First Mayoral Debate Wrap Up

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Tonight, Mayor Bloomberg and his Democratic challenger, City Controller Bill Thompson, met in their first face-to-face debate of the campaign.

WNYC reporters analyze some of the candidates' statements.

Education: Who's in Charge?

Beth Fertig reports:

The very first question was about the negative tone of the campaign, but both Mayor Bloomberg and Bill Thompson used it as an opportunity to continue going negative about each other's education record.

Bloomberg referred to Thompson's tenure as Board of Education President in the late 90s this way: "When he ran the old Board of Education, the schools were much more violent, graduation rates were 50% or below..." Bloomberg went on to mention that schools were safer and that test scores are up under his leadership (true).

But Thompson seized on Bloomberg's statement that "he ran" the old Board of Ed. He noted that back then, no one was in charge because the system was run by a chancellor, a mayor and a board. He noted that this was the rationale for changing the state law to put the mayor in charge.

Thompson is correct in saying he was not in charge of the schools. The old system was diffuse. The seven-member Board of Education consisted of two mayoral appointees and five members appointed by the borough presidents. Thompson was appointed by the former Brooklyn Borough President.

Bloomberg used this argument to claim that the city won mayoral control because "when he ran it, the schools were terrible." Thompson claimed he was the one who laid the groundwork for mayoral control by making reforms to the old system.

It's true that Thompson did support reforms that weakened the old community school boards, which were widely criticized for corruption. The state legislature stripped the boards of their power in hiring superintendents and principals. But former Chancellor Rudy Crew also played a big role in that change. When the legislature eventually handed Bloomberg control of the city schools in 2002, however, it was an acknowledgment that things hadn't changed enough.