Friday, February 26, 2010
Our children are not guinea pigs: The critically important issue of mayoral control --- observations and thoughts by a seriously concerned parent
mayoral control --- observations and thoughts by a seriously
February 24, 2010
Howard J. Eagle
It's been a long time since I read a newspaper article and became really pissed off, but that definitely occurred on the evening of February 23rd --- in the process of reading (several times) an article titled 'College leaders back mayoral control of Rochester schools' --- published on the Democrat and Chronicle's website.
My initial thought was, and still is, that even if 119 or 1,019 college presidents from around the world declared their support for mayoral control --- that wouldn't change my mind one little bit (if for no other reason) because I'll never support (under any circumstances or conditions) the idea of diminishing predominantly poor African American and Hispanic peoples suffrage rights --- never!
I asked myself (out loud) how could college presidents (of all people) be so ignorant? However, once I got over the initial shock of what I had read --- it dawned on me that they aren't really ignorant at all. People don't become presidents of colleges and universities, especially internationally known, top-rated universities, by being ignorant --- or do they?
With regard to this particular situation --- I concluded that the gang of 19 was fully aware of what they were doing. That is, they had made a collective, conscious, choice (at his request) to back the smooth-talking, fair-haired, hometown all American Mayor --- even if it was at the expense of the lives and futures of our children. Like Duffy (politically speaking), they had chosen "the hill that they are willing to die on." That is, the national hill of Arnold Duncan school-of -thought and direction (privatization today --- privatization tomorrow --- privatization forever).
What really dawned on me though was that this is no longer a normal, run-of-the-mill debate. People, especially Robert Duffy is really playing hard-ball politics. I also thought about how correct Rochester City Councilman Adam McFadden had been several weeks earlier (1/14/10) when, as a guest on Bob Smith's WXXI radio talk show --- he had mentioned the possibility of the mayoral control issue tearing the community apart in a manner that we haven't seen for many years. This possibility and probability certainly is evidenced by the fact that we now have top leaders of local colleges and universities taking a public position that is diametrically opposed to the position taken by some of the most notable professors and researchers working at those same colleges and universities. Several outstanding examples that immediately come to mind include the position of Joel Seligman vis-a-vis that of Dr. David Hursh; Dr. William Destler vis-a-vis distinguished professor of public policy and former Rochester mayor William Johnson, and Daan Braveman vis-a-vis professor and former Fairport, NY and Rochester City School District Superintendent, Dr. William Cala. Perhaps this is all part of healthy dialogue, but one thing for sure is --- it is not part of the norm.
The actual letter of support, which was endorsed by "the presidents of every major higher learning institution in the area," and sent to the president and Publisher of the Democrat and Chronicle --- is really quite amazing. The first amazing thing about it is that, according to the above referenced article, the presidents had made a decision to support Duffy as early as 2/3/10. A full twenty days after the decision was made, the original version of the 2/23/10 letter from 19 top-level "academians" contained at least two typos. I don't mean to nit-pick, but is it not reasonable to expect excellence from this group?
In their soon to be infamous letter, these "academians" claim that they "realize that all involved in this discussion want the best for our students..." Our students? By their own admission (no pun intended) most RCSD students never even come close to gaining entrance into their colleges and universities. Another very amazing thing about their letter and position is that they magically connect the latter fact to the issue of "governance" within the RCSD --- amazing!
With regard to the issue of RCSD governance (as a guest on Bob Smith's WXXI radio talk show on 2/11/10) former Rochester mayor and distinguished RIT professor of public policy, William Johnson is quoted as having said the following: "My view is that we need to look at the more basic issues here. I think we need to look at how to reform the delivery of urban education, not the governance structure. I think, to be fair --- to say that you're going to disrupt a whole $700 million structure --- subsume it into your organization, and if it doesn't work after 4 years, you will take it and send it back --- you can't put humpty-dumpty back together again, after you have made all those changes, and I think that we (as a community) need to understand that it is easier said than done. It has been tried by people much smarter than Bob Duffy and Bill Johnson, and they haven't been able to make it work. It has been tried by communities all over the country. With all due respect to Mayor Duffy (a man who I admire; a man who I supported for election; a man who I worked with for 12 years; a man whose sincerity I do not question in the least bit) --- I think he is biting off a lot more than he can chew (as we say down South), particularly given some of the other challenges which this City
faces at this particular point and time."
Also, in their letter --- in the process of pointing out extremely poor performance on English Exams by 8th graders at two RCSD schools --- the intellectual "dream-team" made the blatantly obvious point that "students who cannot understand what they are reading, cannot succeed in high school," (no kidding). What's most interesting about this observation is that if anyone should know, these super-intellectuals certainly should know that mounds of research exists, which supports the vital need for successful students to be reading at or above grade level by or about 3rd grade. Thus, the critical task is not to just point out that schools have huge numbers of students who are light-years away from where they should be relative to basic skills-development. In so doing, they are only describing a symptom, which almost anyone can do, but the real fundamental issue and problem that must be solved is figuring out and eliminating that which allows for "84%" or "85%" of a school's student body to reach 8th grade without having acquired basic reading, writing and math skills. This is absolutely one of the most critical issues that must be thoroughly addressed in any legitimate, authentic, urban education reform model. Since we know that Board of Education members are not directly responsible for teaching reading, writing and arithmetic --- I can't wait to hear the academic leaders explain how this and other such fundamentally critical issues are related to RCSD governance. Clearly as professor Johnson pointed out --- this is an educational delivery issue, as opposed to one of governance.
Furthermore, when intellectuals begin hypocritically spewing rhetoric about poor academic "results [being] especially tragic in Rochester, a city with a proud history of quality educational institutions that has fueled entrepreneurialism, innovation and creativity for almost two centuries" --- then we can be absolutely certain that they don't have the best interests of the majority of our students in mind or at heart. Remember the history. "Two centuries" ago the ancestors of the overwhelming majority of our students couldn't get near the "quality educational institutions," which the intellectuals referenced in their letter.
They also make the bogus claim that "there is considerable evidence that mayoral control improves outcomes from cities as diverse at [their typo] New York City, Boston, New Haven, Hartford, Cleveland, Washington D.C. and Chicago." I say if "considerable evidence" exists --- they should produce it now.
The president of Finger Lakes Community College was quoted as having the audacity to say that "overwhelming research shows [mayoral control] has delivered good results." Wow! Again I say, if "overwhelming" evidence exists --- they should produce it now.
It's difficult to determine whose statements (the intellectual's or Duffy's) are most ludicrous and absurd. With regard to the gang of 19, the Mayor is quoted as having said "I think they are as connected as anybody could be..." Incredible! Imagine that. I mean really imagine that this guy is serious. He really means this --- I think.
We (RCSD parents and concerned community members in general) absolutely cannot allow the likes of Duffy and/or totally disconnected intellectuals , or anyone else for that matter --- to preside over the destruction of another generation of our children without being at every major decision-making table.
We must continue to organize!!!
College leaders back mayoral control of Rochester schools
Nestor Ramos and Brian Sharp • Staff writers • February 23, 2010
Calling the current School Board system a “dead end,” the presidents of 19 area colleges and universities are urging the state to give control of the Rochester School District to Mayor Robert Duffy.
In a letter e-mailed today to the Democrat and Chronicle, the presidents of every major higher learning institution in the area say it is time to try a new approach.
Duffy has asked the state Legislature and Gov. David Paterson to turn over control of the school district to him for a five-year test period.
“We urge action now. The stakes are very high. The current system of school governance is not working for our children,” the presidents wrote. Those signing the letter include Donald Bain of St. John Fisher College, William Destler of Rochester Institute of Technology and Joel Seligman of University of Rochester, as well as 16 others.
The letter originated with Rochester Area Colleges, a consortium of nearby public and private universities, colleges and community colleges.
“Unfortunately, in all too many cases we never have the opportunity to work with Rochester city students either because they never graduate from high school or graduate ill-prepared for college work,” the letter says.
Duffy said he met with the college presidents on Feb. 3 at Monroe Community College. He requested in advance that mayoral control be discussed, as it was in the news. Once there, he handed out a draft outline of the issue and spoke for 15 minutes, then answered questions.
By the end of the 90-minute meeting, Duffy said, he had the group’s unanimous support and asked that they show their support publicly.
The resulting letter criticizes the school district’s failures in recent years, but also says other cities including New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and others have seen improvement under mayoral control.
Many studies also suggest the opposite, however.
“There’s data out there that shows there’s a lot to be desired in terms of mayoral control,” said Rochester school board President Malik Evans, who opposes Duffy’s proposal and favors a referendum to decide the issue.
“Some of those college and university presidents should talk to some of the professors on their staffs who’ve done research on the issue,” Evans said.
“I think it’s an embarrassment to higher education,” said former City School District interim superintendent William Cala, a visiting professor at Nazareth College. Nazareth President Daan Braveman was among those who signed the letter, which cites “considerable evidence that mayoral control improves outcomes.”
“If they say that, they’ve obviously not done their homework,” Cala said.
The mayor bristled when asked whether the presidents appeared well-informed on the topic.
“I would never question the education and depth of this group,” Duffy said. “They are well aware of the data. I think they are well aware of the graduation rates, and all of the issues surrounding our public education system in Rochester. I think they are as connected as anybody could be, running the colleges and universities in our community.”
Barbara Risser, president of Finger Lakes Community College, said she was not at the Feb. 3 meeting with Duffy but said she researched the issue herself and spoke with her colleagues in reaching a decision.
“We’re at a point where it’s important to look at what has worked well in other parts of the country, and the mayoral control does have a good track record,” she said.
Asked about conflicting studies that conclude otherwise, she said the “overwhelming research” shows it has delivered good results.
Several other college presidents were unavailable for comment or did not return calls Tuesday night.
As evidence that governance by an elected school board has failed, the letter cites poor test scores at several city high schools, a recent state list of struggling schools that included nine in Rochester, and a graduation rate of 46 percent this year — a number that has not been released by the state.
Evans said the figure has been discussed, but has not been announced or released. The last graduation rate released by the state, for students who entered high school in 2004, was 51.9 percent.
Cala said the root causes of poor student performance in the district have less to do with governance than with bigger societal issues.
“The common ax that we’re hearing is, ‘The system is broken, let’s try something else.’ The system that’s broken is the city of Rochester and the county of Monroe,” Cala said, citing disturbingly high teen pregnancy and child abuse rates.
But Duffy turned that on its head.
“Education failure is not separate from crime, lack of economic development, population loss … all the other things that impact us,” Duffy said.
Edison Schools was publicly traded on the NASDAQ for several years, during which time its quarterly and annual reports were available. But then its stock was all purchased back and it was "taken private" (people confuse this with "private school," but it's a whole different use, as in "privately held"). So now that info is not available and we have no idea how it survives. In the years when I was following the company closely (before it was completely irrelevant), it was moving quietly away from managing schools and into contracting to provide supplemental services -- consulting, tutoring, child-care and so forth. That business model is neither unusual nor newsworthy.
Nadelstern, whoever he is, is either terribly misinformed or just knowingly giving a dishonest description. If he's just making **** up, of course, he doesn't really "believe" at all. Almost all past Edison Schools cheerleaders now pretend they never heard of it -- it's unusual nowadays to actually try to describe it as a success because that's so flamingly untrue that it destroys the speaker's credibility.
Here is the brief summary of Edison Schools' history from our research-and-
Speaking of Edison, their fingerprints are all over the failed management philosophy of DOE in the person of the now-departed but not forgotten Chris Cerf.
Cerf’s management philosophy: Put lots of money into PR and implement a lot of crazy management theories because you know nothing and care less about what actually works in education.
Meanwhile, this week, in a very rare move, the SUNY charter school institute finally closed a failing charter school in Albany that had been run by Edison called New Covenant. This had been recommended by their advisory board for years but they had rejected their counsel up to now.
What’s surprising to me is how Peter Murphy from the NY Charter School Association, the chief lobbying group for charter schools in the state, then wrote a post disassociating themselves from the school, saying that the mistakes SUNY made in approving it no longer occur, and implying that its failure was expected given its association with Edison!
After 2000, SUNY never again allowed for either mistake to be made with charter school proposals. In addition, for years, Edison Schools, Inc. managed New Covenant and several other charters in New York. Today, Edison manages only one school, Harriet Tubman in the Bronx, and has no prospects for more charters in New York any time soon.’
Guess NYCSA is no longer getting any money from Edison and/or Chris whittle!
How does Edison survive, Caroline? On its profit-making tutoring companies, the proliferation of which was engineered by NCLB? They are also appear to be trying to move into the next generation of moneymaking enterprises promoted by the Obama/Duncan administration: online learning.
What’s also surprising is how DOE’s Eric Nadelstern, widely believed to be the heir-apparent to Joel Klein if Klein ever gets sick of the job and/or gets a better offer, vehemently commented on Peter Goodman’s blog recently against the efforts of the UFT and ACORN to organize against the takeover of several public schools by Edison that Harold Levy had agreed to, years ago.
Unfortunately for Levy, the state law said that a conversion to a charter school requires a vote of the parents at the school, and Edison decisively lost these votes. Just as charters would lose a vote in NYC communities today, and lost the parent advisory votes in LA recently.
How based on Edison’s failing record elsewhere in running public schools, Nadelstern should bring this sad story up now is beyond me:
Eric Nadelstern: The most cynical event in my 38 years with the NYC Public Schools occured [sic] a few years back when the UFT and ACORN prevented Harold Levy, the previous Chancellor, from engaging Edison to manage 5 of the worst performing elementary schools in the City. Then, as now, charges of privatization and racism drowned out a more rationale debate about the future of low performing schools that persistently fail all children, but mostly children of color. In that struggle, the union and advocates prevailed and Edison was denied the contract; and, when the dust settled, those who opposed the Edison take-over walked away from those schools, which remained among the worst performing elementary schools in the City failing cohort after cohort of our children.
Read his post yourself and the responses by many on this list serv here: http://mets2006.
Isn’t it ironic that Nadelstern still believes in Edison when even the state charter school association has disowned them? Shows you how out of touch the educrats who inhabit the protected bubble at Tweed are.
The full NYCSA post is below.
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New Covenant Charter School Likely Closure - "Symbolic" Indeed
Sent: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:33 PM
Subject: Re: [nyceducationnews] LA Times review: 'The Death and Life of the Great American School System' by Diane Ravitch
It happens that my oldest started kindergarten the year class size reduction (CSR) kicked in in California, 1996-97, and since we're in a fairly large urban district (San Francisco Unified), I had the opportunity to observe trends in teacher mobility. I would disagree with Schrag. CSR opened up many new teaching jobs, but I didn't see that pattern of migration.
Peter Schrag also wrote a big feature for (of all publications) the Nation PROMOTING now-failed for-profit Edison Schools as a solution for education, around early '01. As Roseann Roseannadanna would say, "Nev-er mind!" That said, Schrag has made some valuable, excellent points too, in high-profile forums, and I don't disrespect someone for not being in lockstep with my every opinion. Though he should publicly admit that he was wrong about Edison, IMHO, to earn my true respect, a la Diane Ravitch. (Schrag is relatively local to me -- a Sacramento Bee columnist who I believe lives in the Bay Area.)
'The Death and Life of the Great American School System' by Diane Ravitch
The educational conservative decries the 'hijacking' of testing, accountability and markets.
Wag more, bark less.
Why you should read Diane Ravitch's new book
Among the many important lessons in Diane Ravitch’s new book, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” this one keeps knocking about in my head:
“Reformers imagine that it is easy to create a successful school, but it is not. They imagine that the lessons of a successful school are obvious and can be easily transferred to other schools, just as one might take an industrial process or a new piece of machinery and install it in a new plant without error. But a school is successful for many reasons, including the personalities of its leader and teachers; the social interactions among them; the culture of the school; the students and their families; the way the school implements policies and programs dictated by the district, the state and the federal government; the quality of the school’s curriculum and instruction; the resources of the school and the community; and many other factors. When a school is successful, it is hard to know which factor was most important or if it was a combination of factors.”
Amen. The U.S. public school system would not be as troubled as it is if most of the reformers of the past few decades really understood this. They would have known that charter schools aren’t a silver bullet. Nor are high-stakes standardized tests. Nor is shaming teachers or reducing them to robots who repeat nonsense from bad textbooks.
These notions are not, of course, original to Ravitch. But she has put together a complete, compelling argument, and when she publicly advocates, her words carry far more weight than others.
If America has a leading education historian, Ravitch, an education professor at New York University, has long had a claim on the title.
For years, she was the darling of conservatives in education. She served as an assistant secretary in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, and was a vocal backer of the second President Bush’s education effort. She was, in fact, at the White House as part of a select group when Bush first outlined No Child Left Behind, and she wrote, she was “excited and optimistic.”
She has written a number of education books that conservatives liked, one of them a scathing critique of leftist historians who attacked the public schools as “an instrument of cultural repression.”
Her credibility with conservatives is exactly why it would be particularly instructive for everyone--whether you have kids in school or not--to read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.”
Ravitch, who has spent some 40 years in education, explains how she went from supporting No Child Left Behind and its testing and accountability regimes to becoming a vocal critic who thinks the very things she once backed are destroying public schools.
Marshaling a mountain of facts that she reported over years, Ravitch tells through riveting stories and sharp analysis why she no longer believes that public schools should be operated like businesses.
Perhaps she is the one person who can’t be ignored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others in the Obama administration who are so far insisting on carrying forward with some of the most insidious aspects of NCLB.
It is an irony that Ravitch’s book has been applauded by Linda Darling-Hammond, a highly respected professor of education at Stanford University and founding executive director of the National Commission for Teaching & America’s Future. Darling-Hammond, who was Obama’s key education advisor during the transition, has long seen the world the way Ravitch views it now.
There had been hope in some corners of the education world that Obama would name her education secretary because of her clear understanding of educational excellence. He didn’t and instead selected Duncan, the former schools chief in Chicago who has become a frequent target of Ravitch’s wrath.
(Darling-Hammond, incidentally, also has written a new book which is a must-read; I’ll talk about it soon.)
Ravitch’s conversion was courageous; it is not often that you see someone in academia, in politics, or, frankly, in any arena, publicly admit they were wrong. Now she finds herself facing the powerful forces that have been arrayed against the kind of reform that she is proposing.
She wants teachers to be paid fairly and not earn “merit pay” based on standardized test results.
She wants public charter schools to stop competing with regular charter schools.
She wants a national curriculum that explains what every child in every grade should be learning.
And she wants people in the worlds of politics and business to stay out of education decisions.
Sounds good to me.
What do you think?
Peter Schragg in LA Times
Caroline, Peter Schrag writes in the service of corporate vulture Sam Zell who barely outbid Eli Broad for the right to turn the LA Times into ink-stained fish wrap. His contempt for working people in general and teachers in particular can't really come as a surprise.
Schrag continues to propound the neo-con myth that class size reduction in California led to experienced teachers fleeing high needs schools to go elsewhere; when the actual research shows the reverse.
He is not to be trusted.
I mostly admire Peter Schrag, who has been a forceful critic of Prop. 13, the anti-tax initiative that has wrought near-total destruction on California. However, I bitterly disagree with his clear indication that two out of three or three out of four teachers are "stultifying drones." IMHO this reveals the fact that (like the think-tankers and policymakers) he never goes near an actual classroom and has no contact with actual children or teachers.
Diane and her book are all over the place today; enjoy! If you dont yet have a copy, go buy it or order it online! we now feature her book and steve's on the right hand side of the blog.
'The Death and Life of the Great American School System' by Diane Ravitch
The educational conservative decries the 'hijacking' of testing, accountability and markets.
By Peter Schrag
February 28, 2010
The Death and Life of the Great American School System
How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education
Basic Books: 284 pp., $26.95
Diane Ravitch, probably this nation's most respected historian of education and long one of our most thoughtful educational conservatives, has changed her mind -- and changed it big time. Ravitch's critical guns are still firing, but now they're aimed at the forces of testing, accountability and educational markets, forces for which she was once a leading proponent and strategist. As President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, embrace charter schools and testing, picking up just where, in her opinion, the George W. Bush administration left off, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" may yet inspire a lot of high-level rethinking. The book, titled to echo Jane Jacobs' 1961 demolition of grandiose urban planning schemes, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," has similarly dark warnings and equally grand ambitions.
Ravitch -- the author of "Left Back" and other critiques of liberal school reforms, an assistant secretary of education in the first Bush administration and a committed advocate of rigorous national academic standards -- here tells the story of what she calls the "wrenching transformation in my perspective on school reform." The educational ideas she had long been enthusiastic about -- testing, accountability, choice and markets -- have been "hijacked," she writes, by the privatizers, particularly the charter school movement. With their strong backing from government and deep-pocketed foundations, she argues, charters are gradually sucking the best students and most committed parents both from the public system and the good parochial schools (which, in their dependency on tuition, can't compete with tax-supported charters) and killing both. Ravitch became increasingly concerned "that accountability, now a shibboleth that everyone applauds, had become mechanistic and even antithetical to good education." Like the liberals she once criticized, "in this case, I too had fallen for the latest panaceas and miracle cures."
Many of those miracle cures have been written into both the state and federal school reform laws of the last generation, and most notably into George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind policy, which required schools receiving a large share of federal funds to be staffed by "highly qualified" teachers by 2006 and to bring all students -- including those with learning disabilities and English learners -- to "proficiency" in reading and math by 2014. As many pointed out, both were impossible goals and, since each state could set its own standards and definition of proficiency, the policy invited states both to cheat and to dumb down standards to avoid the loss of funds. When No Child Left Behind was first proposed, Ravitch writes, she was "excited and optimistic." But after five years, she concluded it was a "failure" because it "ignored the importance of knowledge. It promoted a cramped, mechanistic profoundly anti-intellectual definition of education." Although Obama intends to revise the law (and change the name), he plans to keep the tilt to charters, testing and the threat to close failing schools.
Ravitch is equally worried about the power of big foundations -- backed by the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates, the Walton family, Eli and Edythe Broad -- whose multimillion-
dollar grants to school districts and charter school associations deeply influence policy, sometimes on the basis of little more than the whims of their funders and directors. A few years ago, after spending some $2 billion on a program to break up large high schools into smaller ones and establish new schools able to give students more personalized attention, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation realized that small high schools couldn't provide all the opportunities and resources of larger ones and abandoned it. "With so much money and power aligned against the neighborhood public school and against education as a profession," Ravitch writes of deep-pocketed school reformers, "public education itself is placed at risk."
Skeptics, most on the pedagogic left, have been complaining for years about the obsession with bubble tests and the neglect of liberal arts disciplines that can't be reduced to simple test scores. What is new is that Ravitch is saying these things, and saying them in terms as tough and with a bill of particulars as persuasive as in her dissections of progressive education.
She excoriates the statistical misreading that led to the illusory achievement gains in New York City's once-celebrated District 2 and slams what she describes as former San Diego Superintendent Alan Bersin's morale-destroying coercion of teachers and principals to follow liberal departures from direct instruction. Her argument -- that teachers can't successfully educate if they're "not treated as professionals who think for themselves" -- is reinforced by the model of Ruby Ratliff, one of her high school English teachers a half-century ago in Houston, who, in being tough, "did nothing for our self-esteem" but would have never been able to inspire her students' love of great literature if she'd been constantly forced to teach to a test. What Ravitch doesn't acknowledge is that for every Mrs. Ratliff there were (and probably are) two or three stultifying drones who cared little for great books (or math or science) and killed curiosity as readily as the test-bound.
Ravitch has obviously learned not only from the shortcomings of testing and accountability but also from the union members and liberals who have been saying some of the same things for years. Still, she remains fiercely committed to high standards, including the teaching of good behavior, but particularly to the Western cultural canon, the common vocabulary essential to all good education and the capable, dedicated teachers who can impart it. But beware of panaceas and magic bullets. They're as likely to kill as to cure.
Schrag, a columnist and former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee, is the author, most recently, of " California: America's High Stakes Experiment."
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Bill Thompson rushed to get the word out on Tuesday that he wasn't running for senate, and that he was running for mayor four years from now. His 2013 declaration set such a record for premature expectation that NY1's Roma Torre looked confounded throughout her interview with him that night, which was one of two or three that he did just as this week's Voice cover story about him went up on our site. (The piece details just how beholden Thompson was to Bloomberg, who has funneled tens of millions of dollars to a questionable museum project by his wife, Elsie McCabe-Thompson. The story shows that, as Thompson moved closer to becoming Bloomberg's preferred opponent in the race, the mayor dumped more and more money into the project, which should end speculation about why Thompson ran such a lackluster campaign in a race that turned out to be much more winnable than anyone assumed.)
"The logistics," said the departing comptroller, "I haven't worked out yet." Was that ever an understatement! Like what will he do between now and his mayoral campaign? "Anything from, you know, private sector employment to things still staying in, being involved in the public sector, academia, as another, or as you point out, think tank, there are lots of options out there. Do I know which one? I don't." Or is he forming a campaign staff? "It's very early to do that." Or does he plan to try now to lock down endorsements? "I don't think anybody's gonna say, geez, let me endorse you right now, because everything, landscape changes and the future, who knows what the future holds?" Well said, so how does he know what the future holds for him?
Since Thompson's bizarre announcement is unprecedented in modern citywide electoral history, and inconsistent with his own history in 2008 (when he said he would run in 2009, a more respectable interval), it's safe to assume that some unusual event prompted it. Could it have been, we wonder, the imminent publication of our story, which literally happened while Thompson was jabbering away on NY1?
Having stirred the pot about a possible senate run in many media interviews since November, he obviously had to figure out when and where to withdraw from that race. First, he said he'd decide in December. Then he said January. All you have to do is look at the pushback in the last day or so about Harold Ford possibly entering the race to figure out that the Schumer/Gillibrand camp understood all along that Thompson wasn't ever going to run for senate. No Gillibrand ally ever said a word about Thompson throughout nearly two months of his supposed possible candidacy.
Having milked all that exposure, Thompson wanted to make sure he got out of the race ahead of the mountain of allegations about him in our story this week, so he did it just as the story appeared. His office, his operatives and his wife were given a virtual point-by-point outline of the story in a hundred detailed questions over a month-long period.
Elsie McCabe-Thompson, whose museum is the focal point of the story, even answered some of the early questions, and said, through her spokeswoman, that she'd answer more if we delayed the story. Eddie Castell and Bill Lynch, two of Thompson's top political aides, promised at one point that the Voice would get responses. All we got from Thompson was a statement that he'd recused himself as comptroller on all matters involving the museum, a defense that hurt more than it helped, since it turned out he'd taken several actions on behalf of the museum after he'd recused himself. Once Thompson figured out that his answers were only digging a deeper hole for him, he clamed up.
Then he beat the clock--albeit with the oddest political prophecy of recent time, a candidacy revealed just three days after an inaugural!
By Blocking Weiner
By Henry J. Stern
January 7, 2010
Former City Comptroller William Thompson announced this week (on NY1 Tuesday evening) that he will not run for public office this year, but will seek the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2013, when Mayor Bloomberg's third term will expire. It has been widely reported (and bruited about) that his strong showing against the incumbent mayor would make him a first-tier candidate for the succession four years hence. We doubt it.
The 2009 election result, in percentages, was 51 to 46. Bloomberg received 585,466 votes and Thompson received 534,869. But it is difficult to interpret this result without historical context. The Democratic candidate for mayor against Bloomberg in 2005, Fernando Ferrer, received 503,219 votes (to Bloomberg's 753,089), and the 2001 contender, Mark Green, won 709,268 votes (to Bloomberg's 744,757). Bloomberg's total includes the Independence Party (three times) and the Liberal Party in 2005. Green and Thompson were endorsed by the Working Families Party (Ferrer was not endorsedthe party ran its own nominee). In 2009 Thompson had 506,995 Democratic votes and 27,874 on the Working Families line.
It is clear that the major change from 2005 to 2009 was that Bloomberg received 159,291 fewer votes when he sought a third term. This was a sharp drop, 22.3% of his total disappeared. Many voters, upset over Bloomberg's last-minute extension of term limits despite two referenda, decided either to vote against him or to stay home on Election Day. But Thompson, running on the Democratic line and facing a much weaker Bloomberg in a year characterized by incumbent fatigue, still ran only 3776 votes ahead of Ferrer's 2005 total. Adding the Working Families vote, Thompson ran 31,650 ahead of Ferrer, an increase of only about six per cent. Including his WFP line, Thompson's vote exceeded Ferrer's by just 6.3%. A stronger Democrat very well may have beaten the mayor. The county executives of both Westchester, Andrew Spano, and Nassau, Tom Suozzi, were both surprisingly defeated by little-known Republican challengers.
Another relatively unpublicized election result is that the 2001 race, in which Bloomberg beat Mark Green 50-47, was closer than the 2009 election. And nobody congratulated Mark Green on his strong showing; in fact it was cited as another link in his chain of electoral losses.
Thompson's campaign in 2009, according to the Times, was characterized by a notable lack of urgency. The candidate sometimes did only a single event a day, and invariably showed up late. There are no accounts of energetic activity by Thompson or his staff, in part because of the general expectation that Bloomberg would win by a large margin. Nor were there any memorable new ideas expressed in the Thompson campaign. Affordable housing and job creation are the mantras of the year; they are both highly desirable, but candidates tend to avoid specifics on how to get there, or how to pay for them.
Wayne Barrett, the veteran investigative reporter at the Village Voice, has a theory. Incumbent Bloomberg and challenger Thompson, he charges, were basically on the same side, whether Thompson knew it or not. His article, BLOOMBERG AND THOMPSON: THE (REALLY) ODD COUPLE: Now It Can Be Told: The Surprising Ties Between the Billionaire Mayor and the Poor Slob Who Ran Against Him, is the cover story in this week's Voice. You can link to it here.
Prior to 2009 the two city-wide elected officials had gotten along reasonably well. The mayor and comptroller praised each other on TV, as both pointed out in their later commercials, which they ran to refute the negative commercials that each had run against the other. The pair avoided the public hostility that marked the Koch-Goldin and Giuliani-Hevesi relationships between mayor and comptroller. To the extent there was an outsider at City Hall, it was Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum.
We quote Barrett on Thompsons existential purpose in his final year as Comptroller.
"Thompson's real role, for Bloomberg at least, was to help force the feared congressman, Anthony Weiner, out of the race, a goal that Bloomberg guru Howard Wolfson has openly acknowledged. Thompson obliged, giving up a sure third term as comptroller. Weiner himself explained in a Times op-ed when he withdrew in May that 'running a primary against Thompson would only drain the ability of the winner to compete in the general election.' Having lost to Ferrer in 2005 by 11 points, Weiner understood that minority candidates have won all but one of the Democratic mayoral primaries since 1985. So when the leading black politician in the city decided to make his improbable run, Weiner had nowhere to go but out. Thompson and Bloomberg might as well have had a first-round victory party together that night."
Whether Thompson knew this or not, it is clear that the effect of his candidacy was to drive out Weiner and other potential challengers, leaving only Anthony Avella, a councilmember from Bayside, and Roland Rogers, a complete unknown, in the race. Avella had no media or political support. He had been isolated on the Council, sometimes voting as the lone dissenter. Rogers had no political background, and his petitions were unlikely to have withstood a challenge if anyone who could afford a lawyer had an interest in knocking him off the ballot. Nonetheless, Thompson received just 71% of the vote to Avella's 21% and Rogers' 7.7%. Neither Avella nor Rogers received any matching funds from the Campaign Finance Board because their contributions were too meager; Thompson was given $1,623,554 of tax dollars just for the primary. That is not what one would call "leveling the playing field" so underdogs can compete.
The reason Weiner decided not to enter the Democratic mayoral primary in 2009 is essentially the same reason that he withdrew from the 2005 runoff against Fernando Ferrer, at the time Bronx borough president. Even if Weiner had won the runoff, hard feelings after a bruising primary would have hampered his efforts against Bloomberg.
In the original count of the 2005 primary, Ferrer was just short of the 40% needed to win the Democratic mayoral nomination without a runoff. Weiner, then a relatively unknown outer-borough Congressman, surprised everyone with his strong showing of 29%, eclipsing both the Manhattan borough president, who polled 15.8%, and the Council speaker, who polled 10.3%. It was at that point, after a preliminary count, that Weiner withdrew from the race. Link to his statement here. When the count resumed, with some doubtful results unchallenged because there was no longer a contest, Ferrer's vote was announced to be 40.15%.
It is likely that by diligent counting and appropriate challenges by the Weiner side, Ferrer could have missed 40%. Or he might have achieved the 40%. We do not know for certain, and the votes are not going to be recounted five years later. In any event, it could have taken weeks before the Board of Elections and the courts determined the winner, and if Ferrer had fewer than 40%, there would have been a runoff two weeks later, with Ferrer starting 11 percentage points ahead. Assuming that Millers votes went to Weiner, and Fields' vote split evenly, the outcome would have been very close.
We believe it is likely that Weiner, who was on a surge, would have won, but what would he have won? The nomination of a badly divided party, with half its voters feeling that their man had been counted out, and the chance to go against a highly popular mayor who would, and did, spend $80 million on his campaign. Weiner would in all likelihood have lost to Bloomberg, as Ferrer did, and would have been blamed for the Democrats' disunity and the Republicans' re-election. He would be viewed as having denied the Latino borough president the chance to be mayor, even though, in fact, Bloomberg defeated Ferrer by 249,870 votes. If he wanted to remain in public life, Ferrer should have run for a Congressional seat from the Bronx when one of the incumbents retired. But the bug of Gracie Mansion has a powerful bite.
Back to Comptroller Thompson. His first task will be to find a job. His advance announcement that he wants to leave the job he finds to seek the mayoralty will make it more difficult for him to find employment, since any company or charity that hires him will find its interests viewed skeptically by others who wants to run for mayor in 2013. or their funds. If he works for a nonprofit that seeks city funding, as many do, his prospective candidacy may complicate the relationship.
We would suggest the judiciary as a suitable next step for the Comptroller. He will still be able to comment on public issues if he cares to, without fear of reprisals from potential clients or employers. The Comptroller has as a role model his distinguished father, Supreme Court Justice William C. Thompson Sr., who is widely held in high regard. At 56, he could be a judge for twenty years if he gets three two-year-extensions when he turns 70. He would also be an excellent candidate for advancement to the Appellate Division, if the governor is so inclined. He already has enough years in the pension plan so that his retirement is assured. And he would be able to do justice, which is a noble calling. Just a suggestion, but think about it.