The seemingly interminable mayoralty of Michael R. Bloomberg has at last come to an end. Bloomberg, it should be recalled, arrived on the scene as a political novice and ran on the notion that his business savvy was just what the city needed and that immense wealth would keep him above the corruption which had periodically stained other administrations, most recently that of the now sanctified Ed Koch. A rich man, so the thinking went, was beyond corruption. An immensely rich man, such as Bloomberg, was that much the more above corruption. That may or may not be true. But what is certainly true is just as riches might place one beyond the temptations of more traditional forms of corruption – financially enriching oneself — it simultaneously provides the means to corrupt others and to bend them to your will with promises of a life on permanent Easy Street in exchange for implementing ones policies, even if such policies bear only a nominal relationship to previous ways of doing things. All you needed to do was surrender your principles, sell your soul and submit to the will of Mike Bloomberg.
Bearing that distinction in mind, I submit with no fear of contradiction that Bloomberg, who, as the plutocrat politician is something new and horrific in the American political reality, is far and away the most corrupting mayor in the history of New York City. Indeed, as most clearly evidenced in the disgraceful machinations that led to his third term, machinations that ignored the will of millions of New Yorkers who twice voted for term limits and revealed much of the City Council to be Bloomberg’s valets, corrupting was Bloomberg’s modus operandi. And a highly effective method at that.
The method was most effective and most evident in Bloomberg’s radical restructuring of the public school system, meant to lead, intrinsically, to a radical reconfiguration of labor relations. Twelve years after the political ascent of Bloomberg, several campaigns, all linked, all unknown or very murky at the time, have become crystal clear to all who wish to see them. The first is that Bloomberg’s covert intention from day one of his mayoralty was to privatize the NYC public school system and do so by any means necessary. The second was that the United Federation of Teachers was to be destroyed altogether or rendered powerless. The third and most important was that what Bloomberg was doing to schools in New York City and other mayors were doing to schools in other major American cities was neither coincidental nor part of a zeitgeist but was the initial steps in a long term neo liberal agenda backed by the richest individuals and corporations in the nation as well as the leaders of both political parties. The plan is to privatize all remaining aspects of the social contract, most crucially the school system. For a comprehensive analysis of this insidious campaign, see The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and Their Unions by Mary Compton and Lois Weiner or Weiner’s The Future of Our Schools.)
Bloomberg’s method toward achieving this end was two- fold: 1) place already corrupted individuals in positions of enormous power and influence. Hence Joel Klein, Cathy Black, and Dennis Walcott, non-educators all, as Chancellors of Education. 2) Create corrupt institutions such as The Leadership Academy, built on the sociopathic and ultimately suicidal ideas of Jack Welch, designed to spit out principals needing no educational background whatsoever to run schools along the lines of businesses and to undermine unions. In this way the traditional role of principal as “first teacher” was overnight corrupted into the vulgar idea of the principal as the CEO. Such CEO principals were given jobs all over the city so that they would soon dominate the school system, hounding, demoralizing and firing fine teachers, and reducing our children to data points.
Bloomberg helped corrupt the very idea of education by reducing all criteria for learning to a standardized test, all evaluations to data.
With his repeated attempts to institute merit pay, a scheme that has been proven a failure for over a century, Bloomberg attempted to corrupt teachers, turning all against each other in an ceaseless competition for better students, which, by design would leave the most neediest students as pariahs as teachers were forced to debase their souls to save their jobs.
With his embrace and ceaseless promotion of charter schools Bloomberg helped corrupt communities, turning residents against each other at the same time corrupting the very idea of a public education system.
With an appeals system that virtually approves the rating of every principal over every poorly rated teacher – a scandal that merits comparison with any true totalitarian system and one that had to be ordered from the top — Bloomberg could be said to have corrupted whatever remnants of due process remained for teachers as well as the souls of every single DOE flunky that went along with it. This very grotesque display of human obsequiousness was on public display for all to see in the hand picked zombies who made up Bloomberg’s Panel for Educational Policy (PEP), the single most undisguised totalitarian governmental unit I’ve ever seen in America.
One could go on and on. The damage Bloomberg has done to students, teachers, schools, parents, entire communities, is incalculable. And the problem with corruption, and particularly the form of corruption that Bloomberg thrived, on which is both personal and institutional, is that it is far easier to induce than it is to remove.
But removed it must be. In all its forms. It is a monumental task and one that will take courage, resolve and patience. And we all have our parts, however seemingly small, to play. The first is in the demand that it be done.
Bill De Blasio is our new mayor and Carmen Farina, a career educator, our new chancellor. They are question marks, both, yet there is reason to be hopeful, and hope is a feeling I’ve not felt about my city and my profession for many a long, long time.
It is brisk and the sun is shining. I’m going to take a New Year’s Day walk with my family and breathe in the air in my city, in our city.