By Norm Fruchter
Responding to the filing of a lawsuit challenging his Department of Education’s school closing and charter co-location policies, Mayor Bloomberg let loose a mini-tirade on WOR-AM last week. “Unfortunately there are some parents who just come from —“ the Mayor said, and then cut off the rest of his sentence. One wonders about the intended conclusion — did the Mayor mean to say ignorance? Poverty? Ghetto neighborhoods? Other countries with little or no public schooling? “They never have had a formal education,” the Mayor continued, “and they don’t understand the value of education. Many of our kids come from families – “ again the Mayor cut himself off, and again one wonders about his suppressed conclusion. Instead, the Mayor finished with an odd observation — “the old Norman Rockwell family is gone.”
Norman Rockwell was an artist and illustrator of hundreds of covers for the Saturday Evening Post. Much of his work presented idealized portraiture of sentimental American themes – baseball, scouting life, children’s bedtime, though a few of his Post covers commented on the integration struggle and the murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi. Was the Mayor mourning the demise of the Dick-and-Jane white family that Rockwell often depicted? That family is indeed increasingly scarce in New York City, currently populated by a majority of people of color, and in the U.S., which will reach the same status before 2050. While Mayor Bloomberg has been a strong advocate for New York City’s immigrants, his comments indicate a worry that this huge demographic shift will swell the supposed ranks of those parents who “never had a formal education, and … don’t understand the value of education.”
Who the Mayor thinks those parents are, and how he knows “they don’t understand the value of education,” is a question Bloomberg is not likely to answer. But in his zeal to castigate the organizations and individuals challenging his school closing and charter co-location policies, the Mayor once again illuminated the arrogant, elitist, thin-skinned and perhaps even bigoted components of his leadership. Like his departed Chancellor, Joel Klein, Mayor Bloomberg finds it difficult to credit critics of his policies with intelligence, conviction, sincerity or concern for the public good, which in this case involves profound disagreement about how to respond to poorly performing schools. Instead, such critics must be tarred by charges of self-interest, political gamesmanship, ignorance or stupidity.
The early years of Mayor Bloomberg’s reign held these regrettable tendencies in check. But as third-term malaise sets in, as the Mayor’s education miracle is increasingly revealed as smoke and mirrors, and as his Department of Education is increasingly exposed for mismanagement, bureaucratic incompetence and minimal academic progress, Bloomberg’s mask is slipping. Attacking critics as ignorant and stupid has often characterized leaders losing their grip on power – and reality. What will the Mayor say next? More important, what should responsible citizens do to rein in the Mayor’s abuse of his power – not only over the school system but across the entire terrain of city government?
The next Mayoral election is in November 2013, less than 2 ½ years away. That’s not too soon to start thinking about how to replace this autocratic, arrogant and abusive Mayor with someone who genuinely values the diversity of our city’s parents and honors their intelligence as well.