State Senate education chair Carl Marcellino ended Thursday’s mayoral control hearing the same way he started it: by taking a shot at Mayor Bill de Blasio for not being there.
“We needed to hear from him,” Marcellino said.
Marcellino’s comments reflected the tone of the two-hour hearing, where criticism of the mayor’s non-attendance overshadowed questions about the school system. Thursday’s hearing marked the second of two designed to determine whether de Blasio should keep control of city schools.
The mayor defended his decision to skip the hearing at a press conference Wednesday, saying he had had a substantive conversation with lawmakers at a similar hearing just two weeks ago. But by missing Thursday’s hearing, he opened himself to an avoidable backlash.
In de Blasio’s absence, lawmakers mocked him by asking him to raise his hand. They hinted he should check his ego at the door and grilled his replacement, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, on everything from school safety to closures. Even de Blasio’s natural allies expressed disappointment that he chose to appear on radio shows instead of attending the hearing.
De Blasio has said he wants education issues to remain apolitical, but mayoral control has already become a tug-of-war between him and state lawmakers. He needs support from state senators to secure a long-term extension, not another fight.
None of the lawmakers presented an alternative to mayoral control, but their comments signal that de Blasio could have trouble securing the three-year extension he wants. Last year, they gave him only a one-year renewal.
Here are some of the critical comments Senators made today:
Sen. Carl Marcellino, Republican chair of the Senate education committee
“I would have preferred, no offense, Mayor de Blasio be here. His testimony, his answering these kind of questions in concert with you would have been much more helpful to this committee and would have spoken volumes about the system and about mayoral control. That was what we’re here about. What is the mayor’s input? How does the mayor handle this? What would the mayor be doing? How has it made a difference to have mayoral control? Your testimony was, fantastic I appreciate it, but we needed to hear from him.”
Jose Peralta, Democratic senator from New York City
“This is such an important issue, such a top priority for the mayor and yet, he is not here. He has chosen to be at radio shows and not be here at this hearing. And I get your answer when you said that you were up in Albany for a whole day and you were at meetings and you testified. But as you know, one day of testimony and one day of meetings doesn’t move things in Albany.”
Sen. Thomas Crocci, Republican from Long Island
“When there was an initiative important to the residents of my town and in my role as chief executive, if the legislators in Albany wanted to discuss policy with me, I got in the car and I drove to Albany. And if they wanted me to come back, I got in the car and drove back to Albany. I checked ego at the door particularly when it came to the welfare of the children and the families of our community…It’s worth the chief executive coming out and appearing. It’s an indication to the legislator about the importance of the issue to the chief executive.”
Sen. Joseph Addabboo Jr., Democrat from New York City
“It has been mentioned that the mayor is not here today. … We have 12 session days left up in Albany … what is your strategy over those next 12 days or so with the mayor coming back to Albany, answering questions, having meetings? What is the strategy for the mayor to convince the state Senate that mayoral control should be extended?”