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Weiner enters race with education platform a big question mark

New Yorkers know a lot of things about the latest entrant to the mayoral race — but not where he stands on hot-button education policy issues.

Anthony Weiner, who resigned from Congress in 2011 after a sexting scandal, launched his campaign with an video posted – apparently prematurely — early this morning. He becomes the sixth major Democratic candidate, landing in second place to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a poll released today.

Though his candidacy is seen as a long shot, Weiner is assured of media attention and is in a position to influence campaign trail conversation. In the campaign kickoff video, he cites high housing costs and a scarcity of jobs that offer benefits to paint a picture of himself as a champion of the middle class.

He also mentions education, saying, “Our schools aren’t what they should be.”

But Weiner’s vision for the city’s schools is not at all clear. He barely broached the topic of education in 2005, when he ran for mayor, and 2009, when he briefly considered running again.

A booklet of policy ideas that Weiner released last month and cites in the video released today skirts the major issues that are dividing candidates this year on education, including charter schools, school governance, and the role of testing. Weiner’s top priority, according to the book, which was a refreshed version of a similar document from 2009, is to “streamline the process for removing troublesome students from the classroom.”

That position could score points with families and educators who see school discipline as a major issue. But it also drew a protest outside of Weiner’s Park Avenue apartment building last month by students who said the approach to discipline would unfairly penalize students of color. The rally was organized in part by New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, the coalition that formed to oppose the Bloomberg administration’s school policies in the election.

Billy Easton, who heads one of the main groups in the coalition, said the group had invited Weiner to participate in its mayoral debate next week but that he had not yet responded. “The big question we have for him on education is that his top priority is to increase suspensions and that is problematic,” Easton said.

Weiner’s extended time in the public eye has left a few other inklings of his education policy outlook. In 2008, just before legislators were set to revisit New York City’s school governance, he repeatedly expressed strong support for mayoral control, saying he wanted to see “unfettered” mayoral control continue. That puts him at odds with some of his Democratic competitors, who have said recently that they would cede some control of the city school board in order to place checks and balances against the mayor’s power.

But he did say that he thought Bloomberg had misused his power. At a forum in 2009, Weiner called then-Chancellor Joel Klein a “non-educator” and said his mother, a 31-year teacher, had left the system out of frustration. He also criticized Klein for failing to make the school system transparent.

He also turned up to a major event in 2008 at the Brooklyn Museum that was thrown by the charter sector, signaling that he might be interested in trying to wrestle the “reform” mantle from Mayor Bloomberg, who at the time had only recently begun to discuss the possibility of a third term. At the time, Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, said Weiner had been a supporter of charter schools for a while and favored lifting the state cap on the number of charter schools, which happened the following year.

Weiner’s nascent campaign does have some school ties: His press secretary is Barbara Morgan, who was a spokeswoman for the city Department of Education for until a year ago. Most recently, she was the press secretary for New Jersey Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Here’s what Weiner said when he turned up at a Queens forum on mayoral control in 2009:

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