Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, August 11, 2014

Charter School Sector Looks To Cuomo To Get Rid Of Charter Cap

Eliza Shapiro reports charter school operators are getting nervous that they're getting close to the charter cap and are looking to either get the cap raised or eliminated completely in the next budget battle:

Emboldened by their legislative successes last session, thank to help from Governor Andrew Cuomo, charter leaders and groups are in the early planning stages of launching a unified push to get the cap extended or eliminated as a line-item in this year's final budget. Sources said that meetings with legislators will likely begin later this fall  after the governor's race, and intensify throughout the winter.

New York City will likely have just 17 slots for new charter schools by this fall, assuming that the charter proposals currently under review are approved, as is widely expected.

Advocates say they're optimistic about their chances, which would all but guarantee rapid growth for the charter sector.

And guess who they expect to help them either raise the cap or eliminate it completely?

Advocates are expecting more support from Cuomo, who took up the charter cause in a very public way this year by siding with Success Academy leader Eva Moskowitz and other charter leaders in a fight with the city, and muted opposition from Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was on the losing side of that fight.

I've covered this ground already here and here, but I'm going to cover it again:

Governor Cuomo does not have the power and influence he had in the spring when he finagled the Eva Moskowitz budget that forces New York City to either find space for charter schools or pay for their rent in private spaces.

He has been weakened by the Moreland mess, US Attorney Preet Bharara has publicly chastised him for shutting down the Moreland Commission and publicly warned him he faces potential witness tampering and obstruction of justice charges if he continues to meddle with former Moreland Commissioners and a grand jury is currently convened and hearing testimony and evidence in part into whether Cuomo committed criminal acts by putting the kibbosh on Moreland subpoenas to his own donors, by horse trading Moreland evidence in return for a budget deal or for obstructing justice after the fact by coordinating statements of support from Moreland Commissioners.

Cuomo's two most powerful aides, his former secretary Larry Schwartz and his Luca Brasi henchman Joseph Percoco, are both talking to federal prosecutors in the matter.

Jeff Smith at Politico noted the jeopardy that Cuomo may be in with Percoco and Schwartz talking to prosecutors:

U.S. attorneys don’t get together and swap stories about the time they brought down a political staffer, and they don’t become U.S. attorneys general that way, either. Make no mistake: Bharara wants Cuomo’s scalp, and he has two people he can leverage to get it, if indeed the governor blessed the original thwarting of subpoenas, the more recent pressure on commissioners to make false statements backing up his denial of interference, or both.

Unfortunately for Cuomo, some obstruction statutes treat accomplices before the fact as principals, which means that he would be liable for anything Schwartz or Percoco did, provided he had advance knowledge. And given his legendary micromanagement – Cuomo is famous for producing groundswells of support at opportune junctures, whether on behalf of policy initiatives or his own career advancement – it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t at least aware of his aides’ actions. (As ex-governor David Paterson wryly observed amid mounting pressure to abandon his re-election bid and make way for then-Attorney General Cuomo, “Drumbeats remind me of orchestras, and orchestras remind me of orchestration.”)

If a sole aide is implicated in an effort to protect his boss, he’ll sometimes take the fall by saying that he acted independently, hoping that his boss – especially one about to easily re-elected to a powerful governorship – will appreciate his extraordinary loyalty and remember him post-prison. That option might be preferable to giving up one’s boss, an act that makes a high-level political adviser essentially unemployable by other politicians, lobbying firms and trade associations.

But if there’s a second aide who is implicated, and whose proximity to the principal affords knowledge that the principal approved – or even orchestrated – a cover-up, the calculation is very different. The first aide is no longer simply weighing the benefits of cooperation (a substantially reduced sentence) against the costs (the cognitive dissonance of betrayal and future reputational damage); he is now weighing the odds that the other aide might implicate him first, rendering his own information nearly useless. That’s the crux of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, and it’s why each player’s dominant strategy, according to the game theorists who use it, is to snitch before the other guy can.

Now nothing may come of the criminal investigations into Cuomo and his aides, but the fact that they Cuomo administration is under the scrutiny of federal prosecutors weakens Cuomo's political juice considerably - as Jimmy Vielikind wrote last week:

What the episode has done, people involved in government and longtime observers say, is make it OK, for the first time since Cuomo came to office, to defy him.

Where once other officials wouldn't publicly oppose the famously controlling governor, out of fear, they now will. Where once they would have flocked to his side, they'll now bide their time until they're satisfied that he's gotten a grip on things.

Bharara has very publicly seized control of Cuomo's narrative: Cuomo is no longer the white knight, he's the guy who reversed positions multiple times and presides over an administration under federal investigation. Just another Albany politician.


Added one Democratic strategist: “When they see [G.O.P. gubernatorial candidate Rob] Astorino do it, and [Democratic primary challenger Zephyr] Teachout, and now Preet—it will embolden people. He's basically had no real opposition for the last three years. People will start saying, 'He's not our ally, fuck him. Let's go after him.”

This mixes with an element of schadenfreude—indeed, the past weeks have offered the bubble's revenge. People in Albany knew about Cuomo's word-parsing, micromanagement and willingness to make threats, but have never before seen it called “fucking ridiculous,” or “ham-fisted” on national television.

This has been a fundamental thrust of both of his opponents: that Cuomo is arrogant and unliked. Now, they're also pointing to the Moreland mess to say that he's as bad as the ethically dubious politicians he's criticized.

As I wrote last week, the "Fuck Cuomo" factor has serious political consequences for Cuomo these days, whether he - or his charter allies - like it or not:

This is a politician who is without friends, a politician who is disliked by everybody around him, a politician who inspires no warmth from the public or the Democratic base (indeed, when the Cuomo campaign wanted to send some people to disrupt an announcement by Zephyr Teachout, they had no volunteers they could tap - they had to use interns from a corporation with links to the campaign.)

He ruled by fear alone and now that the fear factor has been replaced with the "Fuck him" factor and with mockery from the nighttime comedy shows and morning political shows, his hold on his power grows weaker by the day.

If you're opposed to Cuomo's policies, now is the time to strike against them and him.

The charter school giveaway Cuomo engineered in the spring could not happen any longer, not in this environment - it is time to try and walk some of that giveway back in the next session (especially now that Gotham Schools reports the city could be on the hook for a lot more money than was first thought)

It is also time to put more pressure on the governor and the Legislature over Common Core, testing and APPR - what is the governor going to do, tap another Common Core Commission to try and get his way on things?

The power and influence to "persuade" and "engineer" things behind the scenes that Cuomo exhibited for most of his first term is gone now.

So now is the time to push back against him, to push back against the policies he forced through in his first term.

Now is the time to say "Fuck him, he's not our ally! Let's go after him!"

Now it remains to be seen if the NYSUT and UFT will fight Cuomo if he sides with charter advocates in looking to lift the cap or eliminate it completely.

For now, Cuomo's office demurred on that question:

A spokeswoman for Cuomo referred Capital to a budget official, who noted that the statewide cap still allowed room for charter growth outside of New York City.

And Shapiro quotes UFT President Mulgrew sounding combative:

"Given the charters' track record, the cap should be lowered," Michael Mulgrew, president of the U.F.T. said in a statement. "Raising the cap will drain more money from New York's traditional public schools, and the only ones to benefit will be a few people in the charter industry."

But of course the UFT and NYSUT did not back de Blasio politically in his battle with Eva Moskowitz over the rent issue last spring, nor did they help de Blasio combat the $5 million+ Moskowitz and her allies spent on pro-charter/anti-de Blasio ads last spring.

So it's still a mystery if the UFT and NYSUT would actually defy Cuomo if or when he decides to push for the lifting or elimination of the charter school cap in New York State.

But he point of this post is, if Cuomo does back the lifting or elimination of the cap in the budget next spring, he will not be in the same place politically that he was last year when he aided Moskowitz and the NYSUT, UFT and public school advocates could fight him and beat him on the issue.

The best scenario coming out of the Moreland mess is Bharara issues a report detailing Cuomo's shenanigans behind the scenes with the Moreland Commission that exposes him as an unethical politician just like every other pol in Albany.

There are two worse case scenarios:

The first is that one or more of his aides are indicted on tampering, obstruction and/or conspiracy to cover up criminal activity charges.

The second is that Bharara brings charges against Cuomo himself.

From what we know publicly, we're still a long way from the worst case scenarios for Cuomo.

But as I noted this morning, I have difficulty believing that somebody as politically astute as Bharara - he made his political bones working for Chuck Schumer - would go toe-to-toe with Andrew Cuomo in public, chastising him for shutting down the commission, warning him that coordinating statements from Moreland Commission members after the fact was potential witness tampering and obstruction, unless he really had something on Cuomo.

I could be mistaken, but if after all the public wrangling between Bharara and Cuomo, if this all just ends up with a sternly-written report about executive meddling in commission work, Bharara's going to look like a chump and Cuomo will make sure the world knows it.

So the likelihood is, Cuomo's going to be facing some political pressure over Moreland when the budget fight comes around next spring and if he and his charter allies push for a cap increase or cap elimination, they do not have the upper hand in that fight the way they did in the charter rent/de Blasio fight last spring.


  1. Should the scenario play out as you depict, it will be interesting to see how the UFT leadership responds to a politically weakened Cuomo.

    If the UFT fights hard against the expected attempt to lift the charter cap, it might explain/justify the strategy that most Unity Caucus members will admit to in private: that the Union made a calculated decision to bide its time, take its hits from its immensely rich and powerful foes, play rope-dope with the so-called reformers until such time as they are spent and can be successfully resisted.

    Even if you disagree, it is an arguably valid strategy, and those who oppose Unity Caucus should in fairness concede as much.

    However, if Cuomo is weakened and less able to exact retribution for political slights, and the UFT leadership still does nothing (as it did last year in the Moskowitz debacle) but supply a press statement about the charter cap, then we will know indisputably which side they are on.

    1. Oh, by the way, RBE, I'd like to thank you for covering this so diligently, and with your usual insight.

      What happens with Cuomo in the coming months is likely to have a long term impact on our professional lives and the direction if the schools, and you are one of the only sources keying in on that.

    2. Thanks, Michael. I've focused on the Cuomo story lately because I think it's important and it has a direct relation to what happens to public schools and teachers in this coming legislative session.