Monday, October 06, 2008

Schooling the Mayor

With the mayor's approval rating skyrocketing, the opposition to the term limits power grab has a great deal of work to do; but there's one issue that is sure to roil the next eight months: mayoral control of the schools. In Saturday's NY Times, the paper examines the fate of the policy area that the mayor has always claimed should be the major benchmark for judging his success or failure as the city's chief executive.

In our view, the mayor's decision to extend his term will complicate his effort to continue to exert the kind of mayoral control-one without real transparency or oversight-that he currently enjoys. As the Times observes: "Some of the strongest backers of the Bloomberg administration’s push to renew the state law granting New York City’s mayor control of its public schools have fretted for months that the discussion in Albany would get hopelessly tied to the personality of the current occupant of City Hall."

And now, the personality of the current occupant-his ego and his imperial attitude-will be an even more exacerbating factor, despite what some of his sycophants tell the Times: "With Michael R. Bloomberg’s announcement this week that he will seek another four years as mayor, it is all but certain that the debate over who controls the schools will become a referendum on the politics and policies of Mr. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein."

As expected, the mayor's ubber flack Kathy Wylde sees things differently: "If the mayor succeeds in changing the city’s term limits law, he would instantly become the favorite, and that dynamic would change. Ms. Wylde said Mr. Bloomberg would have more authority and influence over legislators in Albany, as well as the city’s unions, noting: “They can’t say, ‘Well, we don’t know about the next guy.’ ”

No, but they can say, "We know the this guy all too well;" and the political class is a bit more skeptical about the wonders of Bloomberg than the average city billionaire apparently is. The spin around the success of the mayor's stewardship is going to be put to a stern test: "That argument could become a key part of Mr. Bloomberg’s and Mr. Klein’s case to lawmakers: that while they have made major improvements, they should be given the chance to finish their agenda. Indeed, in announcing his decision to seek a third term, Mr. Bloomberg said the city had become a “poster child” for education reform, but added, “we have a lot more to do.”

The deconstruction of Valhalla Bloomberg-something that we've already begun, using Andy Wolf and Sol Stern as our guides- has already commenced: "Billy Easton, director of the Alliance for Quality Education, an Albany-based advocacy group, said that while the mayor and Chancellor Klein routinely trumpet rising test scores and graduation rates, there are still major problems. Less than one-third of black and Hispanic male students are graduating with a Regents diploma, he said. “We don’t even know the full picture of a lot of things yet,” Mr. Easton said. “What we do know is that the spin coming out of the Department of Education is a poster child for how to run a good P.R. campaign.”

The Times goes on to tout that Mayor Mike could, acting like the 800 gorilla, bogart state legislators into doing his bidding: "To be sure, the mayor’s deep pockets and deep support in the business community would help him mount a high-profile campaign for both re-election and renewal of mayoral control. He could also pressure legislators by threatening to back their challengers in the 2010 elections."

Speaker Silver, however, hasn't show much real timidity in shooting down gran mayoral visions-and school control may be next on his agenda; in fact, the mayor's term limits power grab may be seen by Shelly as the ultimate, "Make My Day!" moment: "Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, has said that he would support extending mayoral control, although he has also indicated that he would probably seek more oversight from outside groups. “I think the system is greater than any individual, whether it’s the mayor or the schools chancellor,” he said in an interview on Thursday."

What is badly needed here, is a complete Barium Enema for the mayoral governance issue; we'd be delighted to see some of the harsher realities of the mayor's tenure-the gap between NAEP test results and the state's weaker exams for instance-compared to the 8-10 glossies that the Kleinemen have been distributing to a gullible media and general public.

And than there are the unions-the UFT and Csa-who are chaffing under the current regime: "Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said several union members called on Thursday to voice their anger at the mayor’s announcement, expressing particular concern over the prospect of another four years with Mr. Klein. “There are some very deep negative feelings about the chancellor from teachers,” Ms. Weingarten said. “They don’t feel like he is on their side. So they see all of this in that lens. They are very concerned about not feeling any kind of respect from him again.”

Should the mayor parlay his coup into another term, school control will be front and center. It may turn out that the mayor will find that getting what he wishes for ain't all it's cracked up to be. If it turns out that way, he might regret not having thought harder about quitting while he was ahead