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Mayoral control, reform uncertain as session draws to close


The New York state legislative session is drawing to a close, and Democrats and Republicans are digging in on the remaining issues of 2017. Among them is a measure to extend the New York City mayor’s control of the public schools, which has now been linked to a number of diverse issues affecting people in the rest of the state.

Games of chicken are common at the Capitol whenever a deadline like the budget or the end of session draws near. This time, it was the state Senate’s turn to go first.

Republicans, who control the chamber, offered three bills extending New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s control of the public schools, for one, two or five years. The measures are linked to passage of an education tax credit that would benefit charter schools. Charter schools have long been championed by Republicans but are viewed with suspicion by some Democrats.

The three take-it-or-leave-it measures were angrily rejected by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who was asked about them by reporters.

“God bless them, we’re not doing them,” Heastie said. “Next question.”

Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco joked that he could easily walk away with the extension of mayoral control unresolved.

“I can go home without it happening,” DeFrancisco said. “I live in Syracuse.”

De Blasio unsuccessfully campaigned for Democrats to take the chamber away from Republicans in 2014, and some GOP members continue to hold some resentment.

But the Assembly has tied mayoral control to the renewal of sales tax in counties outside of New York City, in upstate and on Long Island, and including counties in DeFrancisco’s district.

Heastie defended the linkage, saying there is a certain logic to it.

“We passed a bill that respected every locality’s request for an extender, including the city (of New York),” Heastie said. “We’re trying to treat every county with the same amount of respect and we wish the Senate Republicans would do the same for the city of New York.”

Heastie said he hopes that there can be a “three-way agreement” among the Assembly, Senate and governor on another key end-of-session issue — increasing oversight of the state’s economic development contracts in light of a scandal that’s led to corruption charges against several of Cuomo’s former associates.

“We’ll see what happens,” Heastie said.

The bills supported by the Assembly and Senate reinstate the state comptroller’s oversight over economic development contracts. Cuomo does not support that plan. He instead wants to create a new inspector general under the executive branch to root out potential corruption in procurement practices. DeFrancisco said that plan would not provide true oversight.

“You just have to be somewhat sane to realize that that’s not a check and balance over anybody,” DeFrancisco said.

A spokesman for the governor responded that it’s a “joke” to think a comptroller’s pre-audit of an economic development contract could flag a corrupt arrangement. Spokesman Rich Azzopardi dismissed DeFrancisco’s comments as a personal grudge against Cuomo because, he said, the governor criticized the senator for spending some time in Florida.

The session is scheduled to end June 21.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.