Christine Quinn is still the front-runner for the second toughest job in the United States according to a recent poll. Leading in the polls among the other Democratic candidates pretty much means leading in the polls overall here in NYC. The Republican Party will unlikely be a serious challenge for whomever the Democrats nominate and there are no Independents in the field with the type of name recognition Bloomberg had when he ran as one.
Make no mistake about it: Christine Quinn knows the game of politics. As City Council Speaker she paved the way for Pharaoh Bloomberg’s (illegal) third term. Her reward thus far has been a free hand in running her campaign from City Hall without interference from the Bloomberg smear machine, a machine still working on railroading John Liu.
Completely cognizant of the unpopularity of mayoral control of the school system and Bloomberg-style education reform, Quinn recently shared a vision for NYC schools which seemed to distance herself from the Bloomberg approach. For example:
“Instead of treating school closing like a goal in and of itself, we should see it as an ultimate last resort when all else has failed,” Ms. Quinn said, referring to Mr. Bloomberg’s policy of closing low-performing schools and replacing them with new ones. “And we should make fixing schools not just the responsibility of the principal and the teacher, but of all of city government and the entire community.”
Sounds good, especially if you’re one of those New Yorkers associated with a school Bloomberg has closed or is threatening to close.
Even better is Quinn’s promise to reduce the “emphasis on testing”, although this does not mean the same thing as reducing the amount of exams our students currently take. She would not have the power to do much in this area anyway.
In her peroration Quinn described how she would use the resources of municipal government to make up for some of the disadvantages of our neediest students:
Saying that students need more than just a good teacher to be in a position to learn, Ms. Quinn proposed that New York City imitate a Cincinnati program that has used Medicaid funds to establish medical clinics and even an eye clinic in schools, so that students can be treated for various ailments or get glasses without leaving the building.
Adopting that model, she said, would require better communication among city agencies. To coordinate programs across agencies that work with children — running after-school programs, providing health care and food stamps — Ms. Quinn proposed appointing a deputy mayor who would be responsible for both education and children.
This is an interesting idea, one reminiscent of the free breakfast programs the Black Panther Party funded during the 1960s. Politically speaking, this might end up backfiring on Quinn. She will get hammered as a “liberal” or even a “socialist” from the white, blue-collar part of the electorate. From the other side, it does not speak to any of the criticisms the United Federation of Teachers has had of Bloomberg’s school reform program. This just seems like a reallocation of Medicaid funds into a program where poor parents will physically see the benefits for their children.
Then there is her financially dubious proposal to save money by replacing textbooks with tablets. I smell a Bloomberg-esque no-bid contract in there somewhere.
Speaking of no-bid contracts:
The Council speaker also suggested finding savings in the $1.2 billion the department spends each year on consulting and contracts. (Her spokesman, Jamie McShane, pointed to computer services contracts, which he said in fiscal year 2013 will cost roughly $40 million, and contracts for infrastructure maintenance, which he said will cost nearly $60 million, as examples of areas where Ms. Quinn saw bloat.)
Any teacher will tell you that this is where the bulk of education funds end up going. However, the numbers her office cited barely make a dent in the overall education budget. These seem like symbolic gestures designed to placate critics of the increasing waste of Bloomberg-era education contracts.
Her stance on charter schools is that they are on a “good level” now, meaning that Bloomberg has opened a sufficient number over the past 10 years. Does this mean she promises a containment policy of sorts for charters?
So, when we take stock of what Christine Quinn is actually promising we see it is not a major divergence from Bloomberg at all. The tone of her words are certainly designed to put some distance between her and the unpopular mayor, not to mention to woo Mulgrew and the UFT, but the substance of it all is limited to say the least.
Today Quinn distanced herself even more from Bloomberg in a press conference where she touched upon the failure of the mayor and UFT to work out a new teacher evaluation deal:
“I don’t have a problem with the idea of a sunset. Most pieces of significant legislation have a sunset in them.”
The sunset clause was what sunk negotiations with the UFT last week. Michael Mulgrew was willing to agree to the longest-term evaluation deal in the entire state. This wasn’t enough for Bloomberg who said any type of sunset clause would make the evaluations “a sham”.
Smartly, Christine Quinn is verbally distancing herself from Bloomberg. However, there is little evidence that she would do much other than solidify most of Bloomberg’s failed education programs.
Although critical of school closures she never promised to end them. Although aware of the need to support schools with better resources, no plan to do so was outlined other than a reallocation of Medicaid funds. Although aware of the waste and corruption of no-bid contracts, her changes in this regard would be largely cosmetic. Claiming that charter schools were at a “good level” right now is a start but allows her the loophole that charters might need to be increased in the future.
Not to mention that she accepts the assumptions of the wider movement of education reform and the quest to tie teacher evaluations to test scores. She has continuously said that the new evaluations are “too important” for our students (they are not) and the loss of funds will hurt our schools (which they shouldn’t).
While obviously trying to pander, tepidly, to the UFT she is also attempting to pander to other elements by promising to keep Ray Kelly on as police commissioner. Kelly’s NYPD “stop-and-frisk” policy has alienated minority communities, although it plays well to the white blue-collar bloc of New York City’s electorate. Maybe Quinn is hoping to snatch the liberal bloc with education policy and the conservative bloc with law enforcement policy?
Candidates angling for public office should only be half-believed. By that equation, the half-measures she has proposed for the school system at this stage means an actual “change factor” of absolute zero if she gets elected.
Nobody can blame Quinn for playing the game. She wants power. She reads the polls. What she says and does over the next few months will be determined by these two factors.
A candidate we can believe in? Hardly.
A cookie-cutter political opportunist who embodies politics-as-usual in NYC? Absolutely.