NEW YORK—The forum’s topic was education, yet it was the newest entrant to the 2013 NYC mayoral race, former congressman Anthony Weiner—not education policy—that stole the show.
At his first mayoral forum of his short campaign season, Weiner commanded a parade of media attention of near-celebrity proportions as he entered and exited the room. When he spoke, shutters clicked at twice the pace as any other candidate, and Twitter was abuzz, hanging on his every word.
Weiner has not had to do much to differentiate himself from the pack of Democratic candidates. He is the candidate with the unforgettable name, and likewise the unforgettable photo scandal. Yet Weiner chose to, both literally and figuratively, stand out at this forum—he stood during every question, sleeves rolled up mid forearm, accentuating his points with his hands.
The audience ate it up.
The event hosts, New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, kept the topic on education. The questions were pointed, with many revolving around asking candidates to comment on Mayor Bloomberg’s policies or policies proposed by other candidates.
The hosts gave Weiner no room to settle in, choosing for the first topic of discussion one of his education proposals from “64 Keys to the City” to streamline the process to remove troublesome students from the classroom.
As the questioner pointed out, some of the other candidates, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, former NYC Comptroller Bill Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and City Comptroller John Liu, have vowed to reduce student suspensions.
Weiner defended his policy suggestion, saying with the overcrowding in schools, the last thing needed are disruptive students. He clarified he did not want to brush aside students who are disruptive, as the question suggested.
The other candidates, who have been campaigning for months, have already laid out much of their education policy, be it in policy briefs or at forums. Other than his 64 Keys to the City, Weiner has not shed much light on his stance yet. He took the opportunity at the forum to spend less time criticizing the current administration, and more time on his views for the future.
In one of the many comical Weiner moments of the evening, Weiner chose to use his rebuttal on none other than himself, to allow for more time to explain his point. The crowd laughed, but a captivated audience listened to his three suggestions for open space in schools.
He suggested a gifted and talented program if there is enough space. Second, providing any other resources the school needs, such as science labs. His third suggestion, regarding charter schools, drew a negative audience reaction, however, Weiner stood firm on his stance.
“We should let the Charters come in and compete with those two other ideas,” Weiner said. When the crowd began grumbling at the idea, he firmly said, “But, I want them to compete on level footing.” He said the community should have a say in whether a charter school gets approved.
To close the debate, Weiner drew on his childhood, and his Brooklyn upbringing, similar to his website campaign video. He spoke of the schools he attended: “They were never these Ivy-lined citadels of education, but they were good solid schools with teachers who were respected, in buildings that were safe with the things we needed. That is what we need.”
Weiner promised a good working relationship with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), which has grown strained under the Bloomberg administration—most recently over teacher evaluations, a bus strike, and union contracts.
“I want my teachers to say I respect that guy, he cares about me and he wants me to succeed,” Weiner said. “If you are a teacher, that is what your mayor is going to sound like if I am lucky enough to get elected.”
Quinn a No-Show
Quinn was not present for the forum, however, she did make an impact on the organizers.
“She picked the date and all the other candidates accommodated that schedule,” Bill Easton, executive director of Alliance for Quality Education, said before the event. “They told us the reason they were not participating was because it was an actual debate format as opposed to a candidate forum.”
At 1:30 p.m. this afternoon, Quinn’s campaign emailed a notice for a 4:30 p.m. event, a walk and talk in Brooklyn Heights. Despite the rain, her campaign twitter account showed Instagram photos of Quinn donning a raincoat with supporters.