clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Schools play starring role as primary election day finally arrives

Months of mayoral candidates’ promises and pavement-pounding culminate today, when New Yorkers head to the polls to pick their favorite candidate from each political party.

City schools will play a starring role in the election. About 650 of the city’s school buildings are being used as polling stations today, meaning that unfamiliar adults will be filing in and out all day, especially at drop-off time this morning, to wrangle with old-style voting machines. For some of them, Election Day is the only time they will ever step inside a public school.

(Voting today? Take our voters guides to the Democratic and Republican primaries with you, and don’t forget our tracker of all candidates’ education positions. NY1, the New York Times, City Limits, the Center for Arts Education, among others, all produced resources for education voters, too.)

For the most part, schools will be trying to maintain the routines that they established on Monday, the first day of the school year. But that could be difficult as candidates bring their coteries of supporters and reporters with them to vote.

And at least one network of schools is turning election day into a learning experience. The Democracy Prep Public Schools charter network is sending students from its eight schools onto the streets of Harlem to get out the vote as part of its “I Can’t Vote But You Can” campaign. The network is focused on civic participation and wants to see the primary turnout lifted far above the 11 percent rate from 2009, the lowest in the city’s history.

It’s the second year of the campaign. Last year, Democracy Prep students spent Election Day in November getting out the vote for the presidential contest, when it was difficult for some of them to contain their enthusiasm for Barack Obama.

Most last-minute activities today will be far more partisan. The UFT will be pulling out all the stops for the candidate it endorsed, Bill Thompson. Union members will campaign with Thompson in Harlem this morning and will hand out campaign literature and man phone banks in multiple locations all afternoon.

Union president Michael Mulgrew, who campaigned with Thompson on Monday, will be at Thompson’s campaign headquarters tonight, hoping for the good news that frontrunner Bill de Blasio did not clear the 40 percent threshold that would eliminate the need for a runoff election. The most recent poll about the election, released by Quinnipiac Polling Institute on Monday, suggested that de Blasio could jump that hurdle — or that the Democratic primary would turn into a “Battle of the Bills.”

On Monday, Thompson started the last 24 hours of his campaign greeting parents outside his mother’s old school, P.S. 262 in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where she taught for 26 years. Thompson was in full campaign mode, taking some time to attack de Blasio, who has surged in popularity in recent weeks in polls.

Referring to de Blasio’s goal of taxing high-earning New Yorkers to fund an expansion of pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, which has come under scrutiny because it faces steep political obstacles, Thompson said this election “is not about making things up. It’s not about fantasy programs.”

Halfway across the borough, de Blasio defended himself during a bustling campaign stop at P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens.

Monday’s polls showed that nearly a fifth of likely voters said they still felt open to switching their votes. But parents in central Brooklyn dropping of their children at school on the first day had mostly made up their mind.

Doranda Taitt, whose two children attend two of the new charter schools in the area — La Cima and Bed-Stuy Collegiate — said Thompson had her vote. “I’ve heard good things about him,” she said.

Thompson was even flanked by officials who send their children to charter schools. Robert Cornegy, Jr., a candidate for City Council, appeared with Thompson and Mulgrew, whose union endorsed Cornegy’s opponent.

Two women said they liked Comptroller John Liu, who has trailed in the polls amid scandal surrounding his campaign. One was Iva Webster, who was bringing her great-granddaughter to P.S. 262 for the first day of first grade. The other was Monet Johnson, who was sending her daughter to her first day of full day pre-K at the school.

“I’m a city worker and he’s the only one who’s said he’d give us raises,” Johnson said.

But outside a school where City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was campaigning on the Upper West Side, several people on Monday said they still had not made up their minds between de Blasio and Quinn, who lately has been polling third.

Jane Escolastico’s daughter Julia is starting first grade and son Jeremy is starting fifth grade. She said she’s voting for Quinn not because of anything she heard today but because she remembers Quinn helping advocate for a gym and an elevator where her oldest son went to high school, the NYC iSchool in Tribeca. “I’ve seen her in action working hand in hand with schools,” Escolastico said.

Another mother, Jenny Falcon, said she hadn’t made up her mind. She pressed Quinn about her support for charter schools, saying, “You need to make new public schools, not just new charter schools.” When Quinn continued her pitch, emphasizing her plan to add schools citywide, Falcon pressed on. “Not just charter schools,” she said. “If you’re mayor, please, really!”

Sarah Darville contributed reporting

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing our daily reality

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing the information families and educators need, but this kind of work isn't possible without your help.