December 13th, 2015


Guests: UFT President Michael Mulgrew and State Senator Michael Gianaris

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Read Highlights: Mulgrew compliments Gov. Cuomo on acknowledging the flaws in his education approach:

MM: “I can’t give the governor enough credit for listening to the parents and the teachers and students from across our state. It’s not often that you get an elected official that says ‘OK, this isn’t working. We tried something. Let’s stop it now and let’s figure it out, come up with a real plan that’s going to work.’ So, it was a real victory for, you know, the parents, students and teachers of our state. So I give him credit for that.”

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Mulgrew on how new State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has done so far:

MM: “She inherited a really tough thing … I’ve worked with her … and I think our working relationship has been good and my conversations with her about education have been things that give me great hope. But now with this commission and the challenges thrown down before her, now we’re going to find out.”

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Mulgrew addresses speculation that there is tension between him and NYSUT President Karen Magee:

“All is right with the world because we wouldn’t have accomplished what we did yesterday without that happening. And I love that people love to speculate and social media and blogs have turned our world into a very strange place at times. And I find myself answering questions, and I’m like, ‘What would make you think that?’ ‘I read it on a blog.’ I guess that technically qualifies as a source these days. Anybody can write anything on a blog.”

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Mulgrew on whether he’ll ever run for office outside of the labor arena:

MM: “No. I give anyone who runs for elected office all the credit in the world, but I’m a teacher. That’s what I am. I’m a teacher and I became a teacher and I took on this role, the role I’m in now, only because I was so frustrated with how so many times I would see policy being passed that nobody understood what the ramifications would actually mean to a teacher in a classroom with students who were struggling and that’s why I am here.”

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Mulgrew on the failure of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and testing:

MM: “You know, it’s odd because the reason I became a union activist was specifically because of No Child Left Behind. I was a chap[ter] leader, just a chap leader … I had been asked by the union to come and work for them. I told them ‘no’ many times. I was teaching at-risk children in Brooklyn for 12 years. And somebody asked me to read this legislation that had just come out, No Child Left Behind… It sounded great. It had complete bipartisan support. So as I read the entire legislation, I came back to the person that was an officer at the UFT and I said, ‘This is a real problem.’ And he says, ‘Why is it a problem? Everyone seems to be supporting it.’ I said, ‘If you follow how this will roll out over the years what’s going to happen first is you’re going to start spending more and more money on tests. Second, you’re going to see school districts and schools start saying that we don’t want the children who can’t be successful on tests in our schools. And then third, then what you’re going to end up with is … everything is measured by the tests. You’re going to have nothing but test prep which I, as an educator, know that when you’re using a test for that reason instead of diagnostic reasons, you’re not going to get anywhere near the real learning you’re searching for for children.’ And that’s why yesterday—we had worked very hard in my role as an AFT Vice President I worked with the president of the AFT, Randi Weingarten, and for the last four years, it’s been one of our major missions is to say we need to get No Child Left Behind off the books because if we can get No Child Left Behind off the books, we get Race to the Top off the books… Because what the federal government can now really embrace was this whole ‘test and punish’ theory and it had nothing to do with actual student learning.” … Just imagine this. We did six days last year of standardized testing in New York City. Six days. None of it is diagnostic. It does not come back to us. … So just imagine how much money we are spending to have a three-day test put together by a private company and it does no diagnostics. So it doesn’t tell me if the child is very good on word recognition but very bad on comprehension. It doesn’t tell me any of that. And then I don’t get those results until the following school year. I can’t even use it to program the student going into the school year. And that’s why the report that came out yesterday. it validated everything we had been saying for years. It says it in the report. This is a debacle. This thing was rolled out horribly. It was rolled out for political rhetoric and for contracts and companies and no one thought about how to make it work for children, schools, teachers and parents.”

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State Sen. Mike Gianaris
Gianaris on how the Skelos conviction will affect 2016 State Senate races:

MG: “I think the Skelos conviction only magnifies what we’ve already seen, which is that people are fed up around the state. They’re realizing that the ethical situation in Albany is not what it should be and it’s starting to have a consequence at the ballot box. We saw it—you mentioned Nassau [County]—we already saw it in local elections this year, that district attorney’s race. There was a race for town supervisor that was much closer than anyone expected where corruption was front and center as an issue. And the more we see these kinds of events take place, the more we realize that we need dramatic change and dramatic change will be brought to the Senate by Democrats because we’ve been pushing for—we mentioned a full-time legislature at the outset of this conversation—we’ve been pushing for a full-time legislature as a conference. We’ve been pushing for pension forfeiture. We’ve been pushing for campaign finance reforms and it’s the Senate Republicans who stand in the way. So, look, my preference would be that they jump on board and we make these changes so that the whole state can be moving in a better direction. But if they continue to obstruct and fail to do that, it will be up to the voters, and we certainly expect to make that case in a very strong way.”

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Gianaris on the difference so far between how John Flanagan and Dean Skelos have run the State Senate:

MG: “[Flanagan] only had a couple of months at the end, so I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I expect things to be the same with a nicer face. And I’ve known John Flanagan from our days in the Assembly together. He’s a very pleasant man. He’s easier to get along with, and, frankly, on the routine administrative functions of the Senate, he’s been easier to deal with on a day-to-day basis. But on substance [the Senate Republicans] continue to be captive to the extreme right wing of their party. On ethics they continue to obstruct because, unlike myself and others on the Democratic side, an overwhelming number of the Senate Republicans are people who make outside income and we read in the paper by the day of the conflicts that exist among many of their continuing members as a result of that. And so I think his hands are tied despite what he might like to do or what his personality may indicate he would normally do. He still answers to a conference that is out of step with the people of this state.”

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Gianaris says he is open to exploring how to limit the ability of political consulting firms to elect officials as their campaign operatives and then turning around and lobbying those same elect officials:

Morgan Pehme: “Over the past four years, I have been making a documentary about the notorious Republican consultant Roger Stone, and one of the impacts he has had on the history of American politics, is that his former consulting firm was the first to break the previously unwritten rule in Washington D.C. that firms that ran campaigns should not turn around and then earn money from private clients by lobbying the very same elected officials they helped put in office. At the time when Stone’s company started this practice in the 1980s, their decision to make money off this dual role was roundly criticized as grossly unethical and since then commentators have cited it as a watershed moment in the decline of our politics. But this practice of political consulting firms electing lawmakers and then turning around and lobbying them is now totally commonplace in Albany. This relationship between lawmakers and their consultants strikes me as a recipe for influence peddling and ends up connecting lobbyists and legislators at the hip. What are your thoughts on banning political consultants from being able to play this dual role of campaign operatives and lobbyists in Albany?”

MG: “It’s an interesting question. We’ve debated this in the Senate over the last couple of years and, by the way, it’s an issue I think in the city and the City Council as well in recent years. When we looked at it on a theoretical basis some of the good government groups have opined to us that there are Constitutional issues with preventing anyone from lobbying their government. It’s enshrined in the First Amendment, I believe, that people should have the right to petition their government and lobby. And so there are some legal questions we have to overcome before we can impose a ban, so to speak. Now, could there be limitations? Sure, that’s something we can discuss. I think at the city level there’s limitations on how much lobbyists can donate, for example, to campaigns. There’s all sorts of ways we can try and ensure there’s no conflict or influence peddling that’s inappropriate. But we have to make sure that whatever we do is within Constitutional limitations and that’s, I think, where that issue does run into some problems. … There’s things like that should be easy to do. It would close some pretty big loopholes that exist in the law and I would absolutely support that.”

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Gianaris on his support for JCOPE’s proposal to expand the definition of lobbying to include political consulting firms that don’t register as lobbyists under the pretense that they are strategic or communications consultants:

Bill Samuels: “As the Times Union reported, last month the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics published a draft advisory opinion that—if it is approved by the Commission—would expand the definition of lobbying to cover not just direct lobbying, but also if a consultant uses their relationship with a public official to set up a meeting or a call with that official which is aimed at influencing them—even if the consultant doesn’t directly lobby that official. Do you think that the state should expand the definition of lobbying to include this practice of so-called “door opening” by consultants?”

MG: “There’s a whole issue of when someone actually registers as a lobbyist or not. We have a series of consultants that aren’t registering, so that’s another area we can tackle. I think there’s some efforts from some of the ethics commissions to deal with that already which is a long way of saying, Morgan, that I agree with you. We need to make sure that we limit the conflicts of interest that could arise in government. That’s obvious just by following the recent trials, if nothing else. But, whatever we do, and there’s multiple things we can do, we should just be careful to make sure it’s legal.”

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Gianaris on why he supports a Constitutional Convention:

MG: “We are in such need of dramatic change in the state that a convention would be a great way to kind of turn the whole thing over and start fresh. The list of reforms that I would suggest are lengthy. We probably don’t have enough time to go over them right now … but I can give you a short list. It would involve real redistricting reform as opposed to the thing we enacted that won’t achieve the goals we all wanted of a truly independent process. Ethics reforms, including a full-time legislature, pension forfeiture for those convicted of crimes. The list is not short of the things we can do.”

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