Goodbye Mayor Michael Bloomberg. As you can probably guess from my very critical Huffington Posts during the past four years, I am not sorry to see you go.
Hello Bill de Blasio and Carmen Fariña. A lot of my friends in public education have high hopes for your tenure as mayor and school chancellor, but based on your previous performance I really do not expect much to change. I hope you surprise me.
The New York Times estimated that it cost Michael Bloomberg $650 million to be Mayor of New York City for the last twelve years. They praised his generosity to aides and non-profit organizations and his ability to remake the city. What they left out is that the $650 million was actually a great business investment helping to vastly increase Bloomberg's fortune by promoting Bloomberg's global brand.
In September 2013 Forbes estimated Bloomberg's net worth at $31 billion, up $6 billion in one year and up $26 billion from $5 billion when he was first elected mayor in 2001. Bloomberg is now the seventh richest person in the United States and 13th richest in the world.
The Times also minimized the high cost citizens pay for the ╥philanthropy╙ of Bloomberg and the other billionaires. During the last decade their money has undermined democracy in the United States, promoted programs that escalate social inequality, and remade cities to provide for their comforts and needs. How much will social inequality expand and the Bloomberg brand be worth as Bloomberg Associates spreads his influence around the planet?
But Mayor Mike is gone. Billy Dee and Carmen will now being running the city and the schools.
Bill de Blasio talked up progressive rhetoric and the tale of two cities during his campaign but the reality is that he is a longtime main stream Democratic Party operative. De Blasio worked in the Dinkins administration in New York City, the Bill Clinton Administration in Washington DC, and Hillary Clinton's campaigns. His early appointments are mostly traditional Democrats. Laura Santucci, de Blasio's chief of staff, was an Obama aide and former acting executive director of the Democratic National Committee. Lis Smith, his communications director, is the current girlfriend of disgraced former Governor Elliot Spitzer. Alicia Glen from Goldman Sachs is Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development. Gladys Carrion, his Commissioner for Children's Services was originally appointed to public office during the Koch administration. She was commissioner of the Community Development Agency in the Dinkins administration and headed the state Office of Children and Family Services under Governors Spitzer, Patterson, and Cuomo. She has a long resume, but not one marked by great accomplishment and improvement for children or the poor. Corporation Counselor Zachary Carter was a Bill Clinton appointee as a federal district attorney and has ties to Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign and Cablevision.
Two of de Blasio's most important appointments are Bill Bratton as police commissioner and Carmen Fariña as School Chancellor. Bratton was formerly New York City police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani where he targeted squeegee men. He promises to pursue aggressive police tactics but claims to be reborn as an opponent of the controversial stop and frisk. We will see.
Public school advocates have especially high hopes for Carmen Fariña because she is one of our own, but I feel we will be disappointed. In announcing the appointment, de Blasio said "We cannot continue to be a city where educational opportunity is predetermined by ZIP code." He added that Fariña would help all children realize their potential.
But as far as I can see, Carmen Fariña has closer ties to the top 2% income bracket than the other 98% of the population and has always been willing to play political games. Fariña started as a teacher at PS 29 in tree-lined Brownstone Brooklyn located in the 11201 zip code where the population is 60% White and the median household income was over $91,000 in 2011. She was principal at PS 6 on Manhattan's Upper East Side where the zip code is 10028, the median household income in 2011 was $107,895, and the population is 83% White. Fariña worked at PS 6 when Anthony Alvarado was Superintendent of Community School District 2 and achieved supposedly miraculous school improvement by offering special programs that attracted Manhattan's wealthy and professional families to the district's schools. PS 6 became a very popular school with New York's economic elite and benefited from being a Columbia Teachers College Mentor School, having close ties to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and receiving Annenberg grants.
Carmen Fariña first worked with Bill de Blasio when she was District 15 Superintendent in Brownstone Brooklyn and he was on the school board. It remains unclear to me what Fariña has to offer the working class and poor Black and Latino students who have been left behind in the Bloomberg years. Fariña was also a Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning during the Bloomberg/Klein regime where her reputation as an advocate for children gave legitimacy to their programs.
I only met Carmen Fariña once, at a social studies teachers' conference in 2006. We exchanged a few words and I expressed disappointment that Fariña did not speak out more forcefully for good education. At the time Bloomberg and Klein were trying to force secondary school teachers to use an inappropriate elementary school lesson format called the Workshop Model. Fariña's office maintained that New York City had no standardized lesson plan format, but that did not stop the DOE from enforcing one. Soon after our encounter Fariña quietly retired as deputy chancellor, suspected of using her influence to help a colleague who lived in New Jersey illegally place his child at PS 29.
Will de Blasio/Fariña schools be substantially different from Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott schools? As Randy Newman sings in the opening to every show in the Monk detective series, "I may be wrong now, but I don't think so!"
Post-It Note: In my last Huffington Post of 2013 I offered to meet with Bill de Blasio and his school chancellor to discuss the future of New York City schools. I know he has been busy, but I am disappointed I did not from him. Anyway the offer still holds. Bill, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can set a time and place.