The rocky relationship between Mayor Bloomberg and the city’s teachers has been the defining narrative of New York’s educational politics for the past decade. Troubled by layoffs and recession-based attrition by the Department of Education, the United Federation of Teachers has basically cut all ties to Hizzoner, leaving the teachers without a full-fledged contract for almost seven years now. This, of course, came to a boiling point in January’s teacher evaluations deal meltdown; one that sacrificed millions of dollars for our children. As the next mayor, Anthony Weiner wants to change all of that–the politics, the tensions, the drama–fast.
On a campaign stop in Bronx’s Co-op City last Sunday, the former Congressman took on the issue of education with hope and difference. “The fact is that being this long without a contract is an opportunity for the next mayor. It really is,” he said. “I mean, to be honest with you, I like the idea that if I’m fortunate enough to get elected, I’m going to have a chance to engage in these conversations fresh.”
Weiner continued with a criticism of Bloomberg’s approach as well as a major shout-out to the unions – a bastion of support that, should he advance further in this race, he’s desperately going to need. “Would any business treat its employees–meaning teachers–as badly as their boss is treating them? […] It’s frankly just not a productive way to be a boss. I’m not going to do that. I honor the teachers and contributions they make.”
The poll numbers show that Weiner’s main objective right now is to take down Christine Quinn’s frontrunner momentum. His entry into the race has forced the Democratic roster into a three-person split: one where it’s Quinn’s to lose, Weiner’s to advance, and de Blasio’s to salvage. With these statements in mind, the move made by Weiner on education is particularly strategic for two reasons.
First, as previously mentioned, he wants to preview himself as the union defender. The Democrats’ labor foundation is still struggling with Quinn; most recently, the paid sick leave bill was definitely a legislative victory for her with the unions, but the workers’ big chiefs aren’t forgetting that it took her two years and an impending election to switch sides on the matter. Also, she’s been characterized as Bloomberg 2.0 for her help in handing the mayor a third term and, if the unions despise anything in city government, it’s Bloomberg.
That brings us to the next point. Read Weiner’s statements about the current mayor as “Hey, I’m not gonna act like Bloomberg and, by saying that, I’m not gonna act like Quinn either.” His willingness to criticize Bloomberg’s treatment of teachers posits him as the anti-Quinn–a persona he needs to emphasize in coming months if he wants to stay alive in this race. Of course, we cannot forget that, at its core, this election is all about Bloomberg and his legacy.
The campaign stop on Sunday is the beginning of Weiner’s never-too-late entry into this race, one where he’ll have to characterize himself again and again. If this is what he’s bringing to the table, he’s off to a good start.