be interested [in becoming a Council member], but often times— and one of the things I'm trying to discourage— is a place where it becomes a solely-owned subsidiary of the political establishment where it just ends up being full of people running for office," said Kallos, who served on Community Board 8. "So there needs to be a delicate balance."

To that end, Kallos is pushing community board reform legislation, including term limits.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a former Council member and community board member now in charge of appointing community board members, sees the boards practically, as a place where aspiring Council members can learn about the issues facing their community. If successful and effective as a board member, Brewer says, individuals can make a name for themselves and help their communities.

Brewer disagrees with Kallos' assertion that community boards are overly politicized (a fact they both amiably alluded to in interviews— Brewer is opposed to Kallos' term limits bill), noting that her office interviewed over 700 community board candidates this year alone.

"If you are going to be on the community board, you're going to take it seriously. So I think we are beyond the politicization, what's happened in the past is in the past," Brewer said, referring to more stringent reforms in the application and appointment processes now in place. "So I think people who think they're going to get on [the board] just so they can run for office— I mean it could happen, if you do a really good job on the community board then you should run, in my opinion, because you know the issues."

Brewer says it is good that for aspiring elected officials community boards can be a training ground and necessary step.

"I think unless you have some extraordinary circumstance in terms of name recognition, which I did not, and most people don't, then if you're a college student and you want to be a lawyer and then come back and run for office, you really do need to get on the community board, make a difference somehow," Brewer said, citing Helen Rosenthal and Corey Johnson as examples of current Council members who showed promise as leaders on their community boards. Rosenthal was elected in 2013 to replace Brewer on the Council.

"I have found it now that I'm on the Council really helpful that I was on the community board for so long," Rosenthal told Gotham Gazette. "I was on it for 15 years, so when issues come up I have a long history on them...So now as a Council member, when these same types of issues come up, I have a good toolbox to draw from."

Name recognition often rules the day when it comes to elections, and for local races, that neighborhood notoriety can be essential. Name recognition can also come in other ways.

"Look, you have the pure insider and the pure outsider," Torres said. "I'm neither purely an insider or purely an outsider, I think most of us fall in a spectrum in between, but I think what was unique about my candidacy was that no one had ever heard of me before. I think most Council members have much more name recognition with the political establishment than I did when I ran for public office."

In speaking of the importance of name recognition, Manhattan BP Brewer referenced the Weprins, of Queens— Assembly Member David Weprin and his brother, former Council Member Mark Weprin. The Weprin brothers have each held both the Assembly and Council seats that they were holding until Mark resigned this spring to work for Governor Cuomo; their father Saul was the Speaker of the Assembly.

Then there is the Rivera family— Assembly Member Jose Rivera and former Council Member Joel Rivera— for over 20 years Joel held the seat Torres now occupies.

Before joining Congress, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke succeeded her mother Una Clarke in the City Council. Current Council Member Inez Barron and her husband, Assembly Member Charles Barron, completed an easy seat swap recently when he was term-limited out of the Council.

But according to political consultant and executive director of the New York State Democratic Party Basil Smikle, candidates with private sector backgrounds who toe the edge of what Torres referred to as the "outsider" side of the spectrum still can be appealing to voters.

"Voters tend to respond to candidates who can convey both an understanding for the issues as well as a passion to actually want to impact them. So you can be active in your community and not convey to a voter that you want the job. You can work in the private sector and be able to speak of a vision with a fervor that come across to the voter," Smikle said.

"I think ultimately no matter what path you take," Smikle continued, "having that so-called 'fire in the belly' always is important no matter where you come from and no matter what your trajectory. Having said that, I think even if you come from the private sector you still need to have a sense of what is going on with the voters in your neighborhood. You have to know that. A voter needs to know you can take whatever it is in your background up until this point and apply it to their situation."

Labor unions
"Unions are the other place people come out of," Brewer said. "It's where Melissa [Mark-Viverito, the current Speaker] came out of, where [Council Member] Annabel Palma came out of...You have to have some unions with you to win."

Council Member Daniel Dromm was a delegate and chapter chair for the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) before he became a Council member and enjoyed the union's support once he decided to run. Dromm told Gotham Gazette that the UFT had thrown him an early endorsement in 2008 a few months before term limits were extended, enabling the Council member he was running against to seek a third term.

"So the UFT had to make a decision again the following June what to do because the incumbent who was also very supportive of the union decided she was going to run, and what they decided to do was do a dual endorsement," Dromm said. "But at that point I had gotten what I had needed out of the endorsement from the UFT, so it was very helpful to me in that sense and gave my candidacy a lot of legitimacy."

It is well-known that in Democrat-heavy New York City, unions can make a difference both in building legitimacy and name-recognition, but also in helping get out the vote come primary day. New York City Council elections often see crowded Democratic primaries, as was the case when Rosenthal was elected in 2013 and the primary that Grodenchik just won in Queens.

Smikle told Gotham Gazette that earning the support of unions is important both operationally and symbolically.

"You're still looking to represent districts that chances are have labor union representation among your constituents. If you're living in an area that has a large number of TWU workers, [for example], that union endorsement is very important. If other unions come on board, it looks like you are a friend to the working people, to laborers, and you get the symbolism that's attached to that as well because you're not just a friend to organized labor, you're a friend to people's aspirations. That is extraordinarily important," Smikle said.

The shift in demographics
The power unions hold to get candidates elected underlines the importance of having contacts in politics.

"If you're a poor kid from the Bronx without a college education and no position in politics, for all intents and purposes you have no means of fundraising," Torres said. "You have no social capital, no economic capital, no rolodex you can tap into for fundraising purposes. So you either need to have some position— even if you're at the margins of the political establishment, you need some position in politics— or you need to be part of the professional class."

Brewer, however, said that being a part of the professional class may actually put candidates at a disadvantage compared to people involved in community organizing or activism.

"If you work on Wall Street and then decide to come back and run, then you'll be able to raise money but you won't know the people...In Manhattan you can always raise more money whether you're on a community board, work for an elected official, or not," Brewer said.

The public campaign financing system in New York City, which provides public matching funds for small donations, "gives you the opportunity," Brewer said, "to raise a little money and still win. What you have to do is develop your own list. Initially you run and win financing-wise on friends and family."

At a forum hosted by the Campaign Finance Board in July, Council Member Eric Ulrich, a Republican from Queens, also emphasized the importance of the city's matching funds program in equalizing the playing field for aspiring Council members.

"If it were not for the Campaign Finance Board I would never have been elected to City Council. I did not come from a political family, I came from a single parent household, we didn't come from money," Ulrich told attendees.

Constantinides also cited the CFB's matching program as being a game changer, adding the importance of the change in term limits.

"That's a huge, huge part to seeing this demographic shift," Constantinides said, referring to the changes in the age, race, and ethnic diversity in the Council. "Term limits have changed, it's leveled the playing field, it's allowed people to come in and say- you have matching funds, you're not worried about raising 300-, 400-thousand dollars, you're focused on raising a certain amount and then going out and making your case to your constituents."

The demographic shift to which Constantinides references came at the confluence of the implementation of stricter term limits and the rise of the Progressive Caucus, a liberal bloc of Council members formed in 2010 in response to the Bloomberg administration's more conservative policies and the city's shifting population.

"What you actually saw was this dramatic change in the Council where progressive Council members are helping other progressive Council members [and candidates]," Kallos, who was elected to the Council in 2013 and joined the Progressive Caucus upon taking office in 2014, said. "So whereas typically you'll have seen independent expenditures from the Real Estate Board of New York shaping elections, now what you'll see is organized activity by [progressive] members trying to elect more. So I think what you saw was a much more progressive body getting elected by virtue of members making that happen."

The rise of the caucus, which began with 12 and now includes 19 of the 51 council members (with several other close allies who are not official members), was viewed by many as a shift away from machine politics and toward community organizing and advocacy. But Torres, a caucus member whose ascent into politics is emblematic of this shift, said he thought the picture was more complicated.

"It is certainly true that you have an organized progressive movement, progressive infrastructure that operates independently of the traditional centers of political power, and it is true that the progressive movement has made a priority out of electing younger people to public office, people of color to public office, and more women in public office," Torres, who is 27, said. "So that is true, but I will caution you not to distinguish or completely separate the progressive movement from the establishment."

Even the progressive movement can be in danger of becoming an insider's game, where the progressives who get the endorsements are the ones who have the relationships and can raise money, Torres said. There is also always a question of how closely aligned unions and progressives are with the different county political machines.

"Even in the progressive world, the two currencies are the same: money and relationships," Torres said. "I think someone like me has a greater chance of succeeding in the new world in which we are operating, but I want to caution that. Relationships and money continue to be the dominant forces of politics."

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by Catie Edmondson, Gotham Gazette
@CatieEdmondson

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How To Become a New York City Council Member Thu, 27 Aug 2015 13:23:11 +0000
As He Campaigns for Top Priorities, Many Wonder Where Cuomo is on DREAM http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5734:as-he-campaigns-for-top-priorities-many-wonder-where-cuomo-is-on-dream http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5734:as-he-campaigns-for-top-priorities-many-wonder-where-cuomo-is-on-dream Cuomo EITC

Gov. Cuomo on Sunday in Brooklyn (photo: Office of the Governor - Kevin P. Coughlin)


It was as if Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on the campaign trail again last week, visiting Long Island and Buffalo one day and then four churches and a Yeshiva in Brooklyn on another. Cuomo doesn't have to run for office again for another three years, of course, but his barnstorming last week was designed to promote what he's calling a top priority: passing a $150 million plan mostly aimed at giving tax credits to families whose children attend private and religious schools and to others who donate to those schools. The push is so campaign-like that Cuomo's visage is plastered across television screens in ads sponsored by supporters of the Parental Choice in Education Act.

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As He Campaigns for Top Priorities, Many Wonder Where Cuomo is on DREAM Wed, 20 May 2015 02:19:57 +0000