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With Tom Allon’s exit, mayor’s race loses a focus on education

Tom Allon’s withdrawal from the mayor’s race, which he announced today, is unlikely to change the vote tally come Election Day. But it might well influence the debate about education that mayoral candidates have between now and then.

A one-time teacher who is now the publisher of the Manhattan Media chain of local newspapers, Allon focused his candidacy on education since first declaring an intention to run two years ago.

“The mayor of New York is a big bully pulpit and I plan to make education the most important issue,” he said in May 2012, in a policy speech about education. In speeches and columns, Allon advocated for reforming education schools and bulking up a union-run teacher mentoring program; creating more opportunities for gifted studentsreplicating Brooklyn’s New American Academy; treating educators with more respect; and dismantling swaths of the Department of Education’s bureaucracy.

Some of his views were unorthodox and strained at the limits of what a mayor could accomplish. He pledged to “eliminate testing in grades one through five,” even though the state sets the testing schedule, for example.

But while other candidates did not adopt many of Allon’s positions and more often turned their attention to other policy issues, his presence changed the course of the conversation at times.

Without Allon, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s position on merit pay might be less clear. When Allon was the lone candidate at a forum in January to say he would introduce merit pay as an alternative to more costly across-the-board raises for teachers, Quinn quickly pushed back. “The data simply does not support that,” she said, to applause.

Quinn also might not have named names of people she views as strong contenders for chancellor were it not for Allon. At a forum in November, Allon listed four people on his chancellor shortlist, including Hunter College President Jennifer Raab. Later, Quinn cited Raab as an example of someone who is not a career educator who would be good at running the city’s schools.

Allon’s focus on education did not go unnoticed as he announced his departure from the mayor’s race today in a statement dominated by talk of schools.

“I hope other candidates for Mayor pick up the mantle of education reform that @TomAllon4Mayor espoused,” City Councilman Mark Weprin wrote on Twitter.

Michael Regnier, the policy director at the New York City Charter School Center, had a similar response. “Congrats to @TomAllon4Mayor on a campaign that focused relentlessly on public education,” he wrote on Twitter.

A long-shot candidate from the start, Allon declared as a Republican and struggled to raise funds for his campaign, even before former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota entered the race. Between mid-January and last week, Allon raised only $12,000 from 44 donors, according to campaign finance records.

But even though he is giving up on politics, at least for now, and focusing again on his media organization, Allon says he will not stop pushing for changes to the city’s schools.

“While no longer a candidate, I will continue to passionately and relentlessly pursue a reform agenda as an education activist, a columnist and blogger, and parent of three teenagers,” he said.