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Education advocates pivot and spin after de Blasio's ascent

As Public Advocate Bill de Blasio held firmly to a commanding lead in the Democratic primary race for mayor on Wednesday, education advocates and opponents began making adjustments to a reality that seemed implausible just a couple of months ago.

De Blasio’s closest competitor in the race, Bill Thompson, pledged this morning to keep fighting until “every voice is heard, that every vote is counted.” The defiance came as Thompson’s own chief fundraiser seemed to signal her own concession, calling de Blasio’s 40 percent share of the vote with 98 percent of precincts reporting “a convincing victory.”

“I think the people have spoken. They’ve spoken decisively,” said Merryl Tisch, Regents Chancellor and Thompson’s campaign finance chair. Tisch spent the day visiting city schools with State Education Commissioner John King.

Candidates must secure at least 40 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff and move on to the general election, where the Democratic victor will face Republican Joe Lhota. Thompson, who has 26.1 percent of the vote, has said he wants to wait until the city Board of Elections looks thousands of paper ballots that were collected, a count that will take place next week.

Michael Mulgrew, president of United Federation of Teachers, echoed Thompson’s sentiments in a statement: “We are awaiting the final count.”

But others are not waiting for all of the ballots to be counted before weighing in. Several groups today issued statements implying that de Blasio would be the nominee and spinning the results in their favor.

Democrats for Education Reform cited de Blasio’s wide lead as a victory, even though de Blasio was the candidate least friendly to the group’s agenda. De Blasio has pledged to charge rent to charter schools that operate in city-owned school buildings, a policy that all other Democratic candidates said they opposed.

“This is an important moment for the Democratic Party in New York City, where Democrats and not union bosses elect their leaders,” Executive Director Joe Williams said in a statement. He said de Blasio’s strong performance represented a failure by the teachers union to sway the election toward Thompson despite spending $2.6 million to support him.

Diane Ravitch, the education historian who endorsed de Blasio last month and who has frequently criticized DFER, also cited de Blasio’s primary win as an important milestone.

“The election was a clear repudiation of Bloomberg’s strategies of test-based accountability, closing schools (despite community opposition), and charter schools,” she wrote on her blog.

She was not the only one to make that point today. The union-backed New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which did not endorse a candidate, called the election “a massive defeat of Bloomberg’s policies and rejection of his agenda.”

“The top two finishers in the Democratic primary, de Blasio and Thompson, winning 66% of the vote, signaled that the Bloomberg era is over,” NYGPS spokeswoman Zakiyah Ansari said in a statement.

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