The Buffalo Schools Gong Show

schoolboard

When it comes to the Buffalo Public Schools, we have clearly entered a period of severe and acute self-parody.

The new majority on the school board – Paladino, James Sampson, Patty Pierce, Jason McCarthy, and Larry Quinn – were ostensibly elected to fix longstanding structural, substantive, and procedural issues facing the beleagured district. Perhaps Paladino and his cohorts are taking a cue from revolutionary Cuba – perpetuate the crisis to remain politically relevant and legitimate. After all, if everything is going smoothly, and the emergency has ended, who needs their special brand of “leadership”?

The past 15 years of schools stewardship have been marked by failed experimentation. The popular and effective Marian Canedo was superintendent for 4 years, and left abruptly before her contract expired. After an interim period, the board retained Dr. James Williams, whom they ultimately had to pay to leave. Amber Dixon was interim superintendent for a year before Pamela Brown was hired to serve from 2012 until this new majority forced her retirement in 2014. She had about two years to try and turn around a lumbering behemoth, and the majority essentially hand-picked Donald Ogilvie to serve as interim superintendent while they performed a national search for a new permament placement.

Ogilvie has barely served a year, and Paladino now wants him fired because … well, here’s what Paladino says,

Paladino said Ogilvie has become an obstacle to making the dramatic reforms the district needs to move forward. Even waiting until June or July for Ogilvie to leave is too long, he said.

“I will be presenting a motion to terminate his employment effective immediately,” Paladino said. “I do what I think is right. I’ve reached the point where I felt betrayed. I feel there was a lot of treachery.”

It’s no secret that members of the board majority have been disappointed in Ogilvie’s performance on the job, saying they expected more sweeping and immediate changes than have occurred under Ogilvie’s leadership. Paladino said Ogilvie misrepresented his position when he met with the board majority prior to his appointment.

Board majority members were clear about their vision for the future, Paladino said, and Ogilvie led them to believe he was on board.

But over time, Ogilvie’s lack of enthusiasm for charter school takeovers, slow movement on school downsizing, and general unwillingness to fire administrators and reduce the size of the Central Office has frustrated the board majority.

“We’ve made some marginal kind of progress,” board President James Sampson said, “but not the kind of progress the community wants to see.”

The “snap your fingers” method of effecting wide, sweeping privatization simply isn’t real life. Paladino may be the dictator within his narrow business interests, but he is now an elected official – a trustee who owes taxpayers and students a fiduciary duty to do the right thing. What we’re witnessing, however, is utter lunacy. This is cloud-cuckoo land, and even Paladino’s own allies think he’s gone too far. The majority may be disappointed in Ogilvie, but not enough to throw the entire district into further disarray and fire him before a replacement has been found. Because to do so would be irresponsible and stupid.

The minority, for its part, is already under constant siege by Paladino’s intemperate and childish mouth, and can do little more than use their own words and conduct to be islands of class in a sea of intemperate privatization. Parent activists have demanded that Paladino resign, and suggest that Carl’s own South District constituents are silent because they’re, frankly, embarrassed they elected him to be a constant, stupid distraction. I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but if Pamela Brown only got two years to turn around this district, why should Paladino get one day more?

“It’s always everybody else who’s the problem,” said the Rev. Kinzer M. Pointer, pastor of Agape Fellowship Baptist Church. “We need Mr. Paladino, for once in his life, to take an honest look and determine that he’s the common thread.”

What if Paladino has made the dysfunction worse, not better? That’s the charge, and it’s quite persuasive. Members of the parent group are sick and tired of administrative and legislative ridiculousness, and calling for a federal receiver to take the district over. What an incredible indictment that would be.

In the end, we’re learning that a functioning, collaborative school board is important in order to effectuate change and improve results for students. Even if you buy into the privatization model being pushed by Paladino and his confederates, the fact that they have so far failed, and that Paladino now wants to fire his hand-picked superintendent for putting students before politics, establishes how words don’t translate into deeds if you denigrate and dehumanize, rather than persuade and compromise.

Ogilvie explains that his job was made harder by the fact that “key positions” were vacant, and he’s had an uphill battle made worse by a distracted, belligerent board.

Buffalo and its students deserve better than this pseudo-reformist clown car. Perhaps it’s time for a receiver to assume control of the schools and render the board as irrelevant in law as it has become in fact.

As for Carl Paladino, he was sworn in to that school board on July 1, 2013. He seldom gives people time to do his especial bidding, so who will call for his expulsion or resignation come July 1, 2015? After all, what’s good for the goose is good for the tea party gander.

Democrats: Vote Teachout / Hochul September 9th

Tuesday September 9th is primary day, and Democrats throughout New York State have an important choice to make for Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

I’m voting for Zephyr Teachout for Governor, and Kathy Hochul for Lieutenant Governor, and you should, too. 

I am deeply disappointed in Governor Cuomo’s mishandling and abrupt cessation of the Moreland Commission’s investigation into Albany cronyism and corruption. These two topics are, to me, among the most important challenges facing the state today.  The role and power of money in politics, the unmitigated power of incumbency, the dictatorship of Albany authorities and bureaucracies, and the quid-pro-quo legalized bribery of electoral fusion all conspire to keep New York politics dysfunctional, slowly reactionary, and self-indulgent. For this reason, as well as Cuomo’s apparent lies about meddling in the state Senate, I have to register my disgust with the status quo.

These are huge, persistent problems, yet no one in or near power has any incentive to address or change them. Zephyr Teachout has made this the centerpiece of her campaign. 

I don’t do this lightly – my hesitation to denounce Cuomo is informed by how obviously good he’s been for western New York, helping to rebuild the foundation on which a new economy might emerge. We are finally making big leaps into the information age, having long-ago shed our reliance on big industry. We’re also rediscovering the value of skilled trades as an avenue for personal success and entrepreneurship. Having lost the WNY vote to Carl Paladino pretty decisively, Cuomo has paid remarkable attention to our region.  Imagine how good it would be for him to run for national office at some future date, and be able to campaign on how he turned around 50 years of Buffalo’s economic depression. I will enthusiastically vote for Andrew Cuomo in November if he is the party’s nominee. 

Furthermore, the Teachout/Wu ticket is focused on issues that matter only to the 5 boroughs of New York City – risibly so. As the old joke goes, ‘what’s the difference between ignorance and indifference? I don’t know and I don’t care’. Take a look at the five pillars of the Teachout/Wu platform, and the words “Buffalo” and “Western New York” appear exactly zero times. This ticket, as presented, has nothing to say about WNY or upstate issues (except for spotty broadband service and fracking) because they don’t know the first thing about it.  Teachout fumbled questions about keeping the Bills in WNY. Teachout/Wu presents a wide spectrum of points of view about New York State – Upper West and Lower East Side. 

Teachout’s “economy” piece deals mostly with consolidation of power, and the parts about infrastructure deal with the MTA and the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Upstate gets an abrupt shout-out about broadband, but that’s it.  The “education” piece is of general applicability to all of New York, and is replete with positions any Democrat should support – especially when it comes to the shameful way Albany has been balancing budgets on the schools’ backs for several years. On the “environment“, Teachout is the only serious candidate who opposes hydrofracking, full stop. Let Pennyslvania destroy its own aquifers – we like ours just fine, thanks. On “an open democracy“, Teachout talks about reforms that really have little to do with opening up democracy, and talks instead of reforming criminal justice, marijuana laws, and preventing abuse of the disabled. 

But the bigger picture has to do with the way the system itself is rigged – even when it benefits us as western New Yorkers.  It’s simply not being treated like the serious problem it is. That’s why the position on “corruption” is so important to me. The only thing missing – because Working Families Party – is an entry denouncing and promising an end to electoral fusion in New York State. Not incidentally, Teachout has written a scholarly work attempting to prove that embedded in our Constitution is an “anti-corruption principle” every bit as important as, say, separation of powers. 

So, because Teachout’s platform imagines that New York consists – with the exception of the Albany exclave – mainly of territories East of the Hudson and South of Poughkeepsie, I will be voting for Kathy Hochul for Lieutenant Governor. 

Hochul has the administrative and governmental chops to make up for Teachout’s utter lack of experience, and Hochul brings with her a native’s passion and knowledge about rural and western New York realities to help balance out Teachout’s geographically limited platform. Hochul was an independent-minded, conservative Democrat and balances out Teachout’s progressive-left worldview and mindset. Remember – although Teachout is running with Wu and Hochul is running with Cuomo, you can split these slates up however you’d like. Vote Cuomo/Wu, if you prefer. 

This isn’t about conspiratorial fantasies, either. I’m not trying to punish Cuomo for the NY SAFE Act or the dictatorship of the bureaucracy, except insofar as he’s doing nothing to make state bureaucrats answerable (at least indirectly) to their bosses – the people. 

For all the good he’s done for western New York, Andrew Cuomo has deceived Democrats and reformists in this state to the point of outrage. The brazen horse-trading with Senate President Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver to abruptly end the Moreland Commission on corruption was the last straw. No on-time budget is worth sacrificing the public trust yet again. It also speaks to the fundamental anti-democratic unfairness of the continued all-powerful triumverate that presides over Albany’s body politic. Cuomo’s apparent involvement in maintaining a Republican-led Senate is a betrayal made worse by lies

Albany graft and corruption help to stall and demean economic, political, and social progress in every corner of New York State. Teachout deserves support in the upcoming primary because she’s the only candidate who perceives and identifies the problem, and is assigning it the importance it deserves. But Teachout’s political novelty and ignorance about rural and upstate issues demand that the ticket be balanced with someone with experience and a WNY worldview.

Democrats should vote Teachout/Hochul on September 9th. 

Teachout, Cuomo & the Dictatorship of the Bureaucracy

When I think of Zephyr Teachout, I am specifically mindful of the fact that she’s a protest vote for the liberal wing of the statewide Democratic Party.  Most of them in and around the 5 New York City Boroughs. When I think of Zephyr Teachout, I think of this classic scene from Annie Hall: 

Zephyr Teachout and Tim Wu are bright and, as far as anyone can tell, beyond reproach. Both of them are Manhattan intellectuals, and Teachout has adopted statewide political corruption as a platform plank, and Wu is known for his work on behalf of net neutrality.  Indeed, he coined the phrase. 

Andrew Cuomo has disappointed a lot of left activists. While the right assail him for the mild additive restrictions on guns via the “NY SAFE Act”, the left is sick and tired of continued Albany corruption, the constant, unchecked abuses of power, the power of incumbency, the insidious poisoning of the process by money and electoral fusion, and – above all – the comical overnight dismantling of the Moreland Commission just as soon as it started really doing its job. 

The New York Times declined to endorse Teachout due to her rookie non-credentials and her ignorance on anything going on north of Poughkeepsie and west of Nyack. It also declined to endorse Cuomo because of his fumbling of corruption. I think this is something of a cop-out. 

I have no idea whether Teachout can win the primary – I highly doubt it, but stranger things have happened.

Here in WNY we have a unique position unlike other parts of the state. There’s no Billion for Binghamton; no Assets for Albany, no Riches for Rochester or Silver for Syracuse.  Yet Buffalo and WNY have come under special Cuomo attention for two reasons: 1. he lost to Paladino here in 2010, and he wants badly to win; and 2. if he can show the world that Buffalo underwent a turnaround under his watch, he can sell that to the rest of the country in some future run. Fix Buffalo and the world is your political oyster. 

So, it’s tough to ignore the attention that the state has heaped on our fair city and region and simply dismiss Cuomo out of hand. Indeed, it’s about damn time an Albany pol tried to un-fuck Buffalo. 

But from a less selfish point of view, Albany politics are just as ugly and problematic as they’ve ever been. Efforts to change that have not only been stymied – Cuomo has actively prevented them.  Our Democratic governor, whom gun nuts liken to Karl Marx, actively supported the notion of a Republican majority in the feckless State Senate. It took Teachout to get him to actually support the idea that Democrats should win elections. 

Last night, I received a call from a Cuomo phone bank asking for my support. I bluntly told them, “ordinarily I would, but this Moreland thing has really thrown me for a loop”.  She marked me down as “undecided”, but seriously – it’s tough for me to support a governor who so casually dismisses the root of all state evils – Albany dysfunction and corruption.  This is especially true given the clean mandate that Cuomo has had to do just that. Cuomo’s inaction and outright refusal to address these issues is disappointing to me as a Democrat, but should be disappointing to all New Yorkers. 

Bluntly put, you can take your “REPEAL NY SAFE” sign and shove it, because the size of your magazine isn’t the assault on liberty you should be concerned about.

Instead, get angry about Albany’s multipartisan conspiracy with the dictatorial bureaucracies to commit managerial and legislative malpractice. This perverse system ensures that state government works for the tri-state area and no one else. Manhattan’s own Teachout and Wu aren’t going to fix that. Neither is Cuomo from Queens or Rob from Mount Pleasant (really). 

There’s nothing new here. The Brennan Center’s blueprint for reforming Albany is a decade old. No one pushes it because it’s heady and complicated and not as shiny as a gun. 

You won’t do anything about it. Your village, town, city, Assembly, and state Senate won’t do anything about it. Andrew Cuomo won’t do anything about it, and neither will Rob Astorino. Zephyr Teachout is at least talking about the right things, but there’s zero chance that she would get elected in November.

So, suck it up, New Yorkers. No matter whom you vote for in September’s primary, you’re in for another 4 years of bureaucrats running the state for their own benefit.  Unfortunately, short of a governor with some balls or a Constitutional Convention, it’s never going to change. 

Cuomo’s Betrayal

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

The biggest and worst problem plaguing Albany and New York State politics is corruption. Albany’s especial brand of dysfunction thrives in an opaque environment, and there is a complete and bipartisan absence of political or moral will to change it. It’s been well over a decade since people and organizations began to seriously address this culture of corruption, and NYU’s Brennan Center deserves kudos for pushing the issue with specificity

It was almost a decade ago that Suffolk County Executive Tom Suozzi barnstormed the state, seeking the Democractic nomination for governor under the banner of “Fix Albany”. We send Assemblypeople and Senators to Albany, and while we see occasional profiles in courage, like Mark Grisanti’s pivotal vote on same-sex marriage, these individuals do little legislating and a lot of grandstanding. Nothing ever changes, and there’s no one who’s all that interested in cleaning Albany up. 

Enter Andrew Cuomo, a former Attorney General who swept into Albany to get things done, but also to restore trust in state institutions. While he has infuriated the gun-hugging areas of the state outside the NYC media market, he has now successfully angered the left, most starkly by helping to maintain a Republican Senate majority. In order to secure the Working Families Party’s Wilson Pakula, Cuomo decided to actually back members of his own party to win Senate races. 

But his most promising act was to establish a “Moreland Commission” to investigate corruption in Albany – most importantly, the misuse and corruption surrounding campaign finance in the state. This dovetailed nicely with Cuomo’s now-erstwhile support for public financing of elections – a goal he all but abandoned in order to “get things done” with respect to a budget deal with the other two men in the room. (That hasn’t changed, either). 

This New York Times article is a blockbuster of investigative journalism, outlining the ways in which Governor Cuomo’s office micromanaged and hamstrung the work the Moreland Commission was doing before he unceremoniously and summarily killed it in order to “get things done” viz. budget deal with Silver and Skelos. Here is a brilliant timeline that the Times put together. Luckily, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District, Preet Bharara, is picking up where the defunct commission left off, investigating and prosecuting obvious illegality. 

I frankly don’t get it. If Cuomo’s aim is to ascend to the White House, he’s just dealt himself a huge blow. It won’t do much to say, “I fixed Buffalo, the unfixable” when opponents and allies alike view him with distrust because when it came time to address the state’s most pressing problem, Cuomo whiffed. 

He didn’t just whiff – he threw the game. 

I’m not going to support Astorino, and Zephyr Teachout lost me by holding a “Cuomo resign” presser with Astorino. It’s high time we stopped demanding resignation and impeachment every time a politician does something stupid or with which we disagree. It’s stupid and childish.

I want someone to say that the NY SAFE Act is a distraction from the real problems we have, like unfunded mandates, the Gap Elimination Adjustment robbing schools blind, the completely unregulated and mismanaged state Authorities, our corrupt and corrupting Wilson Pakula/electoral fusion system whereby party endorsements are exchanged for money and jobs, and the toothless, ineffective board of elections that is unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute campaign finance fraud. These are all long-standing issues, and very well known. But New York has a dictatorship of the bureaucracy, and for some reason elected officials have no will to fight that tyranny of the careerists. Even, tragically, Andrew Cuomo. 

Getting things done is great, and it’s a welcome change from the feckless Pataki Adminstration. But New York Democrats have had almost 10 years to do something meaningful about not just the symptoms, but the root causes of why the state underperforms economically – especially outside of the New York City metro. 

Four years ago, a New York Observer article wrote that mine was the “Site that Saved Andrew Cuomo”. I don’t – for a second – doubt, question, or regret my 2010 support for Cuomo over Carl Paladino. But in 2014, the continued state gutting of public school budgets, tyranny of the Authorities, continued erosion of public trust through “electoral fusion” dealmaking,  and Albany’s unwillingness to heal itself make me wish for a true alternative – not just a Westchester County apparatchik or a leftist Manhattan protest candidate. 

New York isn’t broken because of the number of bullets you can put in a magazine is now restricted. But your focus on things like that help to distract you from genuine problems that affect us all. 

The State Assembly Reminds you that Albany Remains Dysfunctional

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

And to this point, it’s high time the Democrats in the Assembly grow a pair and unite to overthrow Speaker Silver’s “bossism”. To that point, the Daily News’ Bill Hammond yesterday penned the most persuasive and succinct primer on how the Assembly works and why Silver wields the power he does. It is a must-read, and the only reason why the redundant, pointless State Senate is marginally more small-d democratic has to do with the tight electoral margins and breakaway factionalism. 

By the same token, I can’t name a single, solitary accomplishment – or attempted accomplishment – that my Assemblywoman Jane Corwin has undertaken since joining that body in 2009. Indeed, her website’s welcome page refers to herself as “newly elected”, yet she’s already been re-elected once. Collect a paycheck (even though you’re a Spaulding Lake millionaire), get your health insurance, and go home. 

Albany is broken and it’s set itself up in such a way that it’s exceedingly difficult for you to do anything about it. 

Assemblyman Says Cuomo is like Hitler, Mussolini

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin likens Governor Cuomo’s use of “messages of necessity” to Hitler and Mussolini.

Under Article III, Section 14 of the New York State Constitution, a bill must be printed and on members’ desks in final form at least three (3) legislative days before it can be voted on for passage, unless the governor issues what is called a “message of necessity”. To do so, the governor certifies that an immediate vote is necessary on the bill once it reaches members’ desks in final form. No amendments are allowed, and a vote is to take place immediately.

In 2011, McLaughlin voted 17 times in favor of bills sent up as messages of necessity. In 2012, he did so on four of the five messages sent up by Cuomo, including the Tier VI pension plan, redistricting and an expanded DNA database for criminals.

In 2011, Cuomo issued 29 messages of necessity and used it five times last year, according to NYPIRG—the fewest number of times in recent history.

Nothing about the message of necessity takes away the legislature’s right to act, to debate, or to vote as a representative, deliberative body on the bill. The Brennan Center has targeted unnecessary messages of necessity as being ripe for criticism, noting that between 1997 – 2001, almost 30% of bills received one.

However, criticizing an overused constitutional provision for the fact that legislators have inadequate time to review and amend bills is one thing. Likening that to the horrors of National Socialism and fascism is a completely different thing, altogether.

Watch this, and note WNY Assemblywoman Jane Corwin’s reaction.

How many messages of necessity did Hitler sign, anyway?

Perhaps not as dumb as he seems, McLaughlin apologized later in the day.