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In Harlem, mixed feelings about de Blasio and charter schools

For much of the run-up to today’s mayoral election, Harlem was ground zero for debate over the role charter schools should play in the city’s education system.

Eva Moskowitz, whose charter school network launched in Harlem, helped lead opposition to Democrat Bill de Blasio’s plan to charge rent to charter schools that use space in public school buildings, while Republican Joe Lhota chose a charter school in the area to remind voters that he would continue the Bloomberg administration’s policy of letting co-located charter schools operate rent-free.

But even though the neighborhood has one of the highest charter-school enrollment rates in the city, most voters there today — but not all — said they were casting their ballots for de Blasio.

Dale Fowlkes, an MTA employee, says he knows Joe Lhota and thinks he’s a good guy. With their daughters happy at Sisulu Walker, a charter school in Harlem, he and his wife Lanier considered casting ballots for him, too. But de Blasio got the couple’s votes.

“I know he wants to charge charter schools rent, and I kind of agree with it to a point,” Dale Fowlkes said. “I think we need to help them [charter schools] more than hurt them, but I see both sides. I have friends with kids in schools where the charters seem to be taking over.”

Ultimately, the charter issue was important, but not the deciding factor. “Maybe if our kids’ school was in public property,” he added. Sisulu Walker, the city’s oldest charter school, has its own space and would not be affected by de Blasio’s rent proposal.

Usually a Democrat, Ann Kim, a cellist with the New York City Ballet whose fifth-grade son attends a selective public school in Midtown, decided only a few days ago to vote for Lhota, the Republican.

Three things made Kim make up her mind to vote for Lhota: his support for charter schools, his vocal support of arts education, and his management experience. “I think charter schools are a good thing for this part of the city, and he’s got a bit more experience than de Blasio,” she said.

Kim said Lhota’s points at a Teachers College forum on arts education this summer, where he said the arts should be part of the Department of Education’s “core” curriculum, had also stuck with her.

Carlton Stovall doesn’t have children, but education issues were still on his mind when he voted for de Blasio this morning.

“I’m not a fan of charter schools, at least the majority of them. I feel like it takes money away from public schools, and we’ll end up again with an impoverished education system with a new coat of paint,” he said.

What really tipped the scales for de Blasio was the well-known television ad featuring his son Dante and his views on stop and frisk, though. “I hate to trade in cliches, but he seems for the people,” Stovall said. “He sees the plight of what we go through as minorities in the city.”