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Education donors laid low in recent mayoral fundraising push

Michael Duffy remembers the moment he decided City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was his pick for mayor.

It was in the summer of 2011, at an informal lunch with community leaders that Duffy attended. Duffy, who formerly oversaw the city’s charter schools office, said Quinn gave her unqualified support for the controversial practice of giving charter schools free space in public schools.

“She went right to the issue and said that charters couldn’t grow in the way that they have been able to without co-location and that’s why she thought it was a good policy,” Duffy said last week.

Duffy, now the managing director at Victory Education Partners, went on to contribute $1,250 to Quinn’s campaign and has helped her raise thousands more from charter school leaders.

Most of those contributions came in 2011, however. Donors from the education world largely sat out of mayoral fundraising activities over the past six months, according to campaign filings released last week.

Duffy, who is planning to open a charter school in New York City in 2013, contributed $250 to Quinn this year. The small donation made him one of the only charter school leaders to give to any prospective mayoral campaign so far in 2012.

“Folks are all over the map in terms of their views of the mayoral candidates,” said Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that supports candidates who favor the expansion of charter schools.

With the primary still more than a year away, none of the candidates have fully articulated their education policy positions. Gideon Stein, a board member of the Success Charter Network, said some regular donors with an interest in education have found Quinn and other candidates underwhelming.

“We haven’t seen anybody take a real leadership role in a way that we would like on education reform issues like school choice and co-location,” he said. (Stein serves on GothamSchools’ advisory board.)

Josh Isay, a spokesman for Quinn’s campaign, did not dispute Duffy’s account of her view on co-locations, but he added a caveat.

“[She] believes the Department of Education needs to do a better job of getting community input before these decisions are made.”

The dearth of big education donors is a departure from 2011, when charter school supporters played a more visible fundraising role. Several charter school leaders gave to Quinn’s campaign at a fundraiser that Duffy hosted in December. And last spring, three charter school supporters, including Stein and Williams, gave money to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s campaign just as a co-location battle was waging in his back yard. Stringer ended up staying neutral in the fight, which pitted Eva Moskowitz and her plan to open one of her Success Academy charter schools on the Upper West Side against community members and the teachers union.

One reason for the reduced spending is that the candidates don’t really need a helping hand. All of the Democratic candidates are expected to opt in to the city’s public financing program, which matches donations from city residents and caps spending at $6,426,000 in primary races. To reach the spending limit, candidates need only raise a fraction of that figure because the city kicks in substantial funds for each donation from a city resident. Quinn has hit the limit for what she can spend while still taking public dollars, and the others are expected to follow suit in the coming months.

Williams also noted that the mayoral election comes a year after a presidential election, now just months away, that is dominating donors’ time and resources.

“The election seems like a long way off to people who are getting 25 requests for contributions from the Obama campaign every day,” he said.

It’s not only charter school supporters who stayed quiet. The teachers union didn’t spend anything on mayoral candidates in the first half of the year, mainly because it has already given the maximum amount ($4,950) that it can spend for each of the five Democratic contenders that it considers viable (Stringer, de Blasio, Quinn, Liu, and Thompson). The Council of Supervisors and Administrators, the principals union, tapped out its spending on Quinn and de Blasio in recent months, with donations of $1,950 and $450, respectively. Stringer remains the only candidate (other than long-shot Tom Allon) not to have yet secured CSA’s maximum allowed contribution.

We combed through the filings to find other noteworthy contributions. Here’s what we found (and we welcome additional finds in the comments section):

  • It isn’t just charter school supporters who give money to Quinn. Some district principals and administrators also contributed to her campaign. Perrin Wicks, an administrator for the Urban Assembly Network; Kate Burch, founding principal of Harvest Collegiate High School, which opens in September; and Katie Roberts, a former Department of Education official who is now a portfolio director at The Fund for Public Schools, each gave $100 to Quinn’s campaign.
  • And Quinn wasn’t the only candidate to get financial support from the charter sector. De Blasio’s campaign received $125 from Milagros Garcia, a founder of Harlem Engineering & Applied Science Charter School, set to open next year. De Blasio has also received $725 from Lorraine Grillo, who oversees a more than $10 billion capital spending budget as president of the School Construction Authority.
  • Another Quinn contributor with ties to education was Kevin Jennings, a former teacher and the co-founder the Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teacher Network. He also served as a top official in the U.S. Department of Education under Arne Duncan and now heads Be The Change, a nonprofit that helps groups organize social campaigns.
  • Shimon Waronker, a principal who has been profiled by the New York Times three times for schools he helmed, gave Tom Allon $250 this month. Allon praised Waronker’s new school, the New American Academy, in a Huffington Post column earlier this year.
  • In non-mayoral campaign funding news, several education officials contributed to State Sen. Daniel Squadron, a young Brooklyn politician who is rumored to be running for de Blasio’s Public Advocate seat. Squadron received money from Citizen Schools Executive Director Nitzan Pelman ($100), Stein ($250) and New Visions for New Schools Chief Operating Officer Stacy Martin ($500). (Pelman, like Stein, serves on GothamSchools’ advisory board.)

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