Bill de Blasio, John Liu, and Scott Stringer: Mr. Mayor, Why Did You Talk About Teachers That Way?


After Mayor Mike Bloomberg finished his State of the City speech in the Bronx, Runnin’ Scared tripped over many reporters and shoved a recorder in the face of a few relevant pols to get their reactions.

We reached Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (who all just so happen to be potential 2013 mayoral candidates! Apologies that we didn’t reach the other important people who were in the room. It was very chaotic). All three said a few words of praise for Mike Bloomberg’s speech, but that’s not that much fun and doesn’t make for good copy. So, let’s talk about the criticism, which was very similar in all three interviews — and, unsurprisingly, dominated the conversation.

Bloomberg spent a good portion of his speech focused on education and a lot of his school reform talk targeted the United Federation of Teachers. The three elected officials we spoke to said said his rhetoric was unnecessarily polarizing and unproductive.

Perhaps they were referring to this portion of his speech, the conclusion of the education section, when Bloomberg said: “When we sit down with the UFT, there are two groups in the room: the UFT and our school children — they are who we work for and we will. We have an obligation to stand up for their lives, their futures, their hopes and dreams. Their voice is the voice we listen to.” After this, Bloomberg showed a video of cute school children talking about what they want to be when they grow up.

The mayor criticized the UFT for insisting on provisions that make it harder to remove ineffective teachers and discussed his plans for reforming the tenure process and teacher evaluations.

“I felt like the spirit and urgency around education was very good, but I thought he was being needlessly provocative to the teachers, essentially setting up a conflict rather than talking about how they could cooperate,” de Blasio told Runnin’ Scared (de Blasio was the first person we got to after the event — he’s so darn tall and thus easy to spot). “When it came to the schools, he essentially portrayed a serious division with the teachers rather than talking about where they can find common ground. I’m not sure what the logic is in that.”

Liu sang a similar tune chatting with Runnin’ Scared: “He was right in spending a great deal of time upfront about some of the problems we still face in our public schools, and I think most people would agree we still need many more improvements in our schools.”

But, and we knew the ‘but’ was coming, “I was surprised to hear him spend so much time talking about how he thinks the teachers are being somewhat recalcitrant….It almost seemed like an unnecessary challenge issued against our teachers who are already demoralized after so many years of anti-teacher rhetoric from this administration.”

Stringer, who we had to share with several other reporters, perhaps used the strongest language against this aspect of the mayor’s speech: “Listen, everyone wants education reform…but this lone ranger approach to education is simply not going to work. What troubled me today is the fact that he’s willing to do the lone ranger approach again, not having real discussions with teachers and parents, not bringing people around a table and really negotiating.”

This is not how it’s done, Stringer said. “You can’t negotiate labor issues in public, and every time he does that, nothing happens for the kids, and that’s unacceptable.”

Both Stinger and de Blasio said Governor Andrew Cuomo has taken a better, less-combative, approach.

They had other complaints, too. De Blasio and Stringer both brought up food stamps, another polarizing Bloomberg issue. When Runnin’ Scared asked him what he thought was missing from the speech, De Blasio said, “I was hoping he would talk about ending fingerprinting for food stamp applicants, and I’m troubled that he didn’t.” (Not much of a surprise that he didn’t, though.)

Stringer also made this joke to several reporters, in reference to the ridiculous pre-speech video in which the mayor rides a cab to the Bronx and spots his favorite city commissioners along the way: “You saw the video with him in the cab? He should’ve paid the cab fare.” Because in the video, he doesn’t. Har har.