Obscene Gesture: Senate Dems Take Up Anti-Mayoral Control Bill

ALBANY—Not only have Democrats in the State Senate turned their back on Michael Bloomberg's vision of school governance legislation, they're mooning him.

Senators will act on a bill—called the "Better Schools Act"—that is stridently opposed by the mayor because it dilutes his influence over the school system by eliminating his ability to appoint a majority of the Panel for Educational Policy and giving members a fixed two-year term. It also has other mechanisms for increasing parental involvement and financial oversight, many of which were included in a bill passed last month by the Assembly and proponed by other senators.

"I like to think of it as enhanced mayoral control," Senator Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored the bill, said. "This bill makes the Panel for Educational Policy a real panel."

Parker called the Assembly bill a "non-starter" and accused Bloomberg's surrogates of "negotiating in bad faith." (The surrogates, including Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, say otherwise.) The plan was to pass the Assembly bill along with some other amendments, or assurances those amendments would be passed. An agreement could not be reached, but this action will likely draw a sharp rebuke from the mayor, even if it is legally meaningless.

And it seems to be. All the senators I've spoken to except for Parker say Parker's bill will fail. Earlier today, Republican leaders claimed they would deliver 30 votes for the Assembly bill (29 because one senator, Owen Johnson, is absent). That would require all 32 Democrats to vote for Parker's bill, but only 28 are in the chamber. (Senator Daniel Squadron is celebrating his honeymoon at an undisclosed tropical location; Senators Carl Kruger and Ruben Diaz Sr. made a big stink yesterday and simply left; Senator Brian Foley is on Long Island tending to his ailing father.)

"No, no," said Majority Leader Pedro Espada Jr., when I asked if the bill would pass.

At the prompting of spokesman Austin Shafran, who accompanied Parker to speak to reporters munching on pizza in the press room in preparation for another overnight session, the senator admitted that "we're putting forth our ideas toward either a conference committee or some other negotiation."

I asked if he would be weakened in such a negotiation—or if such a negotiation could truly occur—if the bill failed on the floor.

"Even if the bill fails, it now allows you guys to ask Republicans why they didn't vote for it," Parker replied.

UPDATE: As predicted, the bill failed. Obscene Gesture: Senate Dems Take Up Anti-Mayoral Control Bill