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Wally Gobetz

Regents incumbents face ouster with last-minute round of interviews set

State lawmakers have scheduled a last-minute round of interviews to fill vacant seats on the Board of Regents, which sources say is the surest sign yet that an incumbent candidate on the state’s policy-making body will be ousted.

The interviews are set for Monday at noon, a day before Assembly and Senate lawmakers vote on nominees. Assembly member Cathy Nolan, chair of the education committee, announced the interviews in an email to colleagues on Friday.

The election process has already included interviews of over 20 candidates in two days last month. But the move to add another round suggests that legislative leaders aren’t satisfied with the current crop of candidates, which include four incumbents seeking re-election. The four incumbents are James Jackson, of Albany; Christine Cea, of Staten Island; and two at-large members, Wade Norwood and James Cottrell. 

In most years, Regents seeking new terms are easily re-elected by a large Democratic bloc of lawmakers in both legislative houses. But the state’s rocky implementation of the Common Core learning standards, which the Regents approved, has stoked fierce backlash from both sides of the political aisle. The process has also caught the attention of parent advocacy groups who are aggressively lobbying for fresh faces on the board as a result of the Common Core, new teacher evaluations and other reform policies approved in recent years.
Sources say the maneuver to add a new candidate is an effort by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to ensure enough votes will be lined up to elect nominees on Tuesday. At least 107 votes are needed between the Senate and Assembly, but the normally reliable support from the legislature’s Democratic bloc has eroded.

Several Democratic seats in the legislature are currently vacant because of resignations or criminal indictments, meaning their votes won’t be counted at all. And this week, four active Democratic Senators announced that they would vote ‘no’ on the incumbent candidates in protest of the Regents’ policies, with others saying they intended to do the same.

“It’s so dramatic,” Senator George Latimer, of Westchester, said about criticism for the policies, “that I want to see members of the Board of Regents reassess these before they go further.” Latimer, the Senate’s ranking minority Democrat in the education committee, is among the four Senators who won’t vote for an incumbent, which he said is to “make a statement” about the Regents, which he said hasn’t been responsive to the criticism.

Nolan did not respond to questions about the new round of interviews. A spokesman for Silver said he could not immediately confirm the interviews.