Mayor Bill de Blasio went to Albany Tuesday to whip up enthusiasm for his prekindergarten and after-school programs, but he got his head handed to him instead.
By fulfilling a promise to slow the expansion of charter schools just days before his highly anticipated trip, the mayor inadvertently overshadowed his own message.
Waiting for him was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who used the occasion of de Blasio's visit to deliver a rousing speech to a rally of thousands of pro-charter parents and students gathered at the Capitol to protest the mayor's scale-back. "You are not alone," Cuomo told them as he promised to "save" charter schools.
It was a dazzling lesson in political one-upmanship.
Albany is an industry town, and education -- with its tens of thousands of jobs and powerful unions -- usually gets the royal treatment. Hungry for campaign money, most politicians are eager to keep this interest happy.
Cuomo turned that relationship on its head as he addressed the charter boosters, whom the unions tend to fear.
Education is not just another industry, the governor told them, and he's right. Nor should education be mainly about safe jobs and comfortable pensions and powerful lobbyists who know how to dominate nervous politicians.
The status quo needs to change.
The charter schools -- which serve some of the state's most impoverished students -- face an uphill fight. Using teachers who do not necessarily adhere to union work rules, they often win extraordinary classroom results.
Two South Bronx charters in the Success Academy chain last year scored in the top 1 percent on statewide standardized math tests and in the top 7 percent on the state English exams. And Eva Moskowitz, the Success Academy CEO, has made herself even more of a scourge for the United Federation of Teachers and de Blasio.
Cuomo strongly repudiated that mentality Tuesday .
And all the while he showcased what real progressivism might look like: schools where kids come first. Great civics lesson.