After Cuomo’s Teacher Evaluation Triumph, What’s Next?
‘Where next will Governor Andrew Cuomo strike? The most imminent state problem to be fixed is redistricting, and it looks like there’s nothing for the governor to do—a federal judge most likely will get the state legislature off the case, and put a courtappointed master in charge of drawing new election district lines. The details of this switch is explained in another part of this column.
Another possible issue the governor might take on is gun violence, which he announced last week, and a $2 million anti-gun initiative that includes advertising and a tip line to report illegal weapons.
Or the aggressive state commander-in chief might surprise his friends and some enemies by proposing a solution to the hydrofracking menace that will, in one sweep, satisfy the natural gas industry’s desires to go after the state’s huge, financially lucrative shale deposits upstate, while at the same time finding a way to do it that satisfies the state’s environmental community that our drinking water is safe.
Getting back to last week’s monumental victory on imposing an evaluation system on the state’s school teachers and the vaunted teacher’s union, it was executed with finesse by Cuomo, whose strategy was to threaten to bypass the UFT’s friends in the state legislature by merely putting the plan in the state budget. That was the end of the ball game.
The whole deal made a believer out of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has some bruising victories over the teacher’s establishment, but none as easy as the governor imposing a hated evaluation system over it.
The mayor, who still has some loose ends to tie up to dispose of the evaluation mess, paid homage to Cuomo, saying, “Everyone of us should have a smile on our face. We did something really good that’s going to make the school system in New York City that much better.”
Meanwhile, the governor’s arm-twisting could bring close to a billion dollars to the state from the federal government, just so much icing on the cake.
The final word from the governor, closing out one of his most masterful performances was that last Thursday’s agreement had set in place… “a groundbreaking new statewide teacher evaluation system that will put students first and make New York a national leader in holding teachers accountable for student achievement. This agreement is exactly what is needed to transform our state’s public education system and I am pleased that by working together and putting the needs of students ahead of politics we were able to reach this agreement.”
Among local officials praising the governor, state Senator Michael Gianaris commented:
“In light of today’s agreement on a new teacher evaluation system, the city must roll back its disruptive plan to overhaul public schools like Long Island City and William Cullen Bryant High Schools. Our children’s education should supercede political posturing that would interfere with students’ ability to learn.”
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas stated: “By reaching a sensible agreement on teacher evaluations, our state officials and teachers’ unions have taken an important step towards putting students first. Now the city Department of Education must do the same…without dismantling community institutions like William Cullen Bryant and Long Island City High Schools.”
COURTS INTERVENING IN REDISTRICTING?
The state legislature’s slow pace in completing new district maps for approval and to be used in this year’s elections led a federal judge last Tuesday to name a three-judge panel to consider whether the thorny map-making should be turned over to a special master appointed by the courts.
The order for the judicial review was issued last Tuesday by Justice Dennis G. Jacobs, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. It followed a remark by a Brooklyn judge hearing a redistricting matter who commented about the current state of inaction in getting the lines drawn by the Assembly and state senate.
The state’s congressional primaries have already been set by a federal judge for June 26, just four months away, which means other matters connected with that primary like gathering signatures on nominating petitions and filing them and no doubt hearing challenges—means time must be allowed for preliminary matters.
The same applies for challenges to the legislative lines. Governor Andrew Cuomo has several times threatened to veto the legislative lines because he felt those lines would merely reflect the advantages they hold for lawmakers who will seek re-election. Cuomo felt a non-partisan commission should have been named to redraw the lines. The governor had much support for the commission idea from reform groups who have already complained loudly about the proposed legislature-drawn lines.
Coincidentally, Cuomo touched on the redistricting issue last Tuesday and said he was not surprised the courts have stepped in.
Judge Jacobs named federal judges Reena Raggi, Gerald Lynch and Dora Irizarry, who had made the comment on the current state of inaction regarding the pace of activity in the state legislature’s efforts to create the new district lines. Irizarry may have issued an offhand remark, but when she and her colleagues carry out Judge Jacobs’ order there’s a good chance they will judicially come up with sharp criticism about the quantity and quality of the Assembly and state senate’s work thus far and it could throw the job over to the special master that the judges had in mind last Tuesday.
MILLER BACKS JUNE 26 STATE PRIMARIES: Arguing that New York state would be wasting a huge sum of money and doing a disservice to the public by holding this year’s primary elections on different days, Assemblymember Mike Miller (D–Glendale) has introduced legislation establishing June 26 as New York’s primary election day for both federal and state offices.
In proposing the primary dates, Miller noted his bill “would tie state law to a recent federal court decision setting the primary for federal offices (which we alluded to in the previous segment of this column).
Miller stated: “It simply doesn’t make sense for local taxpayers to pay an extra $50 million to hold three primary elections and one general election in the same year.” (The “one general election he cited would be in November for: president of the United States, as well as for a U.S. Senator, congressional seats and Assembly and state senate members).
Miller added: “We should be holding both state and federal primaries on the same day. This legislation is a smart, common sense solution.”
Miller noted that a federal judge had set June 26 as the primary date for federal offices to accommodate citizens serving overseas in the military and others who are living abroad. The judge’s decision was based on the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act.
Along with setting June 26 as the day for all primaries, Miller’s bill also compresses the political calendar by altering deadlines for designating petition filing dates. “The number of signatures required for state legislative and local offices would be reduced accordingly,” said Miller. “These adjustments mirror those ordered by the court for federal offices.”
Miller said the modified political calender would: move the filing deadline for designating petitions in 2012 to April 16; reduce the number of designating signatures required for an Assembly seat to 375 (down from 500); and require 750 designating signatures for a senate seat and a reduction of 250 signatures.
GIANARIS BILL IMPROVES ICE RINKS’ AIR QUALITY: Acting on information that air quality at ice rink arenas was dangerous to people’s health because of toxic fumes released by ice surfacing machines, state Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) has introduced legislation to require regulations for safe and appropriate use of equipment powered by combustible fuels that contaminate a rink’s concentrated air.
Gianaris and Assemblymember Charles Lavine said in announcing the bill’s introduction that according to recent information, poorly maintained ice resurfacers and inadequate ventilation at ice rinks were causing the release of carbon monoxide and ultra fine particles that were making skaters, coaches, fans and workers sick at rinks across the U.S. Over time, they warned, inhaling such toxic fumes can cause heart, lung and brain damage.
In addition to requiring specific procedures for the safe operation and maintenance of ice rink equipment, Gianaris’ bill would also mandate that specific levels of air contaminants be reported to state and local officials; the implementation of remedial measures to protect public health; and the immediate evacuation of the contaminated rink.
Gianaris stated: “It is more important than ever to take steps that would protect people’s health while they engage in physical fitness. The danger of indoor emissions at ice skating rinks are now well established and must be responsibly regulated. We should not wait for a tragedy to occur before ensuring that our rinks are safe.”
The lawmaker added that there have been numerous reports of skaters taken to the emergency room after exposure to excessive amounts of toxic air.
STAVISKY CARRIES FIGHT TO KEEP PO OPEN: Having already been denied a request for information from the U.S. postal service regarding the proposed closing of a major postal facility in Whitestone, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D–Whitestone) has filed a written repeal of the USPS’s rejection of her Freedom of Information request.
“The Post Office can’t pick and choose which information they feel like releasing to the public as an explanation for closing such an important resource to the community,” Stavisky declared.
“I recognize they are in a difficult position, but the USPS needs to show us all the relevant data, and I am challenging their decision to deny it to me and to my neighbors,” Stavisky added.
Stavisky charged that she submitted a formal request about the proposed closing of the Queens Processing and Distribution Center last December. At the time, the USPS released information saying the closing would result in 200 jobs. But Stavisky charged she subsequently learned that the closing would mean the loss of 1,000 jobs, many of them held by Queens residents.
Because of the discrepancy in possible job losses, Stavisky said she wanted to hear what the USPS’s response to the question was.
The USPS denied Stavisky’s first request for information by saying the closure of the distribution center had not been finalized but Stavisky maintained:
“Whether in draft form or final form, we need access to all the data that pertains to the closure of this facility. We’ve already found one critical error in the USPS report, which they admit. We need the full story to stop this postal center from closing.”
Other lawmakers from Queens who have challenged the closing are Congressmembers Joseph Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx), Gary Ackerman (D–Bayside/L.I.) and state Senator Tony Avella (D–NE Queens).
ACKERMAN SAYS HOLLISWOOD P.O. SAVED: Also on the postal service front, Congressmember Ackerman announced that the USPS has taken the Holliswood Post Office off the closure list. The closure, like the proposed closure of the Whitestone postal facility, had been threatened with closure because the USPS was facing bankruptcy several months ago, but the federal government helped the postal service to avoid some moves it had contemplated.
In the case of the Holliswood P.O., Ackerman had interceded when it was placed on the closure list, citing the major inconveniences it would have for Holliswood residents, many of them seniors. He also cited the fact that the station was more of a money maker than other P.O. stations that were not being threatened with closure.
‘WHERE ARE THE WOMEN’, IRATE MALONEY ASKS: When Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) walked into a congressional committee hearing last Thursday on religious protection and contraception, and the witness panel was all males, she blurted out angrily: “What I want to know is: where are the women?”
Maloney went on heatedly, “I don’t see one individual representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic preventive healthcare services, including family planning.”
Other women lawmakers also protested at the session, which had been called to get testimony about President Barack Obama’s proposal that religious institutions must provide insurance that will pay for contraception. This brought the Catholic Church down on the president, but polls showed many Catholic women were more focused in the insurance coverage question.
ACKERMAN WANTS COLLEGE AID TUITION TAX DEDUCT AGAIN: Congressmember Ackerman has introduced legislation which would reinstate middle class tax relief for millions of college students and parents. His bill would once again allow students and parents to deduct from their income taxes the cost of some college tuition as well as the cost of books and other supplies. A previous similar program had expired last December.
Under the bill, a maximum tax deduction of $4,000 would be allowed for individuals with an income of up to $65,000, or $130,000 for joint incomes. For those with incomes of $65,000 to $80,000, the deduction would be $2,000. The legislation would be in effect through 2016 to help families planning for the four year college course.