May 9, 2020 10:36 pm
NEW YORK (VINnews) — According to a new report by the New York Post, Mayor de Blasio appears to have been personally involved to gain himself an extension of mayoral control of city schools. In exchange for that favor, de Blasio uses his power to delay the release of a report on the quality of Yeshiva education in New York City.
Internal emails obtained by The Post show that de Blasio had made phone calls to powerful religious leaders in order to gain the support of two state lawmakers who were voting on his power to run the nation’s largest school system.
Nafuli Moster, founder and executive director of Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) reacted to the report, saying “These internal communications reveal what we suspected all along: Mayor de Blasio abused his power by interfering with the yeshiva investigation.”
YAFFED has previously filed complaints against 39 Brooklyn yeshivas in July 2015 for allegedly falling short on providing a satisfactory secular education.
The complaints sparked an investigation by the Department of Education, but the results of the investigation didn’t come quickly. In the interim, critics accused City Hall of delaying the results to prevent losing the Orthodox Jewish vote.
Even an investigation into allegations of the mayor’s interference was stalled, according to whistle-blowers who spoke to The Post.
But according to the newly revealed emails, Mayor de Blasio was personally involved in efforts to stall and shape the findings of the Yeshiva investigation.
In an email on June 29, 2017, Mayor de Blasio was intructed by his chief of staff, Emma Wolfe, to call Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice-president of Agudath Israel of America, and Leon Goldenberg, a longtime friend and major donor.
In the email, Wolfe told the mayor it was “urgent” that he tell the two Jewish leaders to call State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park), and then-Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Long Island) to “tell them to approve Mayoral control,”. At the time, Felder and Flanagan were blocking passage of the measure.
“I will make these calls immediately,” de Blasio replied to Wolfe via his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
But the mayor added, “I’m flying too blind here.” He requested more information on the yeshiva issue “and what Simcha is asking for.”
Shortly thereafter, Karin Goldmark — a City Hall senior education policy advisor at the time, and now a DOE deputy under Chancellor Richard Carranza — responded to the Mayor that the city had promised the Orthodox leaders that the results of the Yeshiva investigation would be delayed, despite a public promise to release them earlier.
“We said we would not issue a report this summer (though we previously said we would),” Goldmark told de Blasio in the email.
This delay allowed Simcha Felder additional time to push an amendment that would exempt yeshivas from a 1929 law requiring private schools to provide a “substantially equivalent” education to that of public schools. A version of Felder’s proposal ended up being passed in 2018.
In that same email, Goldmark also stressed that the city would go easy on the yeshivas.
“We have made clear that when we do issue a report it will be gentle and will cite progress (assuming progress continues). We have not said that we won’t make findings, but we have gently hinted at that,” wrote Goldmark, adding “we have said we care more about high standards than about minutes on subjects.”
“Very helpful, Karin. Calling him now,” replied the Mayor the next morning, referring to either Zweibel or Goldenberg.
That very day, final approval to a two-year extension of mayoral control was granted by state lawmakers.
The report by the DOI and SCI did not name Felder, Flanagan or the various aides who helped de Blasio get the Orthodox community’s blessing.
Besides for Wolfe and Goldmark, the aides included Simcha Eichenstein, who was hired by the Mayor in 2015 to oversee issues affecting the Orthodox community. Eichenstein later became a state assemblyman representing Borough Park and Midwood.
Other aides in the email threads include: Avi Fink, deputy director for intergovernmental affairs; Howard Friedman, DOE general counsel; and Ursulina Ramirez, chief of staff to then-schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, now Carranza’s chief operating officer.
Moster called the emails damning.
“While the mayor and DOE were saying ‘We’re taking this very seriously,’ they were worrying about upsetting powerful ultra-Orthodox leaders,” Moster said.
“The efforts to weaken and delay the scope and findings of the investigation make it clear that de Blasio threw tens of thousands of New York City’s yeshiva students under the bus.”
The Department of Education did ultimately release the Yeshiva report last December. The report only found 2 out of 28 yeshivas investigated to have a sub-par secular education. However, the DOE did not publicly release the findings on individual schools, saying some were improving.
Speaking to The Post last week, Zwiebel said that he did recall discussions in June 2017 about mayoral control.
“Certainly there was never any suggestion that ‘you give me support on this issue, and I’ll take care of you in this investigation,” said Zwiebel. “Whoever reached out to me was smart enough not to suggest a quid pro quo, because that would not be appropriate.”
Leon Goldenberg, who called de Blasio “a friend of the entire Orthodox community,” also denied the existence of any special arrangement. “There was never any mention that ‘you help with mayoral control, we’ll help you with yeshivas.’ If he said that to me, I would have a serious problem.”
De Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said, “The DOI reviewed the emails and made public their findings. They very clearly did not substantiate authorization on the part of the mayor.”