January 12, 2009
The New York Post’s headline today — “SILVER IS DISIN-KLEIN-ED” — is a fun, gossipy way of getting at a really important story.
The thing is, it’s not just Sheldon Silver, speaker of the Assembly, who doesn’t like Joel Klein. Many of Silver’s colleagues in the legislature are in the same boat. I first cataloged the grievances of a list of state senators and Assembly members in August. That was more than a year after an assemblyman from the Bronx, Ruben Diaz Sr., became the first public official to call on Bloomberg to fire Klein. Since then, I haven’t found any lawmakers who don’t complain about Klein. In fact, I’ve actually met one state senator, Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, who ideologically is in line with the administration, but opposes its reforms.
The best explanation for this bad blood that the Post provides is this one, from “an official who knows both men”: “You have two guys who both think they’re the smartest guy in the room. Those two guys aren’t going to like each other.”
But my understanding is that there’s more than personalities at play here. There’s a substantive difference in policy.
What lawmakers don’t like about Klein is actually the same thing they don’t like about mayoral control: Both make a point of shutting the political process out of the school system. Mayoral control abolished community school boards on the grounds that they had become corrupt sources of patronage. Klein takes the argument a step further, contending that school boards not only held the schools in a deadlock but exacerbated inequities.
So when lawmakers call seeking answers about, say, why a neighborhood school is getting closed or why a constituent isn’t going to her preferred school, they not only can’t turn anymore to the school board; they also are unlikely to get an answer if they turn to the Klein administration. This is a source of pride for Klein, but a source of rage for lawmakers, who say the administration has gone beyond abolishing patronage and abolished any consultation whatsoever.
It’s an interesting and important difference in opinion about the best way to run the public schools. But of course, the angry lawmakers are the ones who ultimately will vote on mayoral control this year, not Klein.