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ANALYSIS 2021 News 2021

Is NYC Going to Get Schooled Under a New Mayor? 

When Bill de Blasio first ran for mayor in 2013, betting that a progressive, anti-Bloomberg Democrat could vault into City Hall, his education platform was clear: charter schools would not have it so easy when he won. 

“Starting January, Eva Moskowitz cannot continue to have the run of the place,” de Blasio fumed that year, referring to the most powerful charter school executive in the city. “Just because someone is politically connected and has a lot of money behind them, they don’t tell the public school system what to do.”

Eight years later, Eva Moskowitz is still the CEO of Success Academy, the large and highly influential charter school network, and her name is nowhere to be found in the mayoral race. Instead of left-leaning Democrats taking turns promising to block the expansion of charters, the top candidates in this primary are taking a very different tact — deference, or even praise, for the privately-run, publicly-funded schools. 

“I want to make New York City public schools great but charters offer us an opportunity,” Kathryn Garcia, who has emerged as a top Democratic contender, told the Voice. “They can be labs for experimentation.” 

The changing tune on charters is one of the more remarkable policy turnarounds in a race in which the candidates, otherwise, have proposed many progressive programs that would expand on de Blasio’s vision: free schooling before pre-K, public banking, and more affordable housing. Traditionally, many left-leaning Democrats and union activists have reviled charter schools because they don’t have to recognize teachers’ unions, unlike ordinary public schools, and can easily block the admission of students with disabilities and language difficulties. Since charter schools co-locate with public schools in the same school building, fierce battles have erupted over space and supplies. 

Defenders of charter schools argue they offer an alternative education where public schools are struggling and allow poorer, nonwhite students to enjoy the privileges of wealthier peers in private schools. Many charter schools in New York City operate in predominately Black and Latino neighborhoods, where they enjoy support among parents. Students who remain in charters perform well on state exams. 

Some liberal, technocratic Democrats have embraced charters — Barack Obama was a supporter — but they remain a favorite cause of Wall Street, with billionaires in New York and nationally funding their growth. Right-wing, charter-backing billionaires, including hedge funders Kenneth Griffin and Daniel Loeb, are lavishly funding super PAC’s for two of the leading mayoral contenders, Eric Adams and Andrew Yang. 

Garcia, the New York Times-endorsed former Department of Sanitation commissioner, hasn’t yet received the same attention from the billionaire class but has vowed she’d fight to raise the cap on the number of charter schools in the five boroughs. This stance has some Democratic insiders speculating that Garcia may get assistance soon from charter school backers. 

Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who has led in the polls of late, is a de Blasio ally and a pro-union Democrat who otherwise shares an affinity for charters. As recently as 2019, Adams spoke at a rally in support of Success Academy, and told the Voice he would not move to curb the expansion of charters if he enters office next year.

“I am a believer in scaling up excellence. That’s what I’m a believer in,” Adams said. “We only have a small number of good, solid charter schools. So what I’m going to do as mayor, I’m not going to engage in the ‘adult’ conversation of naming schools. I’m going to engage in the ‘children’ conversation of scaling up excellence.”

And Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur and former presidential candidate, has called himself “pro-charter” in the past and said he would, if elected, try to open charter schools that the city and state have already authorized. “I’ve committed to using the already authorized charters that right now are not being utilized. That’s the current plan,” he said. 

Through his consultant, Bradley Tusk, Yang’s affinity for charters may be even deeper. Tusk once worked for Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire mayor who oversaw an explosion of charter schools in the five boroughs and actively encouraged their growth. 

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Why are charter schools suddenly popular in this mayoral race? Theories abound. 

The young progressives and socialists hostile to charter schools were not yet in position to mount credible mayoral bids. And the end of the Donald Trump era has allowed charter-friendly Democrats to be a little less shy, since Trump’s Education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was a fierce charter school backer. 

Before Trump took office, Governor Andrew Cuomo was a vocal ally of the charter sector, but grew more muted over the last few years as the privately-run schools became associated with Trump’s education policy. 

James Merriman, the chief executive officer of the New York City Charter School Center, agreed that Trump’s exit — as well as the loss of Republican power in New York State — has buoyed the movement’s political prospects, which were often bound up in whether conservatives could decide education policy in New York. 

Merriman also argued that, quite simply, there are now too many charter schools in the five boroughs for the unorthodox education approach to be vilified any longer. “The charter sector is bigger and harder to ignore,” Merriman said. “There wouldn’t be a single charter school around if no one wanted to go to them.” 

Before the late 1990s, charter schools didn’t exist in New York at all. When Bloomberg took power in 2002, he committed to a rapid expansion of the schools, benefiting from a Republican governor in Albany who was also interested in seeing them thrive. There were 17 charter schools the year Bloomberg entered office; there were 183, in 2013, when he left

De Blasio promised a charter crackdown, but the industry fared better than expected thanks to a far more powerful ally in Cuomo. In 2014, de Blasio’s first year, he bitterly clashed with Moskowitz, a former colleague of his in the City Council, when he rejected co-locations for three Success Academy schools that Bloomberg had rubberstamped. 

Moskowitz, along with the private equity-backed charter lobby group Families for Excellent Schools, spent millions in television ads against de Blasio and staged large rallies with parents, schoolchildren, and politicians. Cuomo, meanwhile, would engineer a new law unlike any other in America: for the first time, the city government would have to pay the rent of all charter schools or find them free space in available buildings. 

The battle wounded de Blasio, and he never quite took on the charter sector, head-on, again. The law remains on the books and has not been repealed in Albany, even with progressive Democrats in power. Under de Blasio, charters have enjoyed steady growth: there are now 290, which is the current state-mandated cap. Cuomo, the charter industry, and Garcia all want to see this cap raised. 

Even progressives in the mayoral race are no longer speaking in pointed terms about charter schools. One of them, Dianne Morales, founded a charter school herself. 

Maya Wiley, who has been endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, refused to state outright she backed ending the state law requiring New York City to pay the rent of all charters. “Every last kid is our kid, period. Let’s just start there,” Wiley said. “We know there are many things we have to fix about how we’re doing space in this city. We also have to make sure we’re not overpaying.”

For the Department of Education, the rent requirement has led to escalating costs. Of the DOE’s roughly $28 billion budget, more than $2.4 billion is spent now on operating aid for charters. New York City, thanks in part to Cuomo’s hatred of de Blasio, is the only district in the state that does not receive state dollars as reimbursement as city payments to charters increase. These numbers are expected to grow as charter schools throughout the city increase their enrollments in the coming years. 

The United Federation of Teachers, the chief antagonist of the charter industry, is backing Scott Stringer, a charter critic in the mold of de Blasio, for mayor. But Stringer, besieged by a sexual assault scandal, has not been able to command any kind of polling lead in the race. When asked about the current popularity of charter schools in the Democratic primary, Mike Mulgrew, the current president of the UFT, had a simpler theory: money. “The Garcia campaign was almost broke. Yang and Adams, this was the easiest way to raise money,” Mulgrew said. “This is about some really unscrupulous people donating and trying to get control of City Hall once again.”     ❖

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ANALYSIS 2021 From The Archives News 2021 NYC ARCHIVES SPRING PRINT EDITION 2021 THE FRONT ARCHIVES

MAYORAL BINGO

On June 22, the next mayor of New York City will be crowned. Yes, this is a Democratic primary and there will, technically, be a general election, but the days of Mike Bloomberg spending tens of millions to bludgeon Democrats are no more. If you’re a registered Democrat, congrats—you’ll have a say in the city’s future. If not? You’re out of luck.

What to make of this sleepy race, lost in the shuffle of endless Andrew Cuomo scandals and that never-quite-over global pandemic? It’s still wide open. No Democrat has captured a majority of hearts and minds in any single poll. Your consistent leader is Andrew Yang, the former presidential candidate and entrepreneur, who is no longer promising a thousand bucks to everyone—with a municipal budget, he can’t—but who wants to bring a public bank and some other goodies (a geothermal power plant) to the five boroughs. 

But the field is starting to gang up on Yang. The No. 2, and the person who could still win it all, is Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a combative former police captain with a knack for soundbites. Rounding out the top tier are a couple of liberals, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and former de Blasio counsel Maya Wiley, who are chasing the MSNBC set and maybe a few socialists. 

And then there’s ranked-choice voting. In June, New Yorkers get to rank their top five picks, and if no one hits 50%—don’t worry, they won’t—lower-finishing candidates are automatically eliminated, dispersing their votes to whoever is ahead. The process repeats until a winner emerges. Sound good? 

Yang has said he’d make Kathryn Garcia, another candidate who served under de Blasio, as sanitation commissioner, his second choice. Garcia hasn’t returned the favor. A surging left-wing candidate, Dianne Morales, has been courted by Stringer and Wiley for some alliance making—but maybe she leapfrogs them both. Wiley already asked voters to rank Morales No. 2 behind her. Ray McGuire, a millionaire business executive, hopes to spend the field into submission, though he lacks Bloomberg’s world-historical billions. And Shaun Donovan, who ran agencies under Bloomberg and Barack Obama, is counting on being everyone’s second choice. 

How to sort through it all? The Voice, in our handy chart below, has you more than covered. Find your best bet for each category.  ❖

 

From the Village Voice 2021 Spring print edition

 

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ANALYSIS 2021 From The Archives JOCKBEAT 2021 JOCKBEAT ARCHIVES News 2021 SPRING PRINT EDITION 2021 Uncategorized

Hello? It’s the Future Calling. Yeah, the Jets Still Suck at Drafting.

The New York Jets are just weeks away from an April 29th NFL draft that will surely alter the course of the franchise’s history for years to come. They’re going to get it wrong.

Trust me, I’ve already seen the draft and the ensuing season. But I came back to 2021 in order to drop some wisdom on eager Jets fans who just can’t wait to see who Gang Green selects. The same fans who are mired in a decade in which their team has finished with a winning record just twice (2010 and 2015; 70–106 overall), who haven’t seen their squad in a Super Bowl since 1968, and who have witnessed drafting ineptitude that transcends regimes since the 1980s.

Misplaced as it is, I’ve got to admire your faith.

Right now you’re probably yelling, “Who’d the Jets take with the second overall pick?!” Oh, and you want to know if he’s the future, right?

There’s that faith again.

Of course, considering my omnipotence, I could answer all of your questions about the upcoming season. But first, I’ll divulge a more vital piece of information: It doesn’t matter who the New York Jets select in the draft. It has rarely ever mattered, in fact.

Simply put, the Jets do not draft well. Their history is plagued with first-round busts and missed opportunities to draft better players. Jets fans know it. Most of them admit it. The rest have no doubt buried the knowledge deep in their subconscious in order to continue their fandom after more than a half-century of misery.

A lot of that heartache can be attributed to New York’s inability to find elite long-term options through the draft, especially at the quarterback position. You have to go back a couple decades to find the last QB who started for the Jets for more than five seasons: Chad Pennington. The 18th overall pick in 2000, Pennington showed flashes of promise as a starter from 2002 to 2007. However, 2008 saw the Jets cut the oft-injured quarterback in favor of veteran Brett Favre. Later that year, a once-hopeful campaign would be stomped out in the final game of the season by the Miami Dolphins. Miami’s quarterback was Chad Pennington.

The next—and last—period of “stability” at the position came in 2009, when the Jets drafted Mark Sanchez fifth overall. Though mostly powered by their defense, New York made it to two straight AFC Championship games (2009 and 2010) with Sanchez under center, losing both. Sanchez spent four seasons with the Jets, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and becoming best known by NFL fans for his part in the notorious “Butt Fumble,” in 2012.

New York’s inability to find a quarterback through the draft doesn’t begin or end with the 2000s, though. Who could forget the 1983 draft, where college star Dan Marino miraculously fell to the Jets at 24th overall? Well, they opted for quarterback Ken O’Brien instead, who had a few decent seasons with the team during his nine-year run. Marino went to Miami three picks later and is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to grace the sport.

Still excited for the draft? How about their most recent investment? 2018 saw the Jets take Sam Darnold with the third overall pick. Four selections later, the Buffalo Bills pounced on Josh Allen. Allen is now a top-five QB in the NFL. Darnold was just recently traded to the Carolina Panthers as New York is poised to take another swing at drafting a quarterback.

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But this time around, it’ll work, right? Don’t bet on it, because the horrors range beyond the QB position. In 1995, New York took tight end Kyle Brady ninth overall despite an apparent lack of need at the position. Three picks later, defensive lineman Warren Sapp went to Tampa Bay. Brady played four uninspiring years for the Jets. Sapp became a Hall of Famer.

Since 2010, the Jets have used first- and second-round selections on the likes of Kyle Wilson, Quinton Coples, Dee Milliner, Calvin Pryor, Stephen Hill, Jace Amaro, Devin Smith, Geno Smith, and Christian Hackenberg. Only one of them spent more than four years with New York. Most were purged from the NFL shortly after leaving the team. The Darnold deal marked something of a milestone for the Jets: of their ten first-round selections from 2010 to 2018, none remain on the roster.

I mean, even in the rare instances where they get it right, they get it wrong! Look at the 1985 draft, for example. The Jets took wide receiver Al Toon. Great player, right? Now he’s in the Jets’ Ring of Honor. Six picks later, the San Francisco 49’ers selected wide receiver Jerry Rice. Rice more than tripled Toon’s career output, got into the real Hall of Fame, and is considered the best player at his position ever.

Other times, New York drafts well but just gets rid of the player. Exceptionally talented picks like safety Jamal Adams and defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson were both traded before their rookie contracts were up. Even sophomore standout Quinnen Williams was mentioned in trade rumors in 2020. It’s a vicious cycle!

I could dig into the 2003 draft, where New York passed on 17 future Pro Bowlers in the first two rounds, or the 2005 draft, when they selected a kicker with their first pick, but I won’t. Most of the picks are terrible. The good ones are either traded or overshadowed by better selections.

But every team makes these kinds of mistakes . . . right? You keep telling yourself that. In 2000 Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round by the Patriots, 199th overall. And yep, that was the year the Jets used their third pick—after they chose defensive ends Shaun Ellis and John Abraham 12th and 13th overall—to scoop up Pennington. They passed a total of seven times on the man who would dominate their division for the next 19 years. Oops.

So, no, I won’t reveal who the Jets take with the second overall pick in 2021, because while the names and positions may change, the results rarely do. It will not work out.

You don’t need to be from the future to know that.  ❖

 

From the Village Voice 2021 Spring print edition

 

2021 Village Voice jockbeat article about how poorly the Jets do at drafting

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ANALYSIS 2021 News 2021

Silent Cuomo Mired in Twin Scandals

Andrew Cuomo has never been weaker. 

In conversations with elected officials, political operatives, labor leaders, donors, and those who have waded in and out of the Albany muck for the last decade, this has been the overriding theme. Besieged by two separate scandals, one related to multiple sexual harassment allegations against him and another tied to his oversight of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Cuomo is increasingly unlikely to seek a fourth term and could be forced from office if opposition continues to grow against him. 

Few of his traditional allies have spoken up in his defense. At the highest echelons of state politics, there is chatter about how long Cuomo can really hang on, with a state budget deadline in less than 30 days. At the most critical time of year, when tens of billions of dollars in state spending are usually dictated by Cuomo, his position is growing untenable. 

“Andrew Cuomo is definitely going to try to hold on as long as he can. He’s going to be clinging onto the office by his fingernails but he may not be able to,” says one influential labor leader, who asked to remain anonymous. “He’s not going to be able to recover. The thing is, even when he doesn’t see it, other people already see it, they’re already accepting that. I heard people talking about who’s going to be lieutenant governor, the presumption being that such a question will have to be dealt with shortly.” 

“I think he’s done,” says another high-ranking Democrat. “All I get are phone calls about his done-ness. You can’t make three enemies a week for 10 years and hope to survive. People who were close to him are like, ‘Andrew Cuomo, who’s that?’” 

These days, Cuomo consults with Bill Mulrow, a Blackstone advisor who once served as secretary to the governor and remains a close confidant. The fear in Cuomo’s orbit is that more stories about sexual assault allegations are coming. Another allegation — another damning anecdote or photograph — could quickly end his career. 

If Cuomo is forced to resign, he will be the second governor to do so since 2008. It was then that Eliot Spitzer, just one year into his tenure, resigned in the midst of a prostitution scandal. When a governor exits, a lieutenant governor takes over — in this case, the next governor, through 2022 at least, would be Kathy Hochul, a little-known Buffalo politician with no base in New York City and its surrounding suburbs, where most Democratic voters reside. 

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In such a scenario, Hochul would likely be a caretaker governor, pressured out of running for re-election just like David Paterson, Spitzer’s successor. The leading contender for next year, at this point, is Letitia James, the state attorney general now investigating Cuomo. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has also been floated as a possible candidate. 

Cuomo’s downfall has been swift and remarkable. The most powerful governor in New York since Nelson Rockefeller, Cuomo dominated the affairs of his state like few others, drawing on an endless reserve of loyalty, admiration, and fear. 

State elected officials do not have term limits. And Cuomo, famous and undeservedly popular after presiding over the second largest coronavirus death toll in America, seemed as close to immortal as any politician could be. He had, at various points in the last year, appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, won an Emmy award, and been feted by the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Stephen Colbert, and Trevor Noah, who all declared themselves “Cuomosexuals.” 

Not only was Cuomo running for a fourth term in 2022, he was all but guaranteed to win it, surpassing his father, Mario, who led the state for 12 years. His favorability ratings were declining from their pandemic-induced high — he had neared, in one poll, a soaring 80 percent — but he was still, as of January, trundling onward, banking almost $17 million, with far more expected in the coming months. 

These days, Cuomo is in hiding. He has no public schedule and hasn’t taken questions from the press in more than a week. He is reeling from three credible sexual harassment allegations, two from former aides. 

One said he forcibly kissed her, which he denies. Another said he had inappropriate conversations with her this year, asking whether she was having sex with other people, whether she would have sex with older men, and telling her that he was lonely. Cuomo issued a statement affirming at least some of her account, acknowledging “some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent that anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” (The woman, Charlotte Bennett, rejected the quasi-apology.)

A third woman, who had never met him before, said he made unwanted advances on her at a wedding in 2019, placing his hands on her cheeks and asking if he could kiss her. The interaction was photographed, the woman clearly uncomfortable. Cuomo has not issued a specific comment in response. 

As James, the state attorney general and an erstwhile ally of Cuomo, probes the allegations — the governor was rebuffed when he requested a former federal judge, who had served as a law partner with an old top aide in his administration, investigate them — Cuomo is facing down calls for his resignation. 

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At the minimum, Cuomo is likely to hang on as long as James is investigating. Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the State Democratic Party, an entity Cuomo wholly controls, said on Tuesday that “it is both premature and unfair for anyone to opine on the outcome until that investigation is completed and the results reported.” Voice requests for comment sent to Governor Cuomo’s press office have gone unanswered. 

But most people in Albany expect the report, when issued, to be deeply damaging to Cuomo. It is not known when it will be finished. 

The sexual assault allegations burst into view as Cuomo was already on the defensive from an unrelated, and equally serious, scandal: his decision to withhold data on nursing home coronavirus deaths from state lawmakers, which appears to have prompted a new FBI probe. A state legislator who had been leading the charge on the nursing home issue, Ron Kim, went public with wild threats Cuomo made against him over the phone, revealing for everyday people what political insiders had long known: Cuomo can be, and often is, a sociopathic bully behind closed doors.  

On Monday, a dam seemed to break, with a wide array of city, state, and federal elected officials calling for Cuomo to step down. On Tuesday, the progressive Working Families Party, a longtime enemy of Cuomo’s, said he should resign. 

“To me, the photo in the New York Times article was very damaging and particularly for those of us who are women, who have been in those similar situations, we know how terrible and small men make us feel with that dominant behavior,” says State Senator Jessica Ramos, one of the Democrats who called for Cuomo to step down. “The photo just shows how Cuomo sees women as accessories to his ego, how his narcissism really does go far and beyond the second floor [the executive chamber in Albany].”

Harvey Epstein, a Manhattan state assemblyman who says Cuomo “just has to step aside,” can’t imagine how Cuomo can effectively govern anymore, with negotiations over a pivotal, pandemic-era budget looming. 

“I have no idea how this budget gets negotiated,” Epstein says. “It is not good for Democrats, our city, our state, and our nation to have the governor involved in all this controversy.”

What can make Cuomo quit? In New York, power resides in a few overlapping sectors. There are the millionaires and billionaires who have lavishly donated to all of Cuomo’s campaigns, allowing him to shatter fundraising records. CNBC reported on Tuesday that many of these donors, concentrated in the real estate and financial sectors, are pausing their donations, waiting at least for the outcome of the attorney general’s investigation. 

Demonstrators outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office demand his resignation over sexual harassment allegations, March 2, 2021

If donations dry up for Cuomo, he will be severely impaired if he attempts to campaign for a fourth term next June. Beyond the corporate sector, there is organized labor and powerful interest groups, like the Greater New York Hospital Association, who have all been reliable, if transactional, backers of the governor. 

Major labor union heads have been silent publicly. So has GNYHA, which represents the wealthier private hospitals and designed, with Cuomo’s consultation, the controversial immunity protections they’ve enjoyed during the pandemic. 

If the heavyweight unions, particularly 1199 SEIU, the healthcare workers’ union that is the state’s largest, abandoned Cuomo, he would likely be hobbled to the point where finishing up his third term, let alone running for another, would be impossible. 

Finally, there are the two legislative leaders, Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Neither are overly fond of Cuomo—few in Albany are — but both have been deferential to him throughout the pandemic. That is changing, as each move to revoke his emergency powers

Heastie, the speaker of the 150-member Assembly, may be the most important Democrat of all, because it’s in his chamber where any impeachment proceedings would be initiated. A taciturn leader, Heastie has been calculating what, exactly, he should do next. When Spitzer resigned in 2008, it was partially over the threat of impeachment. The powerful speaker at the time, Sheldon Silver, informed the governor he had the votes to bring charges and end his career. 

The glue that bound Cuomo’s machine was fear. He operated, in the purest sense, from Machiavelli’s dictum that it is better to be feared than loved. Over the last decade, he publicly and privately denigrated many of the politicians and labor leaders who may now decide his fate, in part because he simply could—everyone, in Cuomo’s universe, always needed to be reminded of their place. 

But what will happen when none of these people are afraid of Cuomo anymore? There is no lingering goodwill, no loyalty tied to the implicit transaction — I am powerful, and I can choose either to help you or destroy you.

“I think he is going to see there is no future in Albany for him,” the labor leader says.   ❖