Terence Tolbert with Mayor Bloomberg (via Facebook) Thoughts are falling many places this Election Day, and one place, especially among those who work at the Department of Education, is the life of Terence Tolbert, the DOE's chief lobbyist who died Sunday night at age 44 while on a leave of absence to run Barack Obama's campaign in Nevada. Tolbert, by all accounts a tireless worker, was responsible for spearheading many of the DOE's biggest projects, including the effort to raise the cap that kept the number of charter schools allowed in New York at 100 and the settlement of the historic Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He also was a reliable public face for the Bloomberg administration around the city, chairing hearings often attended by unhappy parents, and one of just a small number of African-Americans among the DOE's top leadership. So strong was his commitment to his work for the Bloomberg administration that a friend, Larry Blackmon, told me that in his final days campaigning for Obama, Tolbert was already starting to look forward to his next fight, on behalf of renewing the law that gives control of the public schools to the mayor. "He made it a point to me to tell me that the day after it was over he was packing up and he was driving back," Blackmon said. "He was really looking forward to coming back home." But on Tolbert's Facebook page, in our comments section, and in conversations I had with his friends this week, the overwhelming impression is less of a political operative than of a man who was a mentor and inspiration to many; a man who made many friends, despite a stubborn insistence on always telling things exactly as he saw them; and a man whose primary commitment was to public service.
We don't know how large voter turnout is so far, but it's clearly impressive. As Mayor Bloomberg said this morning, “Anybody that thinks that democracy is not working in America just has to look today.” Will the civic engagement be sustained? One way for parents to stay engaged, of course, would be to get active in their child's public school. The teachers union is holding its annual conference Saturday on how to do that. About 3,000 parents are expected to show up, and although formal registration has closed, a person at the union just told me that if parents still want to sign up, they can, by calling 212-598-9025. At the conference, parents will find workshops on subjects including how to understand new standardized tests and how to deal with gang violence. Maybe parents could also discuss which PTA's held bake sales and which didn't. Another incentive to show up: Philissa, who has attended the conference for the last three years (representing Insidechools.org — she's not a parent yet!), says that last year Hillary Clinton made an unannounced appearance. More details after the jump.
The Times today has a new profile of Eva Moskowitz, the politician-turned-school operator who is at the helm of the four Harlem Success Academy charter schools. I say new because this is actually the second full-length profile of Moskowitz the Times has run. (The first is here.) Why pay so much attention to this charter school operator, amid the sea of them? I'll give two reasons. First, Eva Moskowitz is not just trying to improve public schools by creating better ones in Harlem. She is testing a theory of politics. Three years ago, after becoming a living legend in her tenure as head of the City Council education committee, holding drama-filled hearings that took on the mayor as strongly as the teachers union, Moskowitz tried to take her political career to the next level by running for Manhattan borough president. She lost in 2005 to Scott Stringer, a defeat that was in no small part thanks to the enemies she made as a tough committee head. But Moskowitz did not jump out of the limelight. In fact, the opposite: she still declares her intention to run for mayor one day. Whether she really will run for mayor, she is trying to prove a point: that it doesn't matter that she infuriated the teachers union and other labor groups. Moskowitz's arguement is that school improvement efforts, done well, can build a natural constituency all their own. If she succeeds, she will shake up what is permitted in the politics of running schools.