Voice of the People
you believe in democracy, it seems to me that you have to take
seriously the idea of the voice of the people. Mayor Bloomberg
says he believes the same thing, but his recent actions suggest
that, in fact, this is true only in certain selected cases,
such as the idea of eliminating party primaries. When it comes
to other issues—studying potential limits on class sizes in
public schools, for example—the voice of the people seems to
be the last thing he wants to hear.
party primaries is an issue that has become dear to the Mayor’s
heart. He has proposed that in municipal elections there would
be only one primary in which any and all candidates would run,
whatever their party affiliation. The top two finishers would
then go on to decide the election in a runoff.
people think this is not a good idea, including such traditional
good government groups such as Common Cause, the New York City
Bar Association and Citizens’ Union.
and other critics of this notion say that such a measure would
reduce voter involvement and make voters’ choice more difficult
by obscuring where candidates stand on issues. The primary
beneficiaries of this scheme would be candidates—like the Mayor
himself, although if passed the measure would not affect an
election until 2009—who have the money and resources to run
a major campaign on their own. What ordinary person could take
on a challenge like this without the backing of a party or
the people decide” has become the watchword of the Mayor and
his supporters, at least on this issue.
with this the Mayor’s stance on reducing class size. More than
115,000 voters—well over twice the required number—signed petitions
over the summer to put this issue on November’s ballot.
measure itself would not impose any limits on class size. It
would simply create a Charter Review Commission to study the
issue and make recommendations that would then be put to voters
hopefully in November of 2004. Listed as Question 6, it was
slated to be on this November’s ballot until Mayor Bloomberg
ordered it removed. He said he didn’t want any other ballot
questions distracting voters’ attention from his proposal,
Question 3, and two additional proposals he is pushing.
Yorkers for Smaller Classes—a broad-based coalition of parents,
educators, clergy, civic organizations, community groups, labor
unions and others that spearheaded the drive to put Question
6 on the ballot—went to court. State Supreme Court Justice
Louise Gans ruled earlier this month that the Mayor’s attempt
to “bump” the class size proposal was unconstitutional and
violated the right to free speech.
any parent instinctively knows that children are likely to
get more attention and a better education in smaller classes.
Any teacher who has spent a day in a classroom will tell you
the same thing. Dozens of states already have class size reduction
legislation in place. And there are reams of research showing
the merits of small class size. This isn’t rocket science or
brain surgery. Most education experts, parents, teachers and
the public at large agree that smaller, more manageable classes
are more desirable and better for kids.
the Mayor would have joined us in such a study commission.
If he was unwilling to do that, he could at least have decided
that the courts had spoken and let the matter drop. But instead
he pushed for an appeal, and the Appellate Division sided with
him, knocking Question 6 off the ballot.
of Question 6 have taken the matter to the New York State Court
of Appeals, and as this column went to press, the Court of
Appeals had not yet ruled.
3—eliminating party primaries—will be on the ballot. If Question
6—the class size study commission—does get on the ballot, it
will mark a real opportunity for the voice of the people to
be heard about something that plays a pivotal role in teachers’ ability
to give kids a quality education.
ask yourself: Which question better reflects the voice of the
people? Is it the one supported by more than 115,000 voters
who signed petitions for it, along with thousands and thousands
of parents? Or is it the one whose principal advocate is a
single individual accustomed to getting his way? You decide.#
Weingarten is President of the United Federation of Teachers.
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