Mayor Bill de Blasio took a five-borough victory lap Thursday for his universal pre-kindergarten program, the signature initiative of his administration.
De Blasio, accompanied by his wife Chirlane McCray, schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, and a group of council members, borough presidents and other elected officials, visited five schools, one in each borough—a first day of school tradition for mayors and chancellors.
Three of the five schools were pre-K centers, and each of the five choices carried a political message.
The mayor built treehouses out of blocks at the Sacred Heart School on Staten Island, a Catholic school with an expanded pre-K program, a recognition of the controversy over pre-K options in parochial schools. He played Simon Says in a second grade Spanish language classroom at Amber Charter School in East Harlem, an acknowledgement of his administration's battle over charter space earlier this year.
De Blasio played with linking plastic fish at Inner Force Tots, a community-based pre-K program (C.B.O.) in East New York, and reminded reporters of his goal to bring pre-K to low-income neighborhoods, a longstanding promise of his administration. He discussed sea creatures with 4-year-olds at Home Sweet Home, another pre-K C.B.O. in Flushing Meadows, a populous Queens neigbhorhood he identified earlier this year as desperately in need of more pre-K spots.
At each visit over a nine-hour tour of the five boroughs, de Blasio talked about his satisfaction with the rollout of the pre-K program, and expressed emotion at what was once a longshot campaign proposal coming to fruition.
Given all the things that could have gone wrong yesterday, they did a pretty remarkable job getting everything up and running.
Give de Blasio that.
Of course, Stringer still wants to see the contracts:
But the de Blasio administration also got a reminder from another citywide official that there was still logistical work to do on the rollout.
City comptroller Scott Stringer, who criticized the administration last week for not delivering hundreds of pre-K contracts for review, said the D.O.E. needed "to get its act together" and deliver the remainder of the contracts. Stringer's office said Thursday that their office had received 190 pre-K contracts out of over 500, and registered 105 of those contracts. Wiley Norvell, a de Blasio spokesman, disputed those figures, saying they do not account for pre-K contracts delivered to the comptroller's office by the Administration for Children's Services (A.C.S.).
De Blasio defended himself from Stringer:
De Blasio took a shot at Stringer on Thursday when asked about the comptroller's remarks, saying, "I think it's time for people who want to be constructive to work with us on solving problems and moving forward, instead of just finding criticisms for no particular reason."
Stringer's got larger ambitions for the future, nailing de Blasio over the contracts helps him get his name into the papers.
In the long term, making sure the contracts are done right is important.
Given that the program didn't exist last year and had to be created from scratch after the funding was finally secured in the spring, Stringer's insistence that all the contracts should have been handed over to him before the first day of school was absurd.
He's just looking to make political points here.