Republican Mayoral Candidates Debate Education in New York

By Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
Kristen Meriwether
Journalist
March 6, 2013 Updated: March 7, 2013

NEW YORK—For the first time this election season, the five Republican candidates for mayor met without the Democratic candidates, hosting a mayoral debate at the Roosevelt Hotel on Wednesday morning. 

Hosted by Crain’s New York and moderated by Greg David, the debate ran at a brisk pace.

With former MTA Chairman Joe Lhota being the only career Republican on the panel, David asked the candidates what makes them qualified to run on the Republican ticket.

“One party rule is never a good thing for any system,” said Tom Allon, president and CEO of Manhattan Media. He cited the corruption in both New York State and city politics in the last 10 years.

Allon said he came to the Republican Party to have his voice heard, but still has liberal party backing. “Over the past 50 years, fusion candidacy for mayor are a ticket to success,” Allon said. “We need a fusion candidate to beat the democrats.”

Lhota welcomed non-traditional republicans to the race. “I think it is good to expand the Republican Party in New York. Competition is a good thing,” Lhota said. “We need to be able to ensure we have the ability, in our Republican Party in the city to keep the democratic party in check.”

Education

Education was a hot topic, with each of the candidates giving current Mayor Michael Bloomberg high overall marks, but a failing grade in education.

Allon, a former teacher who has run on a platform of strong education reform, said the problem is that 50 percent of the teachers leave the system in five years. He suggested more training and hiring teachers with classroom experience.

[Related: NYC Mayoral Candidates talk About Mass Transit]

Allon wants to see charter schools continued, and less of an emphasis on testing. “Testing has replaced learning in the city,” Allon said.

Adolfo Carrion Jr., former Bronx borough president, agreed with Allon on testing and even blamed low voter turnout—just 30 percent during the recent federal election—on lack of critical thinking in schools. 

Carrion Jr. also chided both the Department of Education and the city for not coming to an agreement on a teacher evaluation system, which could cost the city $250 million in grant money. He called the impasse an embarrassment.

Catsimatidis said he would be in favor of larger class size with higher quality teachers than smaller class size with less qualified teachers. 

Lhota, said the city spends $19,000 per student, but has not seen much return on investment. Lhota said 90-95 percent of the teachers are great, but claimed the United Federation of Teachers is protecting the 5-10 percent.

Lhota said he wants to see merit pay for teachers, not everyone treated the same. “Longevity should not determine when a teacher gets a raise,” Lhota said.

George McDonald, founder and president of The Doe Fund, a homeless support organization, was the only candidate who spoke about universal pre-K. McDonald spoke out against Democratic candidate Bill de Blasio, who wants to tax the rich to pay for the program.

McDonald said he would like to see everyone have the option of universal pre-K, but offered no solution as to how to pay for it. 

Kristen Meriwether