Saturday, July 28, 2007

Mayoral Control Freak

There is a fascinating analysis piece, one of many that is done by the inimitable Sol Stern, that focuses on the reality behind the mayoral PR campaign about how well the schools are doing under Bloomberg's stewardship. In many ways, the elaborate mayoral burnishing is reminiscent of the current campaign on congestion taxing-lavish spending on media relations designed to conceal some unpleasant truths lying beneath the surface of all the glitter.

In addition, the attempt to create a more sophisticated version of the Marx Brothers' catch phrase-"Who are going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?-leads the way, as it has on traffic taxes, to the further display of Mayor Mike's most natural trait-arrogance. Remember, when confronted by state senate Democrats about some of the fuzzier details of the congestion tax proposal, Mike rudely questioned whether the caucus, elected officials in their own right, had bothered to read his plan.

As Stern underscores, the same attitude of mind over matter-"I don't mind, and you don't matter"-charcaterizes Bloomberg's approach to accountability in education. What the mayor sees as accountability in this area is simply the four year election cycle, and nothing more. After voting, anyone who had a problem with the Bloomberg school agenda could, according to him, "'Boo me at parades.'"

In Stern's view, and one we share for a host of other policy reasons as well; "The arrogance of that response demonstrates how little Bloomberg really seems to care about accountability." But, as Stern points out, this situation isn't simply about the personality flaws of the chief executive.

Bloomberg's attitude about being accountable needs to be seen in the context of his public relations machine; "In fact, his Department of Education routinely undermines accountability with a public-relations juggernaut that deflects legitimate criticism of his education policies dominates the mainstream press uses the schools as campaign props, and, most ominously, distorts student test-score data. Without transparency, real accountability doesn't exist."

This is precisely what we have been saying about the mayor's congestion tax blitzkrieg-a multi-million dollar full court press that co opts the media and distorts data in order to avoid the transparency that is necessary for proper oversight and evaluation. And, as we have also said-mirroring Stern's analysis-all of this is in the service of a special interest: Mike Bloomberg's national ambition.

Why does the DOE have 29 employees in its press office, four times the number in the old Board? This operation is on top of the sophisticated city hall press effort, and doesn't include "...the substantial public-relations and marketing services that the administration has received from companies, either pro bono or paid for by third-party private contributions." Can anyone say REBNY or the NYC Partnership?

In similar fashion to the efforts of the environmental groups on congestion, signed on as beggars at the feast for the mayor's ambitious national plans, we have a group called the Fund for Public Schools that has "launched a two month ad campaign bolstering administration claims that reading and math scores were rising and calling on New Yorkers to 'help keep the progress going.'"

What wasn't mentioned, of course, was the fact, "that Klein was the Fund's chairman or that the mayor's friends, including the Broad Foundation, had helped pay the $1 million cost of the ad campaign." When is the press going to get off its duff and simply connect the dots here; and with the elaborate smoke and mirrors of the congestion tax scheme? The lavish public relations spinning hides what the inn keeper's wife observed about the Master of the House: "He thinks he's quite a lover, but there's not much there."

Once again what we are seeing is the way in which the mayor's great wealth is being put to the use of a special interest-his own; and like all special interests it is cloaked in a public interest garment. Whether it's education or the environment what we will see, if we look closely enough, is the truth of that great fable-"The Emperor has No Clothes."