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Monday, July 20, 2009

Sunday Protest of Mayor Bloomberg's Temper Tantrum

Ten New York senators, including Eric Adams, center, and Hiram Monserrate, left, demanded concessions from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg over the bill that would extend his lapsed control of the school system.

July 20, 2009
Democrats Lash Out at Mayor Over Control of Public Schools

The mayor wanted members of the State Senate to be dragged back to Albany. Instead, nearly a dozen of them showed up on the front steps of City Hall on Sunday.

In the increasingly acrimonious battle over mayoral control of New York City’s public schools, 10 senators, all of them Democrats, held an hourlong news conference, ostensibly to demand that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg make some concessions before they consider extending his control.

All of the senators spoke, and they proclaimed the issue too important to be sidetracked by political rhetoric. Then some proceeded to vilify the mayor, calling him everything from a dictator to a yenta to a plantation owner.

“The days of being intimidated are over,” said Senator Eric Adams of Brooklyn. “We will not surrender our children, and he needs to understand that.”

The war of words escalated as the mayor and Senate leaders settled into an impasse over extending Mr. Bloomberg’s lapsed control of the school system. On Friday, Senate leaders shelved the legislation as they adjourned for the summer — violating their pledge to bring the matter to a vote — citing the mayor’s refusal to submit to any changes to the bill.

During his weekly radio show on Friday, Mr. Bloomberg questioned the intelligence of some of the senators who wanted to scale back mayoral control — including John L. Sampson of Brooklyn, (picture above) the Democratic conference leader — and called for the State Police to “drag” senators to the Capitol for a vote. Dipping into his Yiddish dictionary, the mayor added that taking the summer off without extending mayoral control would be “meshugenah.”

Several of the senators present on Sunday — including Pedro Espada Jr. and Hiram Monserrate, whose defection from and return to the Democratic caucus bookended the monthlong power struggle that paralyzed state government — cited those remarks during their rebuttal.

“We believe it would be meshugenah not to include parents in the education of our children,” said Mr. Monserrate, of Queens. “As opposed to loosely using the word ‘meshugenah,’ we would also say we don’t need a yenta on the other side of this argument and this debate.”

Andrew Brent, a spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, chided the senators for failing to honor their promise to bring the matter to a vote last week. “We’re at an impasse because a handful of state senators would rather return to an old school board system well known for being better at handing out patronage than educating our city’s kids,” he said in an e-mail message.

At the heart of the conflict is the question of how the city’s school system, with its 1,500 schools and 1.1 million children, should be run. Mr. Bloomberg took control from the fractious Board of Education in 2002, a move he maintains gave him the authority to make the changes that have improved test scores and graduation rates.

That oversight officially expired on June 30, though control of the schools effectively remains with the mayor, as officials and allies of his administration make up a majority of the reconstituted Board of Education and they voted to retain his schools chief, Joel I. Klein. [See also "Fire Joel Klein"]

The Senate Democrats who gathered on Sunday complained that mayoral control gave far too much power to Mr. Bloomberg, and they questioned his claims of improvements, which they said were a result of massaging statistics and focusing on teaching to standardized tests. The senators said they wanted changes that would allow for increased parental involvement, establishing a commission to study school security and implementing more checks to the mayor’s authority.

On Sunday, Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem (pictured above) accused the mayor of “treating us like we’re some people on his plantation.”

In a telephone interview, Senator Martin J. Golden, a Brooklyn Republican, called for the Democratic leadership to put the issue to a vote. “It’s amazing that they’re looking for civil discourse and they’re using words like ‘plantation,’ ” he said. “This is all about embarrassing the mayor.”

Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.