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A little lady who could end up having a big say on mayoral control

She is privately (and sometimes not-so-privately) loathed by allies of the Bloomberg administration, dismissed as a rabble-rouser whose loud protests represent just a tiny segment of parents. Yet Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters, who targets the administration on the issue of class size and on other subjects, has powerful allies.

Take just one case: At the State of the State address this year in Albany, Haimson sat in a seat many rows ahead of Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Did she steal the chair from an unsuspecting innocent? No, it was the gift of Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, the chair of the education committee, who selected Haimson as her single guest.

“I just love her,” Nolan said. “I feel she’s a real honest advocate and a fellow parent.”

Nolan disclosed this story yesterday in a telephone call. I had just posted a note from Robert Bowen worrying that the teachers union will be the only critical voice heard in the debate on mayoral control. Did Nolan think that was true? I asked.

“Look, I’m a graduate of the school system, and I’m a parent,” Nolan said. “I intend to be as involved as I can be in every aspect of this bill: behind the scenes, in front of the scenes. The person that’s been the treasure for me has been Leonie Haimson.”

The close relationship could elevate Haimson to a powerful role in the backroom deals that ultimately will determine whether the law is scrapped, renewed, or — as increasingly seems likely — revised in some way. In 2002, when the mayoral control law now on the books passed, then-Assembly education chair Steve Sanders was a lead architect

Of course, Haimson herself has often worked closely with the union. But she says she receives no funding from the union, and she helped form a parent commission on school governance that includes some critics of the union, including Bowen. The commission has not yet released its recommendations, but they’re sure to include strong attempts to check the mayor’s power over the public schools.

Haimson said that her bond with Nolan is built on their shared experience as public school parents. “Cathy gets it,” she said. “She has a kid in the public schools, and she understands how parents feel.”

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