Our busiest non-candidate takes his show on the road — and is a hit!
July 26, 2007
Bloomberg Takes School Plan, and His Style, to Midwest
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM
ST. LOUIS, July 25 — What does the Midwestern voter think of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg? Perry Hines, for one, raised an arched brow.
“What is it? Is he a Democrat? Is he a Republican? Now he’s independent,” said Mr. Hines, 45, a retired marketing executive who heads the Indianapolis chapter of the National Urban League. “Outside of both coasts and outside the Beltway, that lack of conviction breeds suspicion.”
Mr. Hines was standing in a ballroom of the Renaissance Grand Hotel here on Wednesday, waiting for the mayor to speak at a lunch for regional Urban League leaders. The black leadership group’s annual conference, which began Wednesday, has become a required stop for presidential aspirants, at least six of whom plan to drop by this time.
But Mr. Hines said he was skeptical of the prospects of a politician who had not officially joined the current group of contenders.
“Some people call it pragmatic; I call it opportunistic,” he said of the mayor’s party switches. “The question for any voter — a Midwesterner who’s not a New Yorker — will be, ‘Well, what is he?’ ”
Mr. Bloomberg attempted an answer of sorts in a half-hour speech that urged national leaders to follow the methods he used to improve New York City’s public schools, like increasing teacher salaries, issuing grades for schools and instituting a corporate-style system of accountability.
“The federal government should commit to a significant increase in new federal funding, including for higher teacher salaries, but cities and states could only receive it if they began implementing the reforms I’ve outlined today,” the mayor said as more than 200 regional Urban League leaders dined on roast pork, salad and iced tea.
The mayor pitched the plan as a crucial step in alleviating racial inequality. “We can stop talking about closing the achievement gap between races and actually have them catch up,” the mayor said. “We can stop talking about the equal opportunity of the civil rights movement and actually make it a reality.”
The speech was, by many accounts, a hit. Mr. Bloomberg closed with a charge — “Let’s get to work” — and stepped offstage to a standing ovation as well-wishers lined up by his chair.
Christopher Washington, 41, a university administrator who directs the Urban League affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, said afterward that he agreed with the mayor’s message.
“We need to pay more for good teachers,” he said, adding that increasing incentives for teachers to improve performance “makes sense, and it goes against conventional wisdom.”
At a press conference afterward, Mr. Bloomberg again denied any presidential ambitions. “I am going to be the mayor of the city of New York, God willing, for the next two and a half years,” he said.
But asked what advice he would offer Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who recently hedged on running for mayor, Mr. Bloomberg gave a provocative response: “You never want to go through life saying I could have. I could have been a contender.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday showed that 73 percent of New Yorkers approve of Mr. Bloomberg’s work as mayor, with only 19 percent disapproving. More than half believe he is likely to seek the presidency; 34 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” vote for him.
“He crosses all racial and ethnic lines,” said Maurice Carroll, who directs the poll. “It took New York a little while to get used to him. But they’re used to him now, and they think the rest of the nation could get used to him.”
And Mr. Bloomberg’s Midwestern cameo appearance may have won him at least one convert. Mr. Hines, the skeptic from Indianapolis, said after the speech: “I was very impressed. He hit a lot of the right notes.”
When it comes to urban schools, Bloomberg has credibility, and those regional Urban Leaguers believe him.
When it comes to the wretched state of our national knowledge quotient (per that Wired story a couple of posts ago), a guy who knows what buttons to push to create a transformation of schools whose condition most have written off, sounds like someone who needs a chance to work his plan on a larger scale.
Michael: tell us more!
It’s it for now. Thanks,