New York Mayor Bill de Blasio went to Albany Tuesday to whip up enthusiasm for his prekindergarten and after-school programs, but 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 M. 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. But 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, comfortable pensions and powerful lobbyists who know how to dominate nervous politicians. The status quo needs to change.
The charters -- 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. Still, they are small, just a handful here on Long Island, yet the teacher unions, with a new field marshal in de Blasio, have made them a target.
Cuomo -- with Senate majority co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), chairman of the education committee, standing with him -- forcefully and confrontationally repudiated that mentality Tuesday.
And all the while he showcased what real progressivism might look like: schools where kids come first. Great civics lesson.