Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota heaped praise on Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education legacy in a speech this morning, commending the current mayor for achieving “incredible” results, and admonishing his Democratic rivals for failing to give him equal praise.
Mr. Lhota pointed to a smattering of improvements on state tests, as well as the city’s jump in graduation rates–which actually dipped slightly this year.
“I believe these results are incredible,” said the former deputy mayor, speaking at an Association for a Better New York breakfast at the New York Hilton Hotel in what was billed as the first major policy speech of his campaign. Coincidentally, the remarks came a day after the city’s powerful teachers’ union endorsed former Comptroller Bill Thompon, who has promised to roll back many of Mr. Bloomberg’s most controversial policies.
But Mr. Lhota criticized the union’s the influence, and argued that when crime dropped under his old boss Rudy Giuliani, electeds fell “all over themselves to join in taking credit.” Today, he said, Mr. Bloomberg has been forced to stand alone, without the support of the Democrats vying to succeed him, or the teachers’ union.
“I look at the great success of the Bloomberg administration with the education system in our City and I ask, ‘Where are the other elected officials? What are they saying? Where is the support of these officials for the achievements of Mayor Bloomberg. Why aren’t they rallying around him?'” he said. “The answer is: They are afraid.”
Unlike the Democrats running, he said, “I will not pander to the union. I am willing to cooperate with the UFT, but labor should not expect me to give them a backrub in an election year like so many other candidates.”
It’s not the first time Mr. Lhota has aligned himself with the current administration as he tries to sell himself as the socially liberally, fiscally responsible, law-and-order candidate who will protect the “fragile” gains the city has made in recent decades in areas ranging from crime to schools.
Like Mr. Bloomberg, he trumpeted mayoral control, declaring, “Anyone who suggests that they will weaken Mayoral Control is dead wrong, and afraid to be held accountable.” He further vowed to double the number of charter schools “at a minimum, ” in addition to longer school years and school days and better pre-K programs.
Still, Mr. Lhota acknowledged some of the criticism leveled against the current mayor, saying the city must do more to work with teachers.
“We need to uplift teachers. Teachers are the solution, not the problem,” he said. “Teachers need to know that when I am mayor, I will be their greatest advocate, an advocate even stronger than their union.”
In a scrum with reporters after the speech, Mr. Lhota insisted he wasn’t targeting Mr. Thompson, who once headed the now-defunct Board of Education that was criticized in Mr. Lhota’s remarks. Still, he downplayed the value of the endorsement. “I guess it’s good for Bill. You know, I’m not so sure. They don’t have a great track record in selecting the next mayor. It’s been 24 years,” Mr. Lhota reflected. “I think you have to take union endorsements with a grain of salt.”
If the speech was meant to appeal to Mr. Bloomberg’s supporters, he definitely succeeded.
“One day after @BillThompsonNYC pledges fealty to the UFT, @JoeLhota4Mayor speaks truth to power in strong pro ed reform speech. Kudos!” twetted Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson, who has become the mayor’s online attack dog,
“Great speech,” he later raved.