I don't place a lot of stock in endorsements. I don't really care who celebrities endorse (not even Clint Eastwood). And NYC's newspapers are in thrall to or owned by the powers that be (real estate developers, media tycoons). They can't be trusted.
But Diane Ravitch's endorsement of Bill de Blasio is an exception you should respect. For voters who like to think they think and like to think they are progressive, her endorsement brings a presumption of soundness that should give you pause if you are leaning another way than she recommends.
Diane Ravitch is perhaps the leading national critic of the neo-liberal education reform hysteria. She has held both academic and political jobs. She was Undersecretary in the US Department of Education under George H.W. Bush. (41, not 43). So while she lauds (and even helped form) some of the goals of NCLB (at least the goal of improving education for the neediest among our children) she recognizes that it is a terrible,wasteful botch that has been hijacked by idealogues and profiteers.
About de Blasio she writes:
I am proud to support Bill de Blasio for mayor of New York City. I support him because I believe he will be a great mayor with a fresh vision for the city, its families, and its children. It’s time for a change. Bill de Blasio knows that he must rebuild the city’s school system so that there is a good public school in every neighborhood. I endorse his plan to ask the wealthy to pay a little more in taxes so the city can provide universal pre-kindergarten for all four-year-olds and more after-school programs for middle-school students who need them. I am proud to stand with Bill de Blasio for a better New York City.It's nine days until the New York City Mayoral primary. On the Democratic side there are five candidates polling over 5%. De Blasio is polling at +30%, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson poll at around 20% in the polls. If no candidate gets 40% of the Primary vote, then the top two vote winners will go to a run off election, held a couple weeks after the primary.
Bill de Blasio understands that the mayor must stand up for all 1.1 million students in the New York City school system and make the system function well for all of them.
He knows that public education will suffer if the city continues on its present course of privatization, high-stakes testing, and closing of neighborhood schools. He understands that churn and disruption are bad for children, bad for families, bad for schools, and bad for communities. (full entry here)
I think that City Comptroller John Liu and resigned-for-lying ex-congressman Anthony Weiner have no shot, both polling at only 10%. Enough has been said about Weiner; his standing in the polls rules out further discussion by me.
I like Liu. He's a progressive. But scandal in his campaign is at best a sign that he might not be a good manager. (Senior members of his staff were convicted of fraud on a budget of less than $5 million). Liu's poor showing in polls perhaps reflects the trouble he must have persuading us he can manage the City's $60 Billion budget.
So ruling them out that leaves us with Quinn, de Blasio and Thompson.
In choosing among them I look at 'electability', schools, policing, leadership, and developmental priorities.
Quinn maybe the weakest candidate in the general election. Many voters think that her dragooning of the City Council into overturning term limits and letting Bloomberg run for a third term was a 'corrupt bargain'. Of these major candidates she polls with the highest 'negatives'. And in her own district, the closing of Saint Vincent's hospital and its sale to the sole bidder (a real estate developer) has undermined her support.
Quinn could be seen in a better light. She has helped bring two schools into a district now burgeoning with children. And she has helped stop massive teacher layoffs across the city. Her 'high negatives' mean that in a hypothetical general election with Quinn as nominee we'd see a smaller turnout than we would see if Thompson or de Blasio gets the nomination.
Her inside baseball politics don't seem to sell at the Mayoral level. Her commercials have been weak and unimaginative. And truthfully, she hasn't really used the role of Speaker to really lead in a creative fashion. Instead she has been reactive. She was dragged into the school crises and hospital crisis by her constituents, seemingly involved only at the 11th hour.
Her response to stop and frisk and living wage proposals has also been tepid, almost triangulatory. And in education she has failed to show any real understanding of Bloomberg's failures.
Almost a third of the city's budget - $20 Billion - is devoted to schools. And, generally speaking, they don't do a great job. Quinn has done almost nothing to criticize or question the failure of Bloomberg to keep his promise to reduce class size, or to hold him accountable for the use of $8 Billion won from the State to reduce class size in the weakest schools, or to question the reign of test terror imposed by Bloomberg and the consultants unleashed on the schools, or to fight the favoritism for Charter schools. I just don't think she gets it.
When she did stand up for the teachers a couple years ago, it seemed like her real interest wasn't in the kids or teachers but fostering her image as deal-maker.
If she loses the nomination, some bank will snap her up. She is a deal maker.
Thompson is a consensus builder. He is highly electable, an obvious gentleman. And he almost upset Bloomberg 4 years ago (he came within 4%, despite being outspent 20 to 1). Though most voters have probably forgotten.
When he was head of the school board (during the Giuliani administration) he did not have the luxury of 'mayoral control' that Bloomberg has so terribly squandered. (The Mayoral Control Law was passed in 2001). Given the struggles of so many schools, he still managed to designate some of the worst performing schools districts 'Chancellor's Districts' and funnel leadership and resources into aiding overtaxed administration. NYC showed some gains on NAEP tests during and immediately after his tenure. Given his limited power then, that accomplishment says a lot for his mettle.
And he understands the problems of blanket stop and frisk and I believe if he were Mayor he'd take constructive action to rid the us of the grossest racism of this practice.
But overall I worry he's a little too cozy with the neo-liberal school reformers and the powers that be. Perhaps I'm contradicting myself but I find his endorsement by Merryl Tisch (Chair of the State Board of Regents) unsettling, more unsettling than most progressives see his endorsement by former Senator Al D'Amato (?!).
Tisch's oversight has done nothing to ensure that our worst schools and poorest situated kids have gotten real help. Instead she has abetted the 'test prep' mania, including rushing this year the additional burden of imposing demoralizing and time wasting tests on the 'Common Core' before most teachers have even had a chance to adapt their lesson plans to it.
I think Thompson has cautiously moved away from the reform movement, but I haven't heard him really say how he'd do it.
I like Bill Thompson, but just not as much as I like de Blasio.
The Mayor of New York has a bully pulpit and I don't see Thompson using it to lead the fight to roll back the ridiculous waste of George W Bush's NCLB. Bloomberg has certainly put that pulpit to good use on the issue of gun control.
I wholeheartedly agree with Ravitch's assessment of de Blasio's education policies.
His goal of making pre-kindergarten universally available in New York City; and secondly his emphasis on helping fix neighborhood schools and de-emphasing charter schools. He has joined in against the nefarious practice of 'co-location'.
Both of these are sound policy. Students from the poorest backgrounds are much more likely to be ill-prepared for kindergarten. They will have had fewer books read to them, etc.
Likewise, fixing neighborhood schools should be the goal of our reforms. The Milton Friedman bug-a-boo about creating parental 'choice' has been cruelly mis-used by the reformers to undermine neighborhood schools across New York City. Resources have been siphoned off from neighborhood schools by Bloomberg's neo-liberal hacks at the Department of Education.
Here in New York City whole floors of existing schools have been given to Charter Schools (so called 'co-locations'). The charter schools don't pay rent. The charter schools discriminate against children with special needs and children with poor English language skills. (Here is a segmentfrom Friday's "Democracy Now" detailing such abuse). The charters get the best facilities in the buildings they are placed in. Neighborhood schools become more overcrowded and are given fewer facility upgrades. All in the service of 5% of the children. It's all far cry from the idea of parents organizing a new school. Teams of the DOE's MBAs seem to roam the city targeting schools for collapse.
Additionally she lauds de Blasio's willingness to confront income inequality. Now the Mayor has limited say over the national policies that have benefited the wealthiest New Yorkers. (New York County - Manhattan - is among the top five counties nationally in refunds from Bush's tax cuts). But the Mayor can level the playing field a bit. De Blasio has fought the closure of a hospital in his neighborhood. He can try an ensure that service are expanded for all New Yorkers. He would pay for universal pre-k with a 1/2% tax on incomes above $500,000.
And de Blasio has been outspoken in his criticism of the Citizens United decision and the need for real campaign finance reform. (see today's NY Times for an article highlighting this and other aspects of de Blasio's record on the City Council and as Public Advocate. It is not a puff-piece. But it fairly shows his interests.
His record isn't perfect. Still, I think he can lead New York in the right direction.