Two unexpected guests popped in at the Queens Civic Congress’s mayoral control panel last night: Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat who is running for mayor, and City Council Member Bill de Blasio, a Brooklyn Democrat who is running for public advocate. The men displayed different styles and positions on school governance.
Weiner, who finds himself in the tricky position of sharing Mayor Bloomberg’s support for mayoral control, while opposing Mayor Bloomberg, came last and spent his time mingling and chowing down cake in the back of the room as the panel took questions. A crowd of residents and aides surrounding Weiner made so much noise that at one point two women in the audience turned around, glared at the congressman’s pack, and said, “Shh!!”
Later, the vice president of the congress, Edwin Westley, offered Weiner an opportunity to ask the panel members a question. Did he have one? “Not really,” Weiner said. “For me?” Westley said no and asked again if the congressman had a question for the panel. “Not really,” Weiner said, laughing. “I just came for the cake.” Then he strode to the front of the room, where he declared his support for keeping control of the schools firmly in the hands of the mayor. “I believe that it is not the governance system that is to blame, it’s the people doing the governing,” he said.
Weiner’s critique of that governing tapped into frustrations many old-school educators raise about Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. He called Klein a “non-educator” and said his mother, a former schoolteacher, left the system out of frustration. He also criticized Klein for failing to make the school system transparent.
De Blasio arrived at the panel shortly before Weiner and, after some glad-handing, took a spot at the end of a line of half a dozen audience members waiting to ask questions. When his turn came, De Blasio indicated that he supports giving more power to a citywide school board that would serve as a check to the mayor’s power. He made his declaration in the form of question, asking the panelists for their thoughts on “the role of democracy in our schools.” He said that he saw a “chilling effect” on public discussion after Bloomberg passed a social promotion ban in 2004 by firing two school board members who intended to vote against him. Did the panelists think that an empowered school board would prevent bad decisions have happening? he asked.
“I just have a feeling that if I locked Bloomberg in a room and asked him, ‘What’s the best system of rule?’ he’d say autocracy,” De Blasio told me afterward. “I thought we moved past that a long time ago.”