Dividing the city or bold intervention? Local lawmakers spar over Chancellor Richard Carranza’s leadership

In a public clash over the direction of the New York City education department, local lawmakers are weighing in publicly about Chancellor Richard Carranza’s leadership and education platform.

A bipartisan group of council members and several state lawmakers sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio over the weekend, asking him to fire Carranza if the chancellor “continues to divide this city” with “contentious rhetoric” about race.

The letter, first reported by the New York Post, criticizes the chancellor on several fronts, referencing other reporting by the Post on the controversial anti-bias trainings that he plans to give all education department staffers, a lawsuit alleging discrimination in his hiring practices, and his support of “changing policies based on ethnicity rather than efficacy,” an apparent reference to his support of the effort to change the way students are admitted to the city’s specialized high schools.

Several local politicians have jumped in to defend the chancellor, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Councilman Robert Cornegy , and Councilman Antonio Reynoso of Brooklyn, who released a statement Monday morning defending the chancellor.

“Chancellor Carranza’s actions may seem threatening to those who thrive under the current system but they are exactly the kind of decisive, bold intervention that we need to make our school system fair and accessible for all students,” Reynoso said.

Reynoso’s statement earned retweets from several other elected officials, including Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is not backing the city’s specialized high schools plan but says he supports Carranza nonetheless.

“Even with clear differences I too stand with @DOEChancellor,” Williams tweeted. “I don’t know 1 person who has challenged the systems of institutional bias that have not faced similar criticism.”

The debate remains symbolic: State law gives de Blasio full power to hire and fire his chancellor. Still, the symbolism is strong, especially since the statements come at a time when de Blasio is seeking national attention for his presidential bid. The statements also underscore the degree to which the battle over the education department’s priorities is playing out on social media.

Speaking on the Brian Lehrer Show Monday morning, Carranza called the letter criticizing him “a distraction” from what the education department is doing to try to make education in the city more equitable.

“It’s always often kind of rich when there are inequities happening in the system, and the minute you start pointing out those inequities and actually working to change those inequities, it becomes divisive,” Carranza said. “I’ve never seen how you can improve a system without identifying what the issues are in the system, and you can’t fix the inequities without talking about them.”

Reema Amin contributed to this article