It’s been a while since City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and the rest of the mayoral hopefuls have focused on education. In the two months since they last appeared at a schools forum, they’ve debated everything from public safety to technology to community gardens.
So tonight’s forum at P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill seemed to be an important chance for Quinn and her rivals to refresh the public’s memory about their ideas on education, which parents say will be a crucial issue for them when they cast their ballots later this year.
But of the four Democratic candidates who plans to attend, Quinn isn’t one of them. The race’s five non-Democratic candidates, including four Republicans, also declined invitations to attend.
A spokesman said Quinn has a scheduling conflict, an inevitability at a time when the candidates are making public appearances and private glad-handing with breakneck speed.
”Speaker Quinn has attended 30 forums over the last several months, including three education-related ones and she is attending another roughly dozen this month,” said the spokesman, Mike Morey. “Unfortunately, we just couldn’t make this one work with the schedule. We appreciate the effort organizers put into it and are hopeful we’ll be able to do something with them in the future.”
Parents said Quinn’s explanation for her absence was both disappointing and not entirely convincing.
“It’s possible that she has another event, but it’s unfortunate,” said Rhonda Keyser, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at P.S. 29.
“I think this will prove to be very important and it’s a shame that she won’t be there because parents in District 15 are very engaged and interested to hear what the candidates have to say about education,” added Keyser.
Keyser said she thought one reason Quinn might have been reluctant to attend is who’s going to be asking the questions.
“I think it’s interesting that Diane Ravitch is the moderator,” said Keyser, referring to the New York University education historian and a prolific critic of Mayor Bloomberg, Quinn’s ally. The Alliance for Quality Education, one of the groups behind the anti-Bloomberg coalition New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, is co-sponsoring the event.
Of the Democratic candidates, Quinn has done the least to distance herself from Bloomberg during the mayoral campaign. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu and Bill Thompson have not only condemned Bloomberg and his signature education policies — such as co-locations and school closings — but have also vowed to move away from them if elected.
“Whether or not she actually has a scheduling conflict, I don’t think it will actually matter,” said Michelle Kupper, a P.S. 29 parent who helped organize the event. “Her absence will not go over very well.”
Although education is viewed as an important issue in the election, advocates say that the candidates have given the topic short shrift so far. Quinn is the only candidate to have issued a comprehensive education platform, which included promises for literacy programs, “community schools,” and a ban on field testing. Other candidates have made education proposals but have not yet set out a complete agenda.
“I don’t know where the candidates stand on the single issue that matters most to me,” said Janice Bloom, the mother of two students whose organization Parent Voices NY is sponsoring the event. Parents said they want to hear the candidates speak specifically about parent engagement, class size, and high-stakes tests. (The candidates have addressed those topics in the past, but not in front of an audience of mostly parents.)
It’s the second straight night that Quinn will skip a mayoral forum, which have filled up the candidates’ daily campaigning schedules for month. Quinn has attended 30 forums since late January, or about two per week. In the last 10 days, she has even attended two forums that other Democratic candidates missed.
Still, her pace seems to have slowed, her rivals said.
“No candidate has made every single forum — but Quinn does seem to be missing more of them (than) most,” said Dan Levitan, a spokesman for Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is also running for mayor.
In an email, Ravitch said she expected her parent audience to be disappointed but she held out a glimmer of hope that Quinn would clear her schedule.
“We will save a chair for her in case she changes her mind,” Ravitch wrote.