MIDTOWN — The school year is almost over, but New York's mayoral candidates are gearing up for a long summer courting the city's teachers.
But front-runner Christine Quinn may have to work a little harder for their support than her competitors.
Six candidates for November's mayoral election vied for the support of the United Federation of Teachers and it's over 200,000 members at an education forum at the New York Hilton on Saturday morning.
Topics ranged from the use of standardized testing and school co-location, to school closures and the recent gridlock between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the UFT over teacher evaluations. The candidates—five Democrats and one Independent—found little to disagree on during the 90-minute forum.
Fielding questions from UFT president Michael Mulgrew, vice president, Karen Alford, and a half-dozen teachers, the candidates took turns touting their education experience and criticizing Mayor Bloomberg, who is profoundly unpopular with the union.
Quinn, currently speaker of the City Council, struggled to impress the few thousand teachers in attendance as her opponents repeatedly drew attention to her close ties with Bloomberg.
"Everyone knows that Christine Quinn gave [Bloomberg] a third term, but there's no point focusing on the past now," said candidate Sal Albanese, in a less-than-subtle response that drew laughter around the room, including a few chuckles from Quinn herself.
She received a smattering of boos while answering a question from Mulgrew about whether she would appoint someone with educational experience as Schools Chancellor.
"I don't want to rule out today all the good advocates out there," said Quinn, giving the example of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who ran the non-profit educational foundation Ariel Education Initiative in the 1990s, before being appointed in 2009 by President Obama.
For the most part, however, all the candidates--Quinn and Albanese, as well as public advocate Bill de Blasio, comptroller John Liu, former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion, and former comptroller Bill Thompson--focused on contrasting themselves with Mayor Bloomberg.
Carrion and Albanese repeatedly mentioned their experience as teachers in New York City pubic schools. Liu listed the names of a half-dozen teachers he had, starting in kindergarten.
The borough president departed from his fellow candidates on several occasions, including in his support for standardized tests and raising the cap on the number of charter schools in the city.
"At the end of the day, we need to give an honest assessment to parents of the school they're sending their children to," said Carrion, regarding how he thought standardized tests could be useful.
The candidates offered few specific policy proposals. De Blasio proposed a tax on New Yorker's earning over $500,000 to fund all-day, universal pre-kindergarten for every child in the city, as well as after-school activities every day for every middle school child.
The forum rarely got heated, however, even turning into a mock classroom at times, with the candidates impersonating eager third graders. After one question, Liu sat up in his seat and jabbed his hand in the air.
Yet Mulgrew announced in a speech later Saturday afternoon that the union won't issue it's much-desired endorsement until June 19th.
"So stay tuned," said Mulgrew, according to a transcript of his prepared remarks.
"What we want all the candidates to know right now is that the minute this Mayor's term is over, the new administration can count on having in this great union, the UFT, a partner who will work with you to make New York's public schools into the greatest schools system in the nation," he added.