ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Who's in charge of the nation's largest school district - New York City's? You might assume the answer would be simple, but it isn't. This month, Mayor Michael Bloomberg lost control of the schools. A seven-year-old law had put him in charge, but the law expired in the midst of a leadership feud in the state Senate. Then last week, lawmakers were on the verge of resolving the issue.
Now, as Beth Fertig of member station WNYC reports, any hope of a solution has dissolved into name-calling.
BETH FERTIG: Mayor Michael Bloomberg has never had a warm and fuzzy relationship with the state legislature. But when the state Senate went on summer recess without passing a bill to renew his control over the city schools, the situation got even chillier. On Friday, the mayor used his weekly radio show to urge Governor David Paterson to force the Senate back into session.
Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): And he can send the state troopers to drag them back unless they're out of the state, and he should do that. And giving them a summer off is, as we say in Gaelic, meshugenah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FERTIG: As most New Yorkers know, meshugenah is Yiddish for crazy, and observers would probably agree that New York politics has been just that lately.
Before the Senate meltdown, renewing mayoral control was supposed to be a shoo-in because it's supported by Republicans and most Democrats. But now that the Senate's leadership crisis has been resolved, Democrats once again have a narrow majority and some of them are furious with Bloomberg for urging them to pass a bill they claim doesn't include enough checks and balances to his control of the schools.
(Soundbite of applause)
State Senator CARL KRUGER (Democrat, Brooklyn): This is a battle that we've brought to the steps of city hall. The mayor ultimately will have to compromise.
FERTIG: Brooklyn Senator Carl Kruger was among 10 senators who rallied outside city hall yesterday. They made several references to Bloomberg's status as a billionaire, and they called him a dictator, a tyrant and other things.
Here's Harlem Senator Bill Perkins.
State Senator BILL PERKINS (Democrat, Harlem): We are interested in negotiating and ending the plantation politics that apparently the mayor believes requires us to do his bidding without any other kind of negotiations.
FERTIG: The mayor has argued that Senate Democrats promised to vote on a bill to reauthorize mayoral control, but several senators opposed it because they wanted a bigger role for parents. Communities throughout the city have complained about feeling shut out of decisions, such as closing down schools and opening new ones. Sources say Bloomberg agreed to create a new parent training academy, but the senators claim he wouldn't put it in writing.
The showdown comes while Mayor Bloomberg is running for a third term. New York voters have been getting regular mailings from his self-financed campaign boasting of higher test scores and words of praise from the U.S. Education secretary. But Brooklyn Senator Eric Adams, a former police officer, says he and other Democrats won't back down from demanding changes to Bloomberg's school system.
State Senator ERIC ADAMS (Democrat, Brooklyn): If we didn't run from guys with big guns and crime, we're not running from guys with big wallets.
FERTIG: For now, the city schools are being run by a seven-member board of education, which was appointed after the law granting Bloomberg control, expired on July 1st. The members immediately voted to keep Bloomberg's chancellor, Joel Klein, in charge of the system. But Bloomberg has warned that the lines of authority aren't so clear and that litigation is inevitable, which is why, unless the state Senate returns to Albany over the summer, by choice or by force, a resolution isn't expected before September.
For NPR News, I'm Beth Fertig in New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.