Bill DeBlasio

WHAT, HIM WORRY?: His approval ratings have tanked, little progress has been made in education while students are increasingly carrying weapons into their schools, crime continues at significantly higher levels than before the pandemic, and chaos in the jail system has thrown into doubt his plan to have Rikers Island closed in favor of four smaller, borough-based jails. That doesn't seem like a winning hand to carry into a potential race for Governor, but Bill de Blasio may be ready to do just that when he leaves office Jan. 1 because, as one political consultant noted, 'No one expected him to be Mayor.'

Late last month, Mayor de Blasio filed paperwork to create a committee called New Yorkers for a Fair Future under which he could raise funds for a campaign for Governor.

By Election Day, there was speculation that he would announce his entry into the gubernatorial primary that Thursday. The timing made sense: the day before figured to be dominated by the aftermath of Eric Adams's resounding victory in the race to succeed him, and doing it Nov. 4 would make him a center of attention when he ventured down to Puerto Rico for the weekend SOMOS conference that attracts most of the major players in New York State's political world.

When no announcement came, and Mr. de Blasio was just another pol at SOMOS, the question arose as to whether there was something in Tuesday's election results that gave him second thoughts about running. 

Did an especially strong Republican showing on Staten Island spurred largely by his vaccine mandate, combined with stunning upsets for a series of positions in Nassau and Suffolk counties by GOP underdogs, scare him off with a glimpse into the possibility that even if he somehow captured the Democratic nomination, he'd have a tough time winning a statewide race a year from now? 

It wasn't clear, although the Mayor passed on a chance to stoke notions that he was ready to run when Joe Scarborough Nov. 9 on "Morning Joe" mistakenly addressed him as "Governor" and he didn't reply, "Not yet, Joe."

Ghost of Garner Past

Perhaps that was because the previous night, an exchange during his weekly appearance on NY1's "Inside City Hall" served as a rude reminder that this self-proclaimed progressive had been less than diligent in pursuing justice in the most-notorious police-involved death of his mayoralty: that of Eric Garner on a Staten Island street in July 2014.

Host Errol Louis mentioned that three days earlier, a special judicial inquiry into the case had concluded after some embarrassing new details about the Police Department's handling of an internal investigation had surfaced.

Mr. Louis said, "I know you didn't want to testify personally," nor did those in the upper echelons of the NYPD at the time, "but there is something here that's now part of a public record that cries out for further action."

The Mayor interjected by describing Mr. Garner's death after being placed in an NYPD-banned chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, then receiving no medical assistance from other cops at the scene after he moaned, "I can't breathe" 11 times, as "obviously one of the worst tragedies we've seen in a long time in the city."

But rather than dwell on what had gone wrong, he continued, "I'm going to tell you from the heart, I think the issue now is how do we fix these things going forward? We did a lot in terms of de-escalation training, implicit bias training for all officers, a series of reforms over the last year, particularly this last spring that I think are important: strengthening the CCRB, the discipline matrix. I think we've got to look forward. What are the next reforms to keep moving, and how do we make sure something like this never happens again? That's where I think we have to focus."

Disregarding That Advice

Mr. Louis opted not to be spun into the future, pointing out that Mr. Pantaleo's partner "Justin D'Amico, he's one of the officers there, he was the one who filed paperwork reporting that no force had been used during the arrest. He was the one who charged Eric Garner with a felony after he was dead for claiming that he had sold at least 10,000 cigarettes. Which is utterly false in both cases, and he's still on duty. I mean, you know, we can't necessarily move forward until things like that have been addressed, right?"

Mr. de Blasio, in what is his standard excuse when trying to plead ignorance about something that might embarrass him, replied, "I didn't see all the details of what came out of the inquiry."

If we had a conscientious Mayor who was willing to air out the city's dirty laundry in the name of making changes for the better, this claim would have been stunning.

Likewise his follow-up remark, "Anything that's a live issue that still can be reached by the CCRB, obviously there's a way to pursue something still, it should be." 

In essence, he was exempting the NYPD—which has been known to send investigators to criminal trials in which cops are testifying to determine whether they or other cops whose names come up should be subject to departmental charges.

But when the Mayor prattled on about all the progress the NYPD had made, Mr. Louis asked, "Wouldn't it bother you to hear that, you know, Eric Garner was chargedafter he was deadcharged with selling 10,000 cigarettes, and then there's a little bit of an inquiry, and...'oh, you know, we kind of made that up.' "?


When the Mayor reiterated that "anything like that can still be acted on," Mr. Louis interrupted to say, "That's not a training issue...Nobody's going to be prosecuted for that, but somebody needs to get to the bottom of that."

Mr. de Blasio replied, "If an individual did something wrong, there should be consequences, if there's still a way to do it."

That may be possible in Officer D'Amico's case, if the NYPD has the will to belatedly act on something it let slide when the case was still fresh. Bill Bratton, who was Police Commissioner at the time of the Garner incident, claimed that he had been asked by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District, whose jurisdiction included Staten Island, not to take action while it was investigating for possible civil-rights violations.

That became an excuse for deferring any action regarding Mr. Pantaleo for four years, even after President Obama's Justice Department took no action and it became evident soon after Donald Trump succeeded him in 2017 that his appointee as U.S. Attorney General was far less likely than his predecessor to pursue a case.

The Federal inquiry didn't stop the NYPD from charging a female Sergeant with failure to supervise, even though she wasn't the Sergeant who was supposed to be in command at the scene of the confrontation with Mr. Garner. Yet Mr. D'Amico, who hit a dead man with a felony charge even though the 95 cigarettes found in his possession was less than 1 percent of the number needed to justify such a claim, and lied about the lack of physical force used against Mr. Garnerand chalked that up during the judicial inquiry to a "mistake" caused by his not thinking clearly under stresswas never disciplined by the department.

He Didn't Want to Know?

For a man with a reputation for micro-managing, Mr. de Blasio seems to have been unusually deferential in the Garner case, which Mr. Bratton described as largely a matter of better training being needed.

That deference was further extended to the Staten Island District Attorney's Office, which somehow couldn't produce an indictment against Officer Pantaleo, despite a video showing him using the NYPD-banned chokehold and, after bringing Mr. Garner to the ground, mushing his face into the pavement while another cop sat on his torso (Then-DA Dan Donovan granted immunity from prosecution to other cops at the scene in return for their testimony before the grand jury, which eliminated any pressure they might have felt to testify truthfully about Officer Pantaleo's actions).

Hours after the decision to bring no charges was announced, Mr. de Blasio said nothing to imply that it was stupefying that the DA couldn't make a case for probable cause for an indictment based solely on the video. Nor did he demand that Mr. Donovan turn over the grand-jury minutes for public scrutiny so it could be determined whether his office had put forward its best efforts to get an indictment and just couldn't convince the grand jurors.

Instead, he spoke to an all-black church in Staten Island about having given his son Dante "the talk" in his early teens about the importance of a young black man being careful about his words and actions in any encounter with police. His sharing this may have been intended to establish empathy with the congregation, but it changed the conversation from bad police work by one cop in particular to a figurative indictment of the entire police force as untrustworthy.

Seventeen days later, two Brooklyn cops were murdered in an ambush by a crazed Baltimore man with a long rap sheet who had come to the city that day with the idea of avenging the Garner killing and that of Michael Brown by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo. three weeks later. It set off a reaction against Mr. de Blasio that featured hundreds of officers on the street outside the funerals of the two copsone in Queens, the other in Brooklynturning their backs when he spoke.

After that, he turned decidedly passive when it came to all matters related to the Garner case. And in a Democratic gubernatorial primary in which Attorney General Letitia James has announced she's running and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is also leaning in that direction, it's hard to imagine the Mayor getting much progressive support once he's attacked on everything that's come out about his administration's handling of the case.

Then There's the Schools

While universal pre-kindergarten deservedly would be one of the prime issues on which Mr. de Blasio would campaign, his handling of the public schools as a whole would not be a political plus.

Try as the Mayor might to spin Eric Adams's criticism of how city schools have failed too many black and brown children in the city's poorest neighborhoods as reflective of problems that go back decades, he was the man who campaigned in 2013 vowing that he cared more about those children than either Michael Bloomberg or Rudy Giuliani had and would prove it with results once elected. 

Instead the learning deficits linger in those areasenough so that Mr. Adams argued that if it was white children who were being denied good educations in that fashion, the system would already have been torn down. And under Richard Carranza, the Schools Chancellor for three years who began early in Mr. de Blasio's second term, efforts seemed focused more on scoring ideological points than on the more-difficult work of improving learning.

The Mayor and Mr. Carranza railed at length about the Specialized High School Admissions Test for Bronx High School of Science, Brooklyn Tech and Stuyvesant High being racist and sought to have it scrapped. But that would have required legislative action, and the ham-handed way in which they campaigned for abolition guaranteed that they didn't have the votes to get it.

There were five other elite high schools not covered by the Hecht/Calandra Law for which they did not need Albany's help to get rid of the entrance exams. For some reason, the Mayor chose not to act on his authority to do so.

In April 2019, Mr. Carranza told the Daily News regarding Hecht/Calandra, "There's no other reason for that law except to stop the integration of those three schools."

Loud and Wrong

It was a spectacularly ignorant comment on a couple of grounds. One was that for much of the first 50 years that Hecht/Calandra was in effect, black and Latino students were well-represented in those schools, with alumni including the Mayor's son and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, both of whom graduated from Brooklyn Tech. 

Mr. Williams, objecting to a bill that would have required the three schools to accept the top 7 percent of students from every middle school in the city, even if students at the worst-performing of those schools were unlikely to be able to handle the more-demanding coursework, said at an Assembly hearing that the measure "makes people believe that their communities are somehow dumber than others. The way it's being presented, they're saying our kids are too dumb to pass the test."

While he was advocating other changes in the admissions process, including tutoring for all middle-school students to level the playing field, the Public Advocate said the 7-percent solution was "not leadership. It's politics at its worst." 

Black and Latino students' numbers had fallen off in recent years as a rising tide of Asian studentsmany of whose working-class parents scraped together the money to get them into prep courses for the SHSATgave that group majorities of more than 60 percent in all three high schools.

Mr. Carranza had complained that admission to the three high schools shouldn't be reserved for a single ethnic group, as if the Asians hadn't earned admission with their test scores. And he compounded the stupidity of his position by stating that Hecht/Calandra had been a barrier to integration, as if Asians weren't also people of color.

And part of the problem was that even if the Chancellor didn't believe that, some of those he brought in under consulting contracts to provide a kind of cultural re-education to school staff apparently did.

No Group of Their Own 

As part of a $23-million anti-racism program implemented by the Department of Education during Mr. Carranza's tenure, close to $400,000 was spent on the services of the Center for Racial Justice. In February 2019, presenters for the group trotted out a "racial-advantage hierarchy" for a group of parents from the Upper West Side of Manhattan and Harlem that listed blacks at the bottom and whites at the top. When an Asian parent asked why her group hadn't been ranked, presenters responded that Asians "benefitted from white supremacy" and "proximity to white privilege." 

If the attempt to bulldoze the legislation abolishing SHSAT smacked of a "screw the Asians" attitude on the part of Mr. Carranza and Mr. de Blasioone parent critic, Yiatin Chu, said at the time of the Mayor, "He's cast aside our community because we're not important to his political ambitions"the outside consultants acted as equal-opportunity race-baiters who seemed determined to alienate white instructors in the system.

One course material was headed "White Supremacy Culture" and listed 14 characteristics to be avoided, including what it called worship of the written word, which the authors stated "prioritizes documentation and writing skills, rather than the 'ability to relate to others.' "

Their own relating left something to be desired. One Jewish educator who took the anti-bias training, when asked to share experiences that led her to push for racial justice, spoke of her grandparents being Holocaust survivors, then was berated for making the dialogue about "being Jewish" rather than focusing on black and brown students.

Lois Herrera, who was among three senior educators who sued DOE and Mr. Carranza charging he diminished their authority and tried to force them out of the system in favor of less-qualified black educators who were on board with what he allegedly called his "equity platform," said she had been informed that one presenter at a professional-development workshop "compared the suspension of African-American male students to the Holocaust."    

In their lawsuit, the three female educators said that at a DOE retreat, a video was played that "blamed the proliferation of predominantly Caucasian suburbs for creating poverty, lack of education and poor job attainment for African-Americans."

Mr. Carranza's response to complaints that the training had made some educators too uncomfortable for it to have been productive was that they were "the ones that need to reflect even harder upon what they believe."

He denied making the "equity platform" ultimatum, but said he had told subordinates that "if your agenda is an adult agenda and not a student agenda, then perhaps the Department of Education is not the right department for you to work in."

'You're Part of Problem'

That message was reinforced, Ms. Herrera contended, by LaShawn Robinson, whom the Chancellor tapped early in his tenure to be Deputy Chancellor of School Climate and Wellness. She said that in August 2018, Ms. Robinson told a group of senior executives, "If you've been with the DOE for more than 20 years, you are responsible for the problem" on racial inequities in the system. Ms. Herrera claimed that Ms. Robinson also told white officials that they should "recognize that values of White culture are supremacist" and they were therefore obligated to "yield to colleagues of Color."

Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carranza resisted efforts by legislators to find a middle ground, opting not to get behind a bill that would have preserved the SHSAT but provided free test-prep to all sixth- and seventh-graders before they took the special exam in eighth grade, and would have required each school district in the city to offer at least one gifted-and-talented program for students beginning in kindergarten.

That portion of the bill, sponsored by two influential legislators, State Sen. Leroy Comrie and Brooklyn Assemblyman Peter Abbate, reflected a prime complaint of more than a few legislators of color about Mr. Bloomberg's decision late in his tenure to eliminate gifted-and-talented programs in struggling neighborhoods based on the belief that those were the districts where the greatest emphasis should be placed on the basics.

Mr. de Blasio, determined as he's often been to distance himself from Mr. Bloomberg's initiatives, rather than bring gifted-and-talented back into communities that lost itand offer something to the parents in those neighborhoods who were savvy enough about the school system that they had either sought to get their children into schools outside the district or placed them in charter schools an inducement to reconsideropted to phase out gifted and talented.

This play to the progressive grandstand is unlikely to have much impact, since Mayor-elect Adams has stated his intent to expand gifted-and-talented rather than following through with a watered-down substitute devised by the Mayor that would prioritize matters like coding and community activism. But it serves as a reminder of just how divisive his administration has been on education matters, while making little headway in improving education for the great majority of the city's black and brown students.

Calls Grandeur 'Hilarious'

It is why Amy Tse, an education advocate within the Asian community, scoffed at the prospect of Mr. de Blasio running for Governor.

"My main two concerns are safety and education," she said in a Nov. 9 phone interview. "There has been a decline in safety. Part of it is not due to himit's due to state legislation."

But many of the changes made in Albany, she noted, were supported by the Mayor. And his support of Mr. Carranza's drive to reduce suspensions by devising alternatives such as restorative-justice practices continues to be repudiated by a rise in school weapons being seized by School Safety Agentswhom the Mayor agreed to have transferred from Police Department control to that of the Department of Education in a particularly ill-conceived budget deal with the City Council 17 months ago. 

The problem has been so great that a day before Ms. Tse weighed in, the front page of the Daily News was dominated by photos of a gun and pepper spray and the headline Triggered At School, describing the rise in weapon-packing students.     

And, she added, Mr. de Blasio has been "terrible with education," while determined to "downgrade any well-rated program whatsoever."

That was why, she said of his possible campaign for Governor, "I think it's hilarious. I almost wish he would run. Even within the City of New York, his approval rating is horrendous. Outside of New York City, where people don't know him, I think it would be even worse."

A Rank Outsider?

That view somewhat echoed earlier comments by George Arzt, a political consultant who makes his living on such judgments.

"I think he's gonna run on UPK and vaccine," he said, referring to Mr. de Blasio's vaccine mandate that, however poorly it played in Staten Island, earned him high marks in the rest of the city among Democrats.

Asked whether the Mayor entering the race would sharply diminish the chances of State Attorney General James in her primary challenge to Governor Hochul by siphoning away part of her support, particularly among black voters in Brooklyn, he said, "I don't believe so, but you don't know how the vote's gonna split up. This looks like a two-person raceHochul and James."

Mr. Arzt explained that Mr. de Blasio and Ms. James "have overlapping bases, but I don't know if de Blasio has much support. He's basically taking a flyer."

Given the divisive positions he supported on education both during and after Mr. Carranza's less-than-stellar tenure, it might be an even-bigger longshot given the results in the Virginia Governor's race, where Republican victor Glenn Youngkin exaggerated the degree to which Critical Race Theory had made its way into the state's public schools. 

The degree to which the Mayor presided over a school system whose leader and his adherents freely injected racial issues into the dialogue makes it likely that those progressives who aren't at the Democratic Socialists of America fringe of the party will conclude that's one more reason not to perpetuate Mr. de Blasio's efforts to continue serving above what was his ideal jobas Public Advocate, where he wasn't responsible for making anything work and his more-controversial musings often stayed beneath the radar.

Rose Above His Ceiling

But if the Mayor had a realistic sense of his limitations, he might not have sought his current job and gone on to win re-election in a landslide, despite a series of troublesome signs on matters from ethics to policing during his first term.

"No one expected him to be Mayor," Mr. Arzt said of Mr. de Blasio's emergence from someone with single-digit poll numbers less than two months before the 2013 primary, whose candidacy caught fire after Anthony Weiner self-immolated and an artful commercial featuring his son Dante talking about how he would reduce stop-and-frisk vaulted him to the Democratic nomination without even needing a runoff.

"He has hopes of re-creating that magic," said the former Press Secretary to Mayor Ed Koch. "Which is not likely."        

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(1) comment


And Tom Suozzi is in the wings. This primary is wide open and Suozzi is a great campaigner.

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