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A Big Choice in the Big Apple

I understand if America’s view of New York City politics might be somewhat jaded – given that yesterday’s Democratic primary election ballot included serial soft-porn tweeter Anthony Wiener and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer (dubbed Client 9 in the hooker scandal that forced him from office). Jaded or not, the results from last night’s Mayoral primaries will have a profound effect on one of the nation’s most robust public charter school environments. And voter decisions in the November general could dictate whether charters continue to grow in NYC or suffer a politically-inspired slowdown. Republicans chose Joe Lhota as their mayoral candidate. He is a wonky, former deputy mayor to Republican Rudy Giuliani who was later named by Democratic Gov. Cuomo to run the city’s mass transit system. On the Democratic side, the outcome is still uncertain. NYC Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio was the clear front-runner, but may have to face teacher union-backed former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson in an October 1 run-off, if it turns out that DeBlasio did not receive 40% or more of the vote (he’s currently at 40.2%). Whoever wins in November, the victor takes over for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who during his 12 years in office has been a Herculean champion of charter schools. New York charter school law is the purview of the state government in Albany and the next mayor will need to play nice with state lawmakers if he wants to enact other parts of his agenda. But the mayor can still influence on one of the most important issues to charters in New York City: real estate.. Bloomberg made waves when he gave charters access to space in city schools. By removing real estate as an obstacle, charters were able to focus on curriculum, students and school culture – especially important because New York charter students receive several thousand dollars less per pupil than children in district schools. Lhota likes charters. It’s safe to assume that if he’s elected, the Bloombergian charter support can be expected to continue. He’s said he’d push to double the number of charters in the city. DeBlasio and Thompson have each supported policies that would harm city charter schools. Whether it’s essentially taxing charter schools by charging them rent to use city school buildings, like DeBlasio wants; or otherwise throwing sand in the gears of charter growth by halting new co-locations, like both men want, the stakes are high for charters in this election. Even though registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 6 to 1, the outcome in this election is not predetermined. Twenty-one percent of voters are independent and the city hasn’t elected a Democratic mayor since 1989. You can be sure the families of the nearly 70,000 students in NYC charters this school year, and the additional 50,000 on charter school waiting lists will be watching. Bill Phillips is president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network.