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At rally, charter parents stuck between Lhota and a hard place

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota greets young charter rally participants on Tuesday morning.

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota greets young charter rally participants on Tuesday morning.

For a full account of the charter school rally, see Geoff Decker’s report here.

Just before 11 a.m., Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota leaned down to eye level with five year old Kenyon Lovett, a student at Success Academy Cobble Hill. He wants to be an architect, his mom explained.

“What do you want to build?” Lhota asked as dozens of reporters and curious parents pushed closer. “Is that the mayor?” another girl asked as she squirmed toward the candidate.

Lhota basked in the attention from parents and students this morning at the end of their march across the Brooklyn Bridge in support of charter schools, greeting children and answering questions outside of City Hall Park an hour after delivering a speech at the Association for a Better New York touting his support for the charter sector.

That position puts him at odds with Democratic frontrunner Bill de Blasio, who has advocated for capping the number of charter schools in the city and charging charter schools rent to operate in public buildings. At the rally, many parents admitted that they were perplexed about how to square their Democratic ties and their desire for a mayor who is friendly to the charter school movement.

Kenyon’s mother Yolanda White told reporters that she had never voted for a Republican. But Lhota’s support for charters means that if she can convince herself that his policies are reasonable, “I have no problem jumping the line for him,” she said.

White was one of many Democratic parents at the rally who said they were one-issue voters—either willing to overlook Lhota’s conservative stances on gun control and stop-and-frisk tactics or who said they hadn’t done the research yet to understand the other differences between the candidates.

Another was Sheldon Sharpe, whose son is in third grade at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1, part of the 20-school Success Academy network that closed its doors this morning so parents and students could attend. “I’m a registered Democrat but I feel so strongly about educating our minority kids that I’m OK crossing party lines,” he said in Camden Plaza as he waited to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.

De Blasio did not attend the rally, but reiterated his positions in a statement saying that “well-resourced charter networks” should pay for the use of public space and that he would put a moratorium on co-locations. That could stall new charter schools that are proposed to share space next year, and some charter operators have said that paying rent would force them to cut programs.

Sharpe said he isn’t comfortable with those plans. Like many parents at the rally, he’s also not yet committed to pulling the lever for Lhota, who the latest polls show is 49 points behind de Blasio.

“I feel like there’s no decent candidate. If you’re not pro-charter, I can’t,” said Netta Alley, who has a daughter in kindergarten at a Success Academy school. But she hadn’t decided on Lhota either.

“I don’t know if I’ll vote,” she said.

Lhota’s and de Blasio’s policies left Mylisa Brooks, whose daughter is a third grader at Success Academy Bed-Stuy 1, conflicted about how to vote in the best interests of her three young children. She wants them all to be able to attend charter schools, pushing her toward Lhota. But it wasn’t a clear choice, especially given Lhota’s positions on stop and frisk.

“I’m black, and I have a son,” she explained. Ultimately, she had decided that charter schools were more important, making Lhota her choice for now. “I don’t have any other options,” she said.

The candidate some parents really wanted in the mix was Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz herself. Moskowitz has indicated that she’s interested in running for mayor in the future, and though she kept a low profile at the rally, turning out thousands of parents is just one indication of her clout.

But even many Success Academy parents acknowledged that few figures are as polarizing as Moskowitz across the city.

“Let’s be honest here—there are a lot of people here who don’t like her but support charter schools,” said Randy Jagdip, a parent of a kindergarten student at Success Academy Crown Heights. He wants to see more less-affluent children have access to what he said was an impressive education at Success. “We believe in that dream. Whether we like her or not is another story.”

With four weeks before Election Day, parents have time to make up their minds. Abdourahman Sowe, who bumped his shift driving a taxi to attend the event and whose son attends first grade at Success Academy 3 in the Bronx, was among those who hadn’t yet picked a candidate.

“I’m with the one who supports charter schools,” Sowe said. “I’m not yet sure who that is.”