This spring, the West Side Highway’s typical advertising fare also includes a political message that seems aimed at teachers unions.
A billboard advertising Kenneth Cole — the clothing company owned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s brother-in-law — puns to southbound commuters, “Shouldn’t Everyone Be Well Red?” In smaller lettering, the billboard says, “Teachers’ Rights Vs. Students’ Rights …”
The second line evokes a tension drawn out repeatedly by some critics of teachers unions, including Cuomo, who say that unions’ support for teachers’ job protections can stand in the way of students’ education.
The billboard also invites viewers to visit WhereDoYouStand.com, a website maintained by the city-based company, to weigh in on “Issue in the News.” This spring, one of the issues is “Should underperforming teachers be protected?”
That question attracted the company’s attention this winter, as media attention turned to efforts underway across the country to toughen teacher evaluations. Locally, a breakdown in negotiations over evaluations late last year and the controversial public release of reports on teacher performance in February were both accompanied by criticism of teachers unions, including from Cuomo.
“We heard people talking about it in the news,” said an official in Kenneth Cole’s public affairs department who declined to give her name but said she worked on the ad campaign.
“It’s something in the news and being debated, and we wanted to provide a forum where people could discuss it as well,” said the spokeswoman, who added that the billboard is meant to tap into ongoing public discussions, not to attack unions. The ad went up March 14 and is the only one advertising Kenneth Cole in the city, she said.
Education policy positions are hardly common fodder for clothing ads. But Kenneth Cole Productions is known for its advocacy campaigns about pollution, homelessness, and other social concerns, and sometimes the messages address timely political issues. Last year the same Manhattan billboard featured a pro-same-sex marriage message, coinciding with its legalization in New York State.
Kenneth Cole’s three daughters attended private schools; his youngest is currently a senior at a Westchester County private school. The designer is married to Maria Cuomo, whose brother is Gov. Cuomo.