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Saturday, May 10, 2014

What That Meeting On Long Island Between Teachers Union Leaders And Cuomo Signifies

In case you missed the news, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, the "steppin' razor" of New York politics, the politician of whom it is said, "You either do what he wants you to do or you're road kill," had a meeting with the heads of five small local unions on Long Island this week:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo met Thursday with teachers who had protested his education policies at a large rally just 10 days ago. The governor said afterward that straightening out the state’s teacher evaluation system was the “most pressing” education problem the state faces.

On April 28, Connetquot Teachers’ Association president Tony Felicio Jr. led a large protest that criticized Cuomo’s education policies, especially the use of exams tied to the Common Core standards and curriculum to evaluate students and teachers. Newsday reported that the governor's office had offered a meeting with Cuomo if the teachers called off the rally. Thursday, he and other teachers sat down with the Democrat, according to the governor’s office.

“Today we had a productive meeting with NYSUT leaders from Long Island,” Cuomo said in a statement, referring to the New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
 “I thank Connetquot Teachers Association president Tony Felicio for organizing the meeting,” the governor continued. “I have also been meeting with the new NYSUT president, Karen Magee, and have had a positive dialogue.”

Now I'm not at all surprised Cuomo is meeting with NYSUT President Magee (after all, the Mulgrew-and Weingarten-sponsored putsch that knocked out old NYSUT president Dick Iannuzzi was brought about to get a more Cuomo-friendly NYSUT president into office), but I am surprised that Cuomo took the time to meet with the heads of small local Long Island unions.

Here is how Port Jefferson Station Teachers Association blog described that meeting that came about after Cuomo's enforcer, Joseph Percoco, couldn't convince the local union heads to call off the April 28 anti-Cuomo rally:

Following the rally, Percoco once again reached out to Felicio to request a meeting with the governor.  Cuomo’s re-election campaign clearly is rattled by the tidal wave of support for public education that stands in clear opposition to the reform agenda he has helped to force upon our community schools throughout his term in office.  Felicio agreed to the meeting and arranged to bring a few trusted friends in the fight for public education.  Yesterday five Stronger Together local presidents, including Felicio, Tim Southerton (President of the Sayville Teachers Association), Laura Spencer (President of the Smithtown Teachers Association), Kevin Coyne (Brentwood Teachers Association), and our very own Beth Dimino were joined by Brad Lindell (Vice-President of the Connetquot Teachers Association)  at a meeting with the governor.

At the meeting the team raised concerns about high stakes testing, APPR’s, the tax cap, charter schools, Pearson, and RttT, among other things.  Dimino told the governor that given his actions up to this point she could only assume that he didn’t know the truth about the harmful agenda he had been pushing.  After the group gave him the perspective of real classroom teachers they suggested potential solutions to the disastrous situation his policies have created.   Dimino then warned him that he now knew the truth and that there is no excuse for the continuation of such policies.  She stated that there would be a price to pay if swift action is not taken to undo much of what has been done up to this point.  Dimino explained to the Governor that there were two things he could do immediately to mitigate the devastating impact his agenda has had on NYS students, first decouple the testing from teacher evaluations and then decouple all of the unfunded mandates from the tax cap, either by funding those mandates or by making them exclusionary under the cap.

Cuomo, who was polite, respectful, and attentive during the meeting that lasted nearly two hours, responded with a lot of “I didn’t know” or “It’s not my fault” types of answers.  He also told them, “I thought everybody loved charter schools?!”  Additionally he warned that we may want to cancel the rally scheduled for the New York Democratic Convention on May 22nd in Melville so that we don’t upset other Democratic politicians.  Let me be very clear here: The rally will go on!  As Felicio warned on April 28th, the Lombardi’s rally was just a warm up for a bigger, louder, more intense one on May 21st.

Finally Cuomo pledged to create a task force of classroom teachers to more deeply investigate the issues discussed.  He said he would be in touch with NYSUT President Karen Magee to create that task force.  Unfortunately Magee is no fan of the PJSTA, so don’t expect Dimino or many other NYSUT members critical of the Mulgrew/Pallotta/Revive NYSUT coup to make the cut for the task force.  Of course we have been down the task force road with Cuomo before.  Typically what happens is that any voices of truth who speak for teachers and students are ignored so that Cuomo can stock his war chest with big money from Wall Street, Pearson, and Eva Moskowitz.  In the end the losers are usually public schools and the communities they serve.  Color me skeptical when it comes to any meaningful changes being made.  Still, for a change, it was nice to know that our message was sent to the governor yesterday, loud and clear.

Cuomo, once adamant about making no changes to the APPR teacher evaluation system (in fact, just a few months back he threatened the Board of Regents if they made any changes), is now talking about making some changes:

Cuomo and legislators earlier this year passed a new law that delays the use of Common Core tests to evaluate students. And he recently hinted that he’s open to delaying it for teacher evaluations as well, after first opposing such a delay.

On Thursday, Cuomo went a step further, saying the “most pressing” education issue is the “impact of Common Core scores on the teacher evaluations.”

   Said Cuomo:  “I think everyone supports teacher evaluation, including most teachers, but they need to be fair and accurate.  Flawed Common Core implementation has severely damaged confidence in the accuracy of evaluations.  I believe we must work diligently to remedy that situation with a legislative solution this session. While I know time is short, I believe it is possible to find a reasonable solution and implement it. I will do my best to bring the parties together to get it done.”

Let's take the news that Cuomo met with the heads of five small local unions, combine it with the news from earlier in the week that he wouldn't be showing up at the reformy retreat of hedge fund managers and edu-entrepreneurs in Lake Placid that he had been supposed to "co-chair," and note that Cuomo had a very, very un-Cuomo-like week.

As I wrote earlier, this guy's used to be a "steppin' razor," the dude who makes everybody else go along with him, not the guy who is forced to cancel appearances at reformy retreats in front of his hedge fundie and Wall Street donors or spend nearly two hours with the leaders of local unions with a 1,000 members or less and listen to them tell him how damaging his education policies are.

Just a few months ago, Cuomo would have never deigned to meet with this group of union leaders for nearly two hours and listen to their grievances.

I agree with PJSTA blog that the "solution" he offered to these leaders - another "commission" to "investigate the issues discussed" - is jive, just a way to make it look like he's doing something to mitigate the problems when he really isn't doing anything at all. 

But that he had this meeting and listened to these people air their grievances for nearly two hours shows just how vulnerable he is feeling these days over his re-election.

I don't think it's just public education he is feeling vulnerable over - the Moreland mess he created, the public financing pressure he's getting, the aggressive campaign he's facing from GOP opponent Rob Astorino, the potential for a third party candidate from either the Working Families Party or the Green Party to siphon off a considerable number of votes from him on Election Day and the specter of Preet Bharara hitting his office with subpoenas over Moreland interference have softened him up considerably from earlier in his term. 

But there's little doubt that when the parents and teachers of this state publicly protest his ed policies and tax cap and get press coverage out of it, they are getting Cuomo's attention.

The problem here is, how long does he continue to feel vulnerable over these issues and show some willingness to listen (and even act upon what he's heard) and when does he go back to being Andy "Steppin' Razor" Cuomo?

Quite obviously he's most willing to listen and act upon these concerns before his re-election, but only so long as he feels he's got to worry about his margin of victory being close.

If Astorino can garner 40%+ in polls and a third party candidate like Howie Hawkins can take a few percentage points from him in the months leading up to Election Day, Cuomo will remain pliable and reasonable.

But if we start seeing Cuomo with 60%+ re-election numbers in polls, he's less likely to feel the need to meet with the leaders of five small union locals who have been pushing anti-Cuomo protests and listen to them.

That said, I think it's important to take the long view on this too - Cuomo may say publicly he's not thinking about running for president, but you know he is very much thinking about running for president in 2016.

He won't run if fellow New Yorker Hillary Clinton decides to run, as she will sweep up almost 100% of the political backing of the state and leave Sheriff Andy isolated and alone.

But if for some reason Clinton decides not to run, I bet Cuomo starts to explore his own bid for the White House.

Clinton hasn't officially announced, but she had a fairly rough week in the press:

Hillary Clinton isn’t a candidate for president, at least not yet. But this week felt like she was very much in the 2016 grind.

One day, she was weighing in on gun control, Obamacare and social inequality. The next she was taking heat over Benghazi and facing questions about whether as Secretary of State she went too easy on the group behind the kidnap of Nigerian girls.
Then there was Monica Lewinsky, reviving the scandals of 1998.

It was arguably the roughest week Clinton has had since she left the State Department early last year, highlighting the tensions between the past and the future that will inevitably come to a head if she runs.

Clinton's not so young anymore and she doesn't look the healthiest.

A couple of months of getting hammered over this kind of stuff and she just may decide she doesn't want to deal with the horseshit you have to deal with to A) run for president and B) be president.

Don't think Cuomo wasn't watching Clinton's rough week and wondering what that might mean for his own presidential aspirations.

And don't think he wasn't wondering if Clinton might not decide to enjoy her sunset years and give him his chance to run in 2016.

So long as Cuomo thinks he has a shot to run for president in 2016, he wants nice headlines, pleasant press coverage and decent poll numbers to make it look like he's got a decent shot for the Democratic nomination and that means he doesn't want anti-Cuomo protests on Long Island or at Lake Placid, stories in Newsday and on LoHud about how his education policies are making 7 year old's cry, or TV footage of parents protesting his Common Core outside speeches he's giving in Rochester to the business community.

Critics and opponents of Common Core, the Endless Testing regime, the APPR teacher evaluation system and the tax cap have considerable leverage going into Cuomo's re-election campaign, but even if he wins re-election in November and goes on to his second term, they are still going to have leverage on him so long as Cuomo thinks he has a shot to run for president in the future.

That's why it's incumbent upon opponents and critics of the Cuomo/King/Tisch/Gates/Broad education agenda to continue hammering Cuomo no matter what he gives on teacher evaluations in the next few weeks, no matter what concessions he makes on Common Core or the Endless Testing regime in the future.

It is very important to keep Cuomo worried about children, parents and teachers showing up with "No Mo' Cuomo" signs at any moment and wrecking his photo op coverage wherever he goes in the state.

It is very important to keep Cuomo worried that his education policies are not only taking political support away from him, they're snowballing into other negative stories (like the Moreland mess) and creating a public relations nightmare for him as a potential 2016 presidential candidate.

In a future post, I want to take a look at what the Moreland mess and the US attorney's investigation into alleged Cuomo interference into the commission's work means for both Cuomo's re-election and the ability to force changes to his education policies.

Make no mistake, the public protests of children, parents and teachers on Long Island and elsewhere against his education policies may force some changes to his agenda.

But you can bet that the concerns he has over the Moreland investigation are making him more willing to make deals these days too.

He's worried about what news of a Bharara investigation will do to his public support and poll numbers and that's making him a lot more willing to talk some concessions on issues he once said he would ever concede on.

Let's keep the pressure on him and make it clear, we want radical changes to his policies or else.


  1. It's an election year. He is a game player. He will make deals and break them. I would never trust him. He is a Chris Cristie in a smaller package. He will take that public education bridge and tear it down like Godzilla the minute he is re-elected.

    This is why it's more important to not make the same mistake we made when Bloomberg was up for re-election....talking about the 2nd time....and we missed a great opportunity. Instead Unity made it easy for him.

  2. I'm not that surprised because I was at that rally and it was really big, really noisy and fun!. Even though it disrupted traffic in the area for hours most of the cars passing by were beeping and waving in support. It got quite a bit of press coverage. News12 is the 24 hour news station on Long Island and they played the story over and over. It also was covered by local papers.

    The crowd, made up of teachers, parents, children and other groups (NRA, anti-fracking people, Sandy victims) were trying to convince the people attending (Donors to the Democractic Party) not to go in by yelling "Turn around!" and "Don't do it!" when they entered the venue. When they continued the crowd chanted "Shame on You!"

    Not only did it shake Cuomo up a bit, but it also put the NY Democratic Party on notice that they will be held accountable come November. The NY Democratic Convention is being held at The Hilton Hotel in Melville on May 21st and 22nd and all of these people and hopefully more will once again deliver their message: We're Not happy with Cuomo! We're Not happy with High Stakes Tests! We're Not happy with Teacher Evaluations! We're Not happy with Common Core! We're Not happy with NY Educational Policies! We're Not happy with budgets that favor charter schools over public schools! We're Not Happy with legislators in either party who support these things!


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