Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and former Comptroller Bill Thompson both pulled out of a mayoral forum hosted by charter school advocates at the last minute Tuesday–earning the ire of audience members who accused them of being too scared of crossing the powerful teachers’ union a week before their endorsement vote.
Mr. de Blasio dropped out less than an hour before he was supposed to appear on stage, and Mr. Thompson pulled his RSVP Tuesday afternoon, according to an event organizer.
“We are disappointed that the more than 800 families who came from across the City tonight didn’t get to hear a diversity of opinions because some candidates weren’t able to talk about where they agree and disagree with school reform,” Jeremiah Kittredge, the Executive Director of Families for Excellent Schools, the group that hosted the forum, said in a statement.
Parents in the audience booed when they heard the news.
“I think they showed a lack of courage. And it’s also insulting to the people who organized this,” said fellow candidate and former City Councilman Sal Albanese, who called the cancellation showed a “lack of class.”
“Unless there’s real extenuating circumstances … I think they’re afraid of facing charter school parents because they may alienate the United Federation of Teachers that is going to make an endorsement very soon,” he concluded.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Thompson, who has attended the vast majority of this year’s many forums, blamed his cancellation on a scheduling conflict. Mr. de Blasio, usually a diligent attendee (minus a Crain’s New York Business forum), did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But both men have been heavily courting the UFT, which is set to endorse next week.
While the two are often darlings at traditional public school forums where their attacks on charter school founders and calls for a moratorium for co-locations win loud applause, Tuesday’s forum was a very different world.
There, in a Salvation Army auditorium on West 14th Street, the crowd applauded loudly for the more moderate approaches of ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who was mobbed after she spoke by little girls eager for autographs and hoping to pose for photos with the woman who, if elected, would become the city’s first female mayor.
On stage, Ms. Quinn seemed relaxed and friendly (as if she were chatting with friends over coffee, as one attendee described), mostly stuck to touting her education accomplishments, including a new pilot program that will lengthen the school day at some schools, and previously announced ideas like replacing textbooks with tablets. She also chided the current mayor, a close ally, for failing to make parents feel engaged
As Council speaker and candidate, she said she’s heard from too many parent who “feel like their voice not only isn’t heard, isn’t wanted.” She added, “I don’t just want to hear it. I need to hear it,” arguing that parents should have a direct line into the mayors office.
“You know, there’s not a lot I miss about Rudy Giuiani. But he used to go out and have all these town halls in communities, which were a good thing, ’cause people got an opportunity to speak directly to the mayor,” said Ms. Quinn who herself recently came under fire for skipping another education forum hosted by a group extremely hostile to the current administration.
The reception was also positive for Mr. Weiner, who appeared perfectly at home on the grand red-draped stage, standing and gesturing with his arms as he answered questions about how to deal with failing schools, co-locations (an option) and whether charter schools should have to pay rent (no).
Mr. Weiner, for his part, called on both charter advocates and their opponents to ratchet down the rhetoric, which has often placed charter schools and traditional public schools at odds.
“The fight and the choice between quality public schools and the charter movement is a false one that I think has been perpetuated too long … It’s also been perpetuated too long by the people in this room,” said Mr. Weiner, who noted charters comprise only about five percent of the city’s 1.1 million students. “I am gonna try to turn down the temperature on this conversation to get a place that it’s less us against them.”
But the son a school teacher did make one revelation: that he failed freshman math in high school. (“I was forced to walk with my tail behind my legs and ask my mother for help,” he recalled.)
Still, he also declined to jump into the fray over the Bills’ absences.
“None of us can make it to everything. All I can do is be accountable for my own schedule,” he said.