Anthony Weiner: Schools work is Bloomberg's "biggest failure"

Anthony Weiner, the congressman who used to be a mayoral candidate and now is not so sure, sounded very much like he’s still running at the Assembly hearing in Brooklyn today on mayoral control.

In a brief interview with me, Weiner said that if he does run for mayor, education would be an important part of his case against the incumbent, Michael Bloomberg. “Arguably the most important part of the conversation,” he said. He then declared of Bloomberg, “I think his most profound success was gaining mayoral control, and his biggest failure is what he’s done with it.”

Weiner’s testimony to the Assembly members who held the hearing comprised might have been his most bristling criticism of Mayor Bloomberg’s education program yet — and was certainly a departure from previous declarations that he has made promising not to “undo” Bloomberg’s work but to “build on” it. He said the mayor has both failed to empower parents and teachers — and has not produced good academic results. “When you look at the only true thing that you know can’t be fudged, how we’re doing on the national test, the results are decidedly mixed, and that’s putting it favorably,” Weiner said.

The candidate-like posturing came as a surprise to some at the hearing, who said they assumed the congressman’s recent decision to hand back $60,000 in campaign contributions meant he was out of the race. One attendee, Damon Cabbagestalk Jr., a black reverend who has run for public advocate in the past, smacked Weiner on the back as he left the room at City Technical College and told him he hopes he runs for mayor. “You’ve got my vote,” Cabbagestalk said.

Weiner said the solution is to retain the mayor’s control over the public schools, but to correct errors in judgment Mayor Bloomberg made. One key, he said, is to decentralize decision-making so that parents and teachers have more of a role. “They feel they’re being dictated to, talked about, but they don’t feel that they are truly invested in what’s going on,” he said. “You cannot have a successful organization of any sort when you have the most important cogs of the machine feeling that they are not invested.”

Weiner, whose mother recently retired from the public school system, also criticized Bloomberg for adding too much test prep to the public schools.

Weiner’s position on mayoral control puts him closer to Bloomberg than Bill Thompson, the city comptroller and another mayoral candidate, who has laid out more specific checks and balances he’d like to add to the mayor’s power. But Weiner also spoke more critically of Bloomberg’s education policies than he has in the past. At a Crain’s breakfast in July of last year, he said, “I’m not looking to undo the reforms that Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg have made. I want to build upon them.”

Weiner ramped up his criticisms as Bloomberg leaned toward running for a third term, comparing the move to power grabs Bloomberg has made in the public schools.