Op-Ed | What does Assemblyman Bennedetto have against Mayor Adams?

School Announcement
Mayor Eric Adams returns to Bayside High School in Queens to call for continued Mayoral control of New York City’s public schools on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Education is vital to our children’s future. With a proper education, they are set on a path to success in life. However, someone in Albany has erected a roadblock across this very path. That someone is state Assemblyman Michael Benedetto.  

As chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Education, Mr. Benedetto did precisely this when he announced that he would exclude renewal of mayoral control over schools in this year’s state budget bill. In lieu of such budgetary inclusion, Mr. Benedetto mused to News 12 on March 16 that Albany probably won’t renew mayoral accountability at all in the state’s budget, saying, “I think we [the state Legislature] felt that it was an issue that was best dealt with after the budget, where we can focus in and debate it out among all the legislators.”   

Mr. Benedetto continued, “A lot of people in the city of New York, a lot of parents, they have their doubts about Mayoral Control, and there is debate within my conference whether we want to continue it or keep it, and make some small changes to it. Whatever we do, we’re going to focus on it after we finish with the important details of the budget.”

The last time I checked, the future of our children was an important and most pressing detail in need of the most immediate attention.

At face value, it seems Mr. Benedetto’s plan is to explore possible legislation on the issue containing unspecified changes after passage of the budget, a budget that won’t even pass on time. The problem with this is he knows all too well how Albany works.  Exclusion from the budget reasonably equates to waiting another year for mayoral control (if it ever happens at all), which expires on June 30. Implying some mythical lawmaking down the road won’t change that.   

This is political waffling and cynical gamesmanship. The parents of our city do not have a year to wait on the education of their children. They don’t even have a day. With this dithering, Assemblyman Benedetto has overruled the wishes of Mayor Eric Adams, Gov. Kathy Hochul and — most importantly — hundreds of thousands of parents. Who is Mr. Benedetto to call the shots like this? Did I miss his coronation as king of New York? 

The News 12 remarks confirmed the sentiments Mr. Benedetto conveyed to the New York Post on March 11 where he said about mayoral control, “The mayor has good reason to be concerned. It’s not going to be considered in the budget bill.” This is why it was troubling when on March 30, Mr. Benedetto tweeted, “I remain committed to passing Mayoral Control of our schools.”  This brand of obfuscation is brazen even for a career politician. Mr. Benedetto never committed to passing mayoral control, and he clearly stated on several recent occasions that he did not intend to in this year’s budget. In fact, he made clear that he and his colleagues may or may not draft legislation after internal debate. How exactly is that remaining committed?      

Whatever grievances Mr. Benedetto harbors on mayoral accountability, they must have arisen recently. There is scant evidence that he objected to the policy under Mayor Adams’ two predecessors. Mr. Benedetto supported Bloomberg’s choice for chancellor; and after the Renewal debacle, he rewarded de Blasio with a three-year extension of mayoral control, despite past extensions lasting only one or two.  

Despite the best good faith efforts of those two mayors, we are unfortunately still left with schools where 65% of African American and Hispanic students do not reach grade proficiency. Nevertheless, Mr. Benedetto was not outspoken about any major changes needed for any previous extensions. Why, then, does the assemblyman suddenly want to tie the hands of Mayor Adams in granting accountability over our schools?  

All signs point to the mayor “who gets stuff done” being the person who turns around our schools. In a departure from his predecessors, Mayor Adams has an intimate understanding of the challenges our schools and students face. He is an alumnus of our public school system, who was not in a bubble of elite public schools, but in struggling schools while hindered by poverty and an undiagnosed learning disorder.  

Mayor Adams’ understanding of our children’s needs extends to his experience as an NYPD officer, where he witnessed the consequences of a failed education system and how interventions like dyslexia screening would have made a world of difference for people in the criminal justice system. On top of all that, the mayor has in his toolbelt the Foundation Aid that Albany deprived us of for so many years, allowing him to oversee schools with the equitable funding they need. 

Besides the mayor, our new chancellor, David Banks, instills unprecedented confidence in the ability of this administration to rescue our schools. He knows the system inside and out, as an alumnus of our public schools who has been a teacher, school safety agent, founding principal of two successful schools, and president and CEO of a school network. He was exemplary at the helm of Eagle Academy, whose students regularly outperformed their peers in neighboring schools.  

Banks is an outstanding leader who works with all stakeholders. As a principal, he was so much beyond simply committed to parent engagement that he held PTA meetings on Saturdays and provided free food. The Eagle Academy also made sure to employ union teachers, because he wanted to demonstrate that reform was possible in traditional public schools, bucking the trend of charter schools being less friendly to labor. 

Another fact distinguishes the current administration from previous ones: For the first time in the era of mayoral accountability, we have both a mayor and chancellor who are African American. Both grew up in working class homes in the outer boroughs. While these experiences alone do not make them inherently qualified to manage our education system, they do equip Adams and Banks with the ability to directly identify with the students least served by our current public schools, and the personal desire to see those students succeed both in education and life.  

It was most historic and inspiring to witness voters of all colors and backgrounds elect our first Black mayor in decades, and it’s hardly a stretch to say that Chancellor Banks is perhaps the most qualified chancellor this city has hired in decades. He has built a track record of exemplary service and success that few would doubt is on par with or exceeding those assembled by either his predecessors or any other potential candidates for the job.

Without a doubt, the pieces are in place for mayoral accountability over schools to serve our students better than ever before. Nevertheless, Assemblyman Benedetto is being more obstructionist than ever before. Why he wants a debate now, despite routinely rubber-stamping extensions in the past, baffles me completely.

To say our children’s education is critical in such uncertain times would be a substantial understatement. All of them, no matter their color or economic background, deserve better from our public schools. It is more important than ever at this crucial juncture where we must counteract two years of regress under remote learning. That is why Mayor Adams, Chancellor Banks, and the more than 1 million students in the New York City public schools need a four-year extension of mayoral control. 

Now is not the time for Assemblyman Benedetto to employ Joe Manchin-style filibustering and take hostage of the nation’s largest public school system. If he continues running the Education Committee as an emperor, then New Yorkers may very well strip him of his clothes. 

Al Quattlebaum, a resident of Co-op City, is a candidate for the New York State Assembly in the 82nd District in the Bronx.

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