July 17, 2009
Bloomberg administration officials are ending a sleepless week in Albany today with no idea whatsoever of how to get mayoral control renewed, along with the unsettling realization that the stalemate could go on for the rest of the summer.
In the end, it wasn’t that the mayor’s office couldn’t strike a deal with the largest group criticizing mayoral control, the Campaign for Better Schools, or with the city teachers’ union, which had pushed for checks early on. All three parties signed onto a deal together earlier this week, writing down a Memorandum of Understanding that would have put in place parent-training centers that senators said they wanted to add.
But Senate Democrats ultimately did not go along with the deal.
“It’s not like we couldn’t agree on terms. It’s like they couldn’t agree on terms amongst themselves,” an exhausted and depressed city official, speaking on background, said in an interview today.
“They clearly were saying one thing to us yesterday and doing something different,” said teachers union president Randi Weingarten. “That was very frustrating.”
Union, campaign, and city officials began their discussions Tuesday after senators walked away from a deal that would have brought to a vote a version of the bill passed by the Assembly preserving mayoral control with some tweaks. Sens. John Sampson and Malcolm Smith, two of the Senate Democrats’ four leaders, and Sen. Daniel Squadron, a Bloomberg ally who had to split early due to a prior engagement, his wedding, made the deal, but once Squadron left for his honeymoon, the Democrats declined to bring the bill to a vote.
At a loss, City Hall officials decided to meet with Easton and the main lobbyist for the state teachers’ union, Stephen Allinger. Easton had been pushing for a separate bill that would have taken more power away from the mayor. But he recently had pivoted to pushing for a compromise that would have guaranteed funding for parent training centers across the boroughs.
In the Senate’s library, a group including Micah Lasher, the Department of Education’s lobbyist; Allinger, and Easton crafted a deal that would have provided the parent training centers, as Easton and the union wanted — but would have done so through a written Memorandum of Understanding, rather than an amendment to the law, in keeping with Bloomberg’s desire, and with the reality that the Assembly, which would have to agree to amendments to make them law, has already adjourned for summer.
The memo’s language was nearly identical to that in an amendment introduced by Smith, the city official said. The only major change was that instead of having New York University run the initiative, that responsibility would go to CUNY, along with the $1.6 million a year to fund it. The city thought that arrangement would prevent abuse, and legislators liked that the funding wouldn’t stay in Manhattan, the source said.
Democratic senators told the group that they would go along with the agreement, Weingarten said. But when Sampson emerged from session last night at 10:30, he infuriated city officials by declaring, “This is not one-tenth of what I need,” according to the city source.
Democratic Sen. Shirley Huntley told Beth Fertig at WNYC why she refused to cooperate:
Queens Democrat Shirley Huntley told WNYC they wanted to send a message.
… Senator Huntley said she didn’t appreciate how the teachers union and other parties got involved. “When I’m pressured I do nothing, ” she said, calling the phone calls “obnoxious” and adding, “There was no need for the pressure.”
That same offer is no longer on the table after last night’s blow-up, the city official said today, adding that the situation in Albany is the most chaotic he has ever seen.
Weingarten said the lack of an agreement made for a “very dangerous” period in time:
“Are there going to be riots on the street? No, of course not. But you have a situation where you have a bill that’s ready to roll in terms of changes to governance; at the same time you have a governance system that was used last 7 or 8 years ago, and is very outdated or outmoded, doesn’t answer the question of what happens to community boards or CEC’s — so it’s a very chaotic period of time.”
Her recommendation? “We need to take a big time out, and take a big sigh, and start again on Monday,” she said.
But senators have left Albany and do not intend to return until the end of the summer. They will return only if Gov. Paterson calls them back. On his weekly radio show today, Bloomberg said Paterson should use state troopers to retrieve the legislators.
CLARIFICATION: Billy Easton, the director of the Campaign for Better Schools, disputed part of this story today. “I did not and never have lobbied against the Better Schools Act,” he said. We have deleted the sentence containing that information.