Last week on the 64th day of his mayoralty, Bill de Blasio, criticized for his too hardy approach to snow days, for the slow pace of his appointments, for displays of petulance, achieved a predicted but still significant victory. The City Planning Commission unanimously approved a reimagining of the Domino Sugar refinery on the Brooklyn waterfront, which the de Blasio administration had worked to ensure would have a greater number of apartments priced below market rate than had originally been proposed. Proving that he could compromise with developers, that he could alienate factions of a left that find excessive height distasteful as they clamor for more affordable housing, the mayor permitted the project’s buildings to go to 55 stories, rather than 30 or 40.
The success, though, was eclipsed by a drama that had been unfolding since the previous day, when Mr. de Blasio went to Albany to make a plea for the tax increase that would fund his prekindergarten program. As if arriving to a book group scheduled to discuss “Huckleberry Finn” only to find that everyone else was talking about “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” the mayor was effectively silenced by the thousands of voices who had come to protest his recent actions on charter schools.
The previous week, Mr. de Blasio had approved 14 of 17 charter schools for co-location in traditional school buildings, which does not easily suggest that he is conducting a war on charter schools. And yet this has become the conventional wisdom. Five of the approved schools belong to the high-performing Success Academy network, run by Eva S. Moskowitz, who having led the protesters upstate chose to focus not on her win, but rather on the fact that three of her schools were rejected.In two of those instances, elementary schools would have been set up on high school campuses, a practice the city has come to regard as problematic, and the third, a co-location at Public School 149 in Harlem, would have not only put an already overcrowded school at 135 percent of its capacity but also would have displaced a vast number of children with special needs. Writing to the Department of Education, the principal of P.S. 149, Barry Daub, explained that keeping the space as it is would mean that his students would be able to maintain rooms for mandated occupational and physical therapy and speech services and that the school could continue with a theater arts initiative that was a key part of its program for children with severe disabilities.You would have learned none of this from Ms. Moskowitz, who marketed her tale of victimhood by proclaiming that the mayor was disenfranchising “poor minority kids who want a shot at the American dream,” as if the autistic and behaviorally challenged children at P.S. 149 were coming from Sutton Place.
The second is that Bill de Blasio must come to understand that Andrew Cuomo is not his friend:
It seemed as though Mr. de Blasio was unable to anticipate the intensity of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s commitment to education reform or to offer his own, more enlightened version. As it happened, Mr. Cuomo’s introduction to potential donors from the hedge fund world four years ago, when he was considering his run for governor, came through Joe Williams, who had been serving as the executive director of a political action committee devoted to advancing charter schools.
“De Blasio went into this thinking that he and Cuomo were friends,” a Democratic insider said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of concern over retribution, “but Andrew Cuomo doesn’t really have friends.”
The third is that the charter school narrative that makes it into the media is a simplistic one:
The larger repercussion of the whole affair is the signal it sends of a mayor who has lost control of his narrative, one who has underestimated, for instance, the extent to which the incendiary issue of charter schools divides his own party. It is much easier to convey in short strident sentences what some, but not all charter schools do well — raise standardized test scores — than it is to convey the problems and complexities that arise from a hierarchal education system in which admission is determined by luck. And it seems, for whatever reason, very hard to get the public to understand that charter schools are not a single entity with one kind of culture or philosophy; they vary and, as with everything else in existence, produce both good and bad outcomes.
That these three points made it into a Bellafante column is great pushback against the "De Blasio wages war against poor black kids" narrative Moskowitz and her fellow reformers have been pushing.
Alas, this was the pushback de Blasio needed to be doing last week when Eva was waging her propaganda war against him.
It's too little, too late to win the media battle with Eva over charters, but there is still time for de Blasio to wise up and understand that he cannot ignore the politics around education, he must fight these battles or risk losing the entire war to the reformers.
Second, there is still time for him to understand that Cuomo is not his friend and is looking for every opportunity to destroy him.
Here is hoping that he is learning these lessons and taking them to heart.
I must admit, I'm not convinced that is happening.