Council Speaker Quinn's State of the City: Possible Preview of a Mayoral Campaign

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The mayoral race is still two years away, but City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's State of the City Thursday presents her with a unique opportunity to frame her vision for a city she reportedly wants to lead.

Council staffers concede Quinn won’t have those high production values that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's State of the City have always had. There won't be a custom made videos featuring former Mayor Ed Koch in full comedic bloom or PowerPoint presentations.

It will be her ideas and delivery style that will have to carry the moment. And for Quinn, so closely identified with Mayor Bloomberg, her central rhetorical and political challenge remains setting herself apart from Bloomberg without alienating him.

Quinn is expected to pick up Bloomberg's education baton by calling for mandatory kindergarten for all city children and the establishment of a program to provide affordable, high quality childcare for middle-class families.

Jennifer March-Joly with the Citizens Committee for Children lauded both of Speaker Quinn's initiatives. But she thinks mandatory kindergarten, which is estimated to add 3,000 into the system, would force the Department of Education to have to spend more money to build out more capacity. "And I think if it were mandatory there would need to be better planning for age cohorts," March-Joly said.

Kathy Christie, vice president with the Education Commission of the States, said currently only 19 states require that children attend kindergarten. If the public is going to spend any new money, she said, the best bet is for it to go for the period before grade school.

"If you’re going to invest any where the pipeline where is it the most efficient? It’s nearly always those early years," Christie said.

Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said any serious contender for mayor has to have education at the top of their list of talking points. But he said his latest polling shows the public appears to have reached a split verdict on the mayor and his approach to reforming the public schools that mayoral contenders, like Quinn, need to factor in.

"New Yorkers don't think he is doing a very good job, but they agree with almost everything he wants — merit pay and making it easier to fire bad teachers," Carroll said.

Carol Kellerman, with the Citizens Budget Commission, will be listening to how Speaker Quinn discusses the formidable fiscal challenges ahead. That includes a structural deficit in the billions of dollars driven by costs such as rising pension and retiree health care, as well as debt servicing. She said the next mayor will have to deal with these ever mounting "legacy costs" in order to avoid cutting critical services in the years ahead.

Kellerman wants Quinn or any other possible mayoral candidate to answer hard question that speak to reality “instead of just generic platitudes," Kellerman said.