Thursday, March 06, 2014

 

The Next Movement

Originally published in the New York Post, March 6,2014

Last month, the city’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, urged support for her husband’s signature universal pre-K program by declaring, “Education is clearly the civil-rights issue for today.”
She may well be right — but her husband may be on the wrong side of the real civil-rights issue in education. If Tuesday’s huge rally at the state Capitol, and the words of the parents who rallied, tell us anything, it’s that the charter cause is increasingly looking and sounding like movements of old.
One thing the original civil-rights movement taught America is that people who are passionately energized will sacrifice anything for what they believe in. And these parents are passionate.
Ishema Chadwick Meyers works at a state job where she cares for the mentally challenged; she took the day off to trek up to frigid Albany. And she’ll do it again: “I’ll take a sick day if I have to. That makes sense, because the thought of my kids losing schools that [are] teaching them makes me sick to my stomach.” Ishema’s oldest, Leroy, is a fifth-grader at Harlem Central Success Academy. Mayor de Blasio just took away what would be Leroy’s sixth-grade space.
Samantha Thompson’s daughter Madison is in kindergarten at Success Academy Cobble Hill: “I understand there’s a personal rift between the mayor and [Success Academy CEO] Eva [Moskowitz]. Fine. But don’t take it out on the kids. Doesn’t he realize that we can’t have a better New York without a better education system? I wanted Madison in charters because generally they are all on the same level of quality.”
I asked Whitfield Nicholas (whose son Devante is excelling at Success) what about charters most impresses him? “The diligence of the teachers,” the Antigua-born engineer responds. “In the traditional public schools, if you ask a teacher how to reach them, they say ‘come to see me [in the school]’. In charters, they say call me any time — and mean it.” He sees that as a reason why Success Academy in The Bronx had some of the highest math scores in the state last year.
Not that Nicholas wants conflict between traditional and charter schools. “Both are public schools. It’s Malcolm X and Martin Luther King: Both are headed in the same direction; they’re just taking different paths.”
But which sort of school is which leader?
Nicholas pauses for a moment: “The charters are more Malcolm X — by any means necessary. That’s why we’re here today, right?”
This writer copped a ride with parents and scholars (as Success Academy students are called) back to the city after a long, chilly day. It wasn’t long after the bus hit the road (and sandwiches were eaten) that a young girl’s voice rose up asking, “Can we do some math exercises?”
An exhausted teacher at first said, “Let’s take some quiet time right now.” But not too long afterward, the students were all listening intently as she led them through a fun exercise of drilling exponents, gleefully laughing over who got the question right first.
I told parent Kokayee “Koko” Session-Lansiquot that I hadn’t seen anything quite like that. Fifth-graders asking for math work? Seriously?
Koko, a pre-K teacher herself, responded. “That’s the difference I see with charters. My kids want to go to school. If I’m running late, they tell me: ‘Mommy, you’re going to make me late. I’m missing my morning meeting.’ Monroe [age 11] has gone from being told in a traditional-school kindergarten that he couldn’t learn to having high scores in math and science, consumed with robotics and his telescope.”
Koko’s aunt, Gwen Hedrington, who raised (and home-schooled) her, now cares for a younger nephew and niece. She is no-nonsense and blunt when faced with the threat to charter expansion: “You want to take something away from these kids after they’ve tasted excellence? It’s child abuse, educational neglect, child endangerment.
“If they try that, we must take them to court. Even if we don’t win, we’ll bring enough attention to what they are trying to do. We have a right to a good education. Isn’t that what our ancestors died for?”
These are the voices of parents who see their children’s future in mortal danger, testifying to the impact of charters on their kids, marching to Albany, vowing to do it again — “by any means necessary,” including lawsuits.
Sure sounds like the start of a new civil-rights movement.
Are Bill and Chirlane paying attention?

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

 

Battle of NY's "SOBs"

Originally published in the New York Post, February 25, 2014 

Both Cuomo, de Blasio Heirs to Clinton Politics 

Since Election Day 2013, there’s been a tight struggle between Andrew Cuomo and Bill de Blasio to determine, not just who’s the King of New York, but who’s the biggest “SOB.” That is, who’s the true “Son of Bill” — the rightful heir to that other Bill who still looms over Democratic politics: Bill Clinton.
After all, the still-beloved-by-his-party 42nd president swore in New York’s 109th mayor on Jan. 1. But, ever the master of the middle-of-the-road, he tipped the rhetorical hat to departing Mayor Mike Bloomberg — striking a different tone than others on the inaugural stage — even while endorsing the new mayor’s concerns over income inequality.
Just a few feet away sat Gov. Cuomo, who served as President Clinton’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development — where de Blasio worked before heading back north to run then-First Lady Hillary Clinton’s US Senate campaign.
Publicly, both the governor and the mayor claim they’re old friends from that time. But de Blasio confidantes paint a slightly more complex picture, saying Cuomo was a high-handed boss who didn’t mind reminding subordinates (particularly one Bill de Blasio) who was top dog. That dynamic seems to fit what’s happened in the few weeks since they shared that inaugural stage.
The fact is, each man seems to have learned different things from Clinton: Cuomo’s copied Clintonian tactics, while de Blasio seems to have absorbed some of his worst habits, including political ones.
Cuomo has plainly mastered the classic Clinton technique of triangulation — and skillfully used de Blasio to do it. The president set himself up as the above-the-fray moderate between an unacceptable/incompetent left (old-school Democrats) and a radical right (my then-boss, Newt Gingrich, and the post-1994 Republican Congress). That allowed him to reject the overly ambitious liberal agenda (HillaryCare) of his first two years, rebound from a disastrous 1994 midterm election that swept the GOP into power and cruise to a rather easy 1996 re-election.
Cuomo has done something similar since de Blasio became mayor. The progressive mayor has provided the governor with a tax-and-spend (on Pre-K and minimum wage) foil that Cuomo has been only too happy to parry at every turn.
Thus, even the governor’s rhetorical misstep about there being “no place” for pro-life, Second Amendment-supporting conservatives in New York (a case of triangulating a little too hard?) seems to have faded from the collective memory, replaced by the image of a “reasonable” leader balancing a social policy that enjoys widespread support statewide while hewing to a fiscal rectitude “brand” by refusing to raise taxes for that policy — as one too-liberal mayor demands.
Secondly, how was that fiscal rectitude brand first displayed? By trading decades of Albany dysfunction for three (soon to be four) on-time balanced budgets.
The on-time bit makes for another interesting contrast with de Blasio, who in his first weeks in office has shown an impressive ability to emulate one of Bill Clinton’s least endearing habits — perpetual lateness.
Ask anyone who had to engage with the then-president in the ’90s, and you’ll always hear the same thing: He can’t be on time for almost anything — and the earlier in the day the event was, the less likely he’d make it.
And while Clinton never started his State of the Union a half-hour late, Mayor de Blasio did just that at his first State of the City.
Apparently, like Clinton, the mayor stays up late — and thus doesn’t get up so early. That squares with what we know about one incident: He was wide awake enough to call the NYPD following the post-11 pm arrest (and subsequent release) of Bishop Orlando Findlayter.
Needless to say, perpetual tardiness leads to other poor judgment calls — such as, ahem, speeding to your next appointment two days after calling for stricter speed laws.
Hey, it’s been barely two months. Bill Clinton managed to right his ship of state after the aforementioned midterms. Bill de Blasio may just want to slow down, get some rest and study some of those lessons, so he can become not just Tall Bill, but NYC’s true SOB.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

 

RAG on MSNBC

For some reason, MSNBC seems to like me! I returned Sunday morning to "UP With Steve Kornacki," mildly devastated that I never managed to appear on his ersastz '80s game show "Up Against The Clock" before it heads into its Contest of Champions next week! Alas, the segment had pre-empted a few weeks between coverage of the Chris Christie Bridgegate story -- and the Olympics.

In any event, Sunday I was on talk about the return of Bill Clinton and how would the GOP deal with him after having built him up over the last few years to contrast him with Barack Obama. The first segment, with Steve's intro, is here:


The second segment can be found here -- including a rather funny clip of Kevin Spacey on Letterman, doing a dead-on impression of Bill Clinton. However, what I noticed from the clip is how perfect Spacey would be for any movie in which Mike Huckabee featured prominently. Right, I don't know off the top of my head what such a project might be.


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Friday, February 21, 2014

 

RAG on NY1

Yours truly appeared on NY1's "Inside City Hall" to do the Friday wrap-up "Reporters Roundtable" segment. We talked about the mayor's response to the kerfuffle over his official car speeding and running stop signs -- just days after he announced a new plan to crack down on traffic accidents! Oh, and the hangover lingered from his questionable call to the NYPD after a supporter "reverend" was arrested on outstanding warrants.

Check out the spot here and find out why Bill de Blasio has "99 problems but a LICH ain't one"!


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Monday, January 06, 2014

 

Why Ask WY?

Well, well, well.

Liz Cheney abruptly drops her Wyoming primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi -- almost as abruptly as she jumped in last summer. Most party-affiliated polling had Enzi with a wide lead. Unlike similar GOP races in 2010 and '12, Enzi was hardly out of favor with Tea Party activists. Rather, it seemed, as a few people on Twitter noted Sunday night, Cheney wanted to ride Tea Party energy to lift her profile, raise money and either defeat Enzi or -- barring that -- force him out.

That didn't happen. Instead, most establishment Republicans -- including Enzi's Senate GOP colleagues -- supported Enzi. The worst part though, for Cheney, was the family blowup caused by her opposition to same-sex marriage.  Dick Cheney -- with younger daughter Mary an out lesbian for many years, as early as 2004, expressed support for some version of marriage equality. "Freedom means freedom for everyone," he famously said during a campaign stop -- a position well ahead of many Democrats at the time (even as campaign strategist Karl Rove was pushing "traditional marriage" statutes at the state level).  Regardless, Liz announced during her campaign that she supported traditional marriage -- with Mary and her wife Heather -- denouncing her on Facebook.  Dick, in this instance, publicly supported Liz.

However, POLITICO notably says that despite fundraising and polling numbers working against her, it was a problem involving "immediate family" members that caused her to drop out.

I don't have many contacts in Wyoming. In fact, I have exactly one -- a businessman friend who opened a new office there a  few years ago, after having had a successful operation on the East Coast. During his time there, he's gotten involved more in the local political scene. When we chatted back in September, he mentioned that the rift within the Cheney clan had become quite the talk of the state -- and the reaction was striking. While conservative Wyoming was certainly not ready for gay marriage, many people were dismayed at Liz's actions. The sentiment was that "family was family" -- and Liz had essentially turned her back on her sister for political reasons. Now, one should keep in mind that it seemed pretty clear that much of the state saw Liz as a carpetbagger for whom they had little regard. In other words, she didn't come in with much goodwill for them. Resident views on how Liz treated Mary was being seen through the prism of this Jenny-come-lately barging into their state.

That said, it is what it is.  Some Wyoming residents felt Liz wasn't being too sisterly. So, it's somewhat ironic if this issue may be the one causing Liz to bow out of the race.

One last point: Aafter frustrating 2010 and '12 races caused the GOP to lose winnable seats -- and thus, potentially, the Senate majority -- don't be surprised if party elders told as many people in the Cheney camp as possible that this was a bad race, that it was an unnecessary drain on party resources that could be better spent elsewhere.

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Monday, December 30, 2013

 

Bill de Blasio's Council Coup

There’s a joke going around among the city’s political reporters: Despite concerns that  Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has moved too slowly to form his administration, the fact is, he’s already named his two most important officials: Bill Bratton for police commissioner and . . . Melissa Mark-Viverito for City Council speaker.
The joke, of course, may be on us: The speaker is supposed to be picked by the council, not the mayor-elect. But in an unusual move, the incoming head of the executive branch blasted himself onto the legislature’s turf, twisted arms there (quite effectively, too) and now seems to have his own hand-picked speaker ready to grab the gavel.
How’s that for irony? The man who overtook current Speaker Chris Quinn in the Democratic mayoral primary largely by suggesting she was Mayor Bloomberg’s toady will soon be a mayor himself — with his own self-chosen go-fer serving as speaker.
The tale speaks volumes about de Blasio’s craftiness — and, perhaps, the way he’ll rule when he takes office: that is, unilaterally. It also suggests that, for better or worse, New Yorkers shouldn’t count on the council to serve as much of a check on de Blasio’s power.
How did he pull it off? Here’s the skinny: After Election Day, the council’s Progressive Caucus believed it had enough members to dominate the council vote and select the next speaker. The choice came down to Mark-Viverito and Dan Garodnick. Mark-Viverito had a 12-9 edge in a straw poll.
The caucus was about to consider its next move at a Dec. 16 meeting when suddenly the meeting was canceled. De Blasio was then “activated” and began leaning on key players. Meanwhile, the heads of the Queens, Bronx and Brooklyn Democratic organizations had agreed to endorse Garodnick (county chairs usually play a big role in deciding the speaker). But Brooklyn Chairman Frank Seddio reneged and instead backed Mark-Viverito, the choice of fellow Brooklynite de Blasio.
To cement the coup, de Blasio phoned a Republican council member, Eric Ulrich, who’d earlier insisted that Mark-Viverito as speaker would be a “disaster.” Only de Blasio and Ulrich know what was said. But after the call, Ulrich had a sudden change of heart and magically backed de Blasio’s choice. (Some think he was offered a committee chairmanship in exchange for his support, though Ulrich denies that. Stay tuned.)
In any event, Mark-Viverito released a victory statement on Dec. 18. Progressive Caucus members were expected to back her or suffer the consequences.
Council members were livid. Even those who had given her their support originally felt blind-sided and double-crossed. They use terms like “hijacked” to describe the putsch and complain of having been “betrayed.” (They speak off-the-record, of course, so as not to cross either the mayor-elect or the likely new speaker, Mark-Viverito.)
Says one observer darkly, “[De Blasio] wants to break any alternative power structure that would prevent him from turning the City Council into a mayoral agency, far more so than in the relationship between Bloomberg and Quinn.”
None of which sounds encouraging for a city that relies on a government of checks and balances.
No, this isn’t the first time such a thing has happened in the history of politics. In Albany two decades ago, then-newly elected Republican Gov. George Pataki helped oust Republican Senate Majority Leader Ralph Marino in favor of Joe Bruno.
Unless, that is, it remembers how to play hardball politics and stand up for itself — after having gone 12 years with a billionaire mayor who often used his wealth to render the game moot.But the state has a bicameral Legislature, and the Assembly remained in Democratic hands, with its own leader (Shelly Silver). That guaranteed some counterweight between the branches. The council, bycontrast, will have no independence whatsoever if de Blasio’s choice prevails, as expected, in the council’s Jan. 8 vote.
The speakership issue, of course, might not yet be settled. “Plans for Mark-Viverito’s coronation” are premature, Queens’ party chairman Rep. Joe Crowley, told The Post.
But if de Blasio’s choice prevails, the irony will grow richer. “We’re resolutely committed to building a City Council that . . . functions more democratically,” Progressive Caucus chairman Brad Lander declared last month.
Maybe so. But based on the speaker-selection process, they sure have a long way to go.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

 

Mandela, 1918-2013


The tributes to Nelson Mandela are, appropriately, ubiquitous. True heroes -- especially those who move from the "easy" life of the revolutionary to the hard task of governing -- are rare. It's even rarer for the collectivist revolutionary to make peace with a more democratic capitalist reality. Commentary's Max Boot's moving obituary explains to those on the right why Mandela is worthy of their adulation and applause too. I'm not going to devote thousands of words that can be, and have been, articulated by many others.

However, there are two observations to make:

1) After his 1990 release, Mandela was blessed with 23 years of not just freedom, but worldwide reverence. I wonder how many people -- if visited by a divine presence early in their life -- would take this bargain if offered: "You will serve 27 years in virtual solitary confinement, separated from friends and family. You won't see your children grow up. But after release, not only will you be free, you will lead your country from apartheid to racial reconciliation and a diverse society. And, one more thing, you'll become a worldwide icon." In the end, you'll get 95 years on the earth and influence generations. On the back end, that sounds pretty amazing. But on the front? How many of us would take that "deal" in our 20s, 30s or 40s?

2) Mandela offers a lesson to all those frustrated and angry with their lot in life: Nothing, not even the most arduous of circumstances, is static in life. One may be lost in the darkest of holes, but perseverance, faith and vision can change any person's life.

Thank you, Madiba, for showing a world that peaceful and gracious change is possible.  And, now the song that introduced many a high school and college student in the 1980s to Nelson Mandela. At long last, he is truly free:



ADDENDUM: One other thought -- and this is rather important. Mandela is different from Martin Luther King, Jr. in an essentially important way. King is rightly revered for his commitment to non-violence, which was essential for the "success of the possible" in the civil rights movement. Mandela never gave up on the armed option -- until his release and negotiations on a smooth transfer to majority rule began. As powerful as the anti-apartheid movement in the West was during the '80s, that stance cost Mandela some allies. I remember a former roommate in the late '80s who was firmly encamped in the left human rights camp, but whose organization refused to endorse the ANC and Mandela because it and he refused to champion non-violence.

Mandela literally stuck to his guns -- and still managed to lead both a peaceful transition and a functioning government. That's arguably an even harder, more complex, task than merely being a "movement" protester on the outside as King was. Considering America's beginnings -- and how the Second Amendment remains an important aspect of this nation's culture -- Mandela's insistence on the right to armed rebellion, if necessary, while embracing peaceful transition and maintaining an enduring democracy remains admirable.

UPDATE: Another perspective on Mandela from a younger conservative.

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