As he prepares for a possible 2012 presidential run, the Bloomberg regime in New York City may be unraveling at the end of 2010. So far his endless supply of money has bought Bloomberg a lot of immunity from criticism and support. Newspapers that depend on him for campaign advertising have tread softly in their coverage of school reform failures. Technocrats who should be working for the public good know that if they support the company line they can easily shift between upper echelon jobs in the city government, the Bloomberg campaign organization, Bloomberg L.P., and the Bloomberg Family Foundation. Politicians in both parties know the Bloomberg nod means massive infusions of campaign contributions from the mega-wealthy.
But cracks are appearing in the Bloomberg façade and all of this may, I emphasize may, finally be changing. Maybe democracy, liberty, and accountability can reemerge in New York City. Here are some examples of the new "cracks."
The federal government will no longer give Bloomberg a free pass to disobey environmental laws. In 2011, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency will start inspecting New York City schools for contamination with toxic chemicals. A pilot study of three schools found PCBs leaking from old light fixtures. The Bloomberg administration, which does not want to fix the problem, claims that the chemical leaks do not pose an immediate health risk to students. Of course, Joel Klein, Cathie Black, and Michael Bloomberg never had their own children attend these schools. Judith Enck, the EPA's regional administrator, told city officials last week in a letter that the visual inspections would start in early January and that if any light fixtures were found to be leaking PCBs, the city would be expected to remove them. They said they were not yet certain how many schools its inspectors would visit. "The protection of public health dictates that measures be taken to reduce this exposure as quickly and completely as reasonably possible," she said.
The New York Times is suing the New York City police department for illegally withholding information from the public. It appears the Bloomberg administration may be tying to cover-up evidence of an increase in hate crimes and also possible racial and ethnic biases in stop-and-frisk operations by the police. Last month, Bloomberg's police acknowledged that they had not forwarded data on offenses like misdemeanor thefts and assaults, marijuana possession and sex offenses other than rape to the state since 2002.
The Times claims Bloomberg's police routinely violated a state Freedom of Information Law that requires government agencies to provide information to the press and the public. Bloomberg's police have responded, "These requests are being processed by the N.Y.P.D. in accordance with controlling law."
A federal judge has also criticized the New York City Housing Authority unit of the police department for routinely flouting the law by questioning people without legal justification. Officers use supposed minor violations of Housing Authority rules, such as being unable to prove you are a resident, to justify stop-and-frisk.
Most people mistakenly think principals still run New York City schools. But because of "reforms" instituted by Bloomberg and his immediate predecessor, the final authority in any school is the poorly trained, poorly paid, security guard who reports directly to the NYPD. They decide if a student offense should be treated as an educational infraction or a criminal action worthy of unrest. They can arrest students for such serious crimes as writing on a desk, which is a form of vandalism. My son was once stopped by a school security guard for littering because he dropped seeds on the floor while eating a piece of watermelon. No wonder students no longer listen to principals, deans, or teachers. They are waiting to hear from the person who is really in charge.
On December 20, the New York City Council finally voted to require the Police and Education Departments to produce regular reports on arrests, summonses and suspensions of public school students. The measure was first introduced in August 2008. However, the council was careful not to step on Bloomberg's toes too hard. A proposal to require the Civilian Complaint Review Board to handle complaints about school safety officers was removed. Complaints will go directly to the Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau where they supposedly have nothing better to do.
One important change is that information on suspensions and student discipline will be available by school and will be issued by the Department of Education on either a biannual or yearly basis. All data will be organized according to students' age, grade, race, ethnicity, sex and any special education or English-language program enrollment.
One Bloomberg beneficiary has not flagged in his support. In 2009, the Reverend Al Sharpton quietly and uncharacteristically withdrew from the opposition to Bloomberg's efforts to run for a third term as mayor and to continued mayoral control over the schools. Not surprisingly, at about the same time his non-profit organization received major donations from Bloomberg allies, including $500,000 from a Connecticut-based hedge fund. On December 22, Sharpton was pictured alongside Bloomberg in a press conference protesting against New York State juvenile detention programs. There is no question these programs are a disaster, but does Sharpton, who once was a political agitator, really want to turn control over them to the mayor who mismanaged the schools and poverty programs that failed these young people in the first place?