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Quoting Madison, union clears plan to slash power from mayor

A union member quoted James Madison as he spoke in favor of the plan to slash power from the mayor over the schools. (##http://flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2871185877/##Flickr##)

A union member quoted James Madison as he spoke in favor of the plan to slash power from the mayor over the schools. (##http://flickr.com/photos/nostri-imago/2871185877/##Flickr##)

Union members voted overwhelmingly to slash the mayor’s power over the public schools last night. The union plan, publicly released earlier in the week, would eliminate one of the major powers the state legislature gave to the mayor in 2002, as part of a vaunted mayoral control law. That power: effective control over the school board, which is now known as the Panel for Educational Policy and seen as a rubber stamp for the mayor’s will.

The plan — read it here — would give the mayor appointment power over just 5 votes of 13. It would also limit the mayor’s ability to pull disagreeable people off the school board at a moment’s notice. Mayor Bloomberg fired three of his appointees from the board in 2004 after they threatened to vote against a social promotion ban he supported. Critics of the mayor call the event the Monday Night Massacre. City Hall officials and allies say the power allows the mayor to take unpopular positions that are in the interest of children, without having to consider political pressure.

Some union members thought the plan did not slash the mayor’s power enough, and they put out a rival recommendation suggesting that the mayor also lose the power to appoint the schools chancellor. At the union meeting last night, some delegates tried to table the official plan, which president Randi Weingarten endorsed. But Weingarten’s favored plan passed overwhelmingly, according to people who were there.

Peter Goodman, a long-time union member who sat on the commission that drafted the plan, spoke on behalf of it, quoting the Federalist Papers, No. 51:

Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.