Noah Gotbaum’s City Council campaign got off to a bumpy start this weekend, when parents charged him with seeking to politicize their school’s involvement in a redevelopment proposal.
Gotbaum, a seasoned education advocate hoping to distinguish himself in the crowded Upper West Side race to fill Gale Brewer’s seat, held his campaign launch event on Saturday at P.S. 199, a popular neighborhood elementary school. It is one of three schools whose property the city may use for a luxury residential development, a controversial plan that was first discovered by parents when they saw advertisements about it.
As part of any development deal, the new luxury towers would have to include space on the ground floors to house the school that they displaced during construction.
Gotbaum, who opposes the plan, said he picked P.S. 199 because it was symbolic of what he believed would be a crucial issue in the election. He said he is the only candidate in the race who has called for an immediate halt to the plan.
“We need a time out and a rewind and the community brought in so that we understand the guidelines and can weigh in as to whether we want this at all,” Gotbaum said.
But Gotbaum’s campaigning drew a swift rebuke from parent leaders at P.S. 199, who circulated an email before the event saying the school does not make political endorsements.
“We want to be clear that our school and our PTA in no way endorses any political candidate, nor do we encourage them to campaign outside our school,” the email read. “We do not control what candidates do around the gates or the perimeter of the school or on weekends.”
Gotbaum withdrew from the public advocate race earlier this year and told supporters he’d instead run for City Council. As a member and former president of District 3’s community education council, Gotbaum has raised his profile as a vocal critic of the Bloomberg administration’s schools policies.
At Saturday’s event, which was staged next to — but not on — P.S. 199’s property, Gotbaum was flanked by young children (including his own), parents, and a couple of high-profile supporters: Betsy Gotbaum, his stepmother and the former public advocate, and Richard Kind, a television actor known best for his role on Spin City.
Gotbaum said that P.S. 199’s PTA sent the email “pro forma.” But parent leaders said campaigning so close to the school confused some parents, who asked if the school was supporting Gotbaum.
“I think it was poor judgement by Mr. Gotbaum to pick a school like this,” said Christine Annechino, a P.S. 199 parent who defeated Gotbaum in the 2011 parent election to become district’s new education council president. “Parents thought the school was endorsing him.”
Annechino, who herself was rumored last year to be running for Brewer’s seat, said she thought Gotbaum sensationalized the redevelopment plans at P.s. 199 for his own political gains. “That plan is so far away from being any kind of plan, people are making it a hot issue before it’s a hot issue,” she said.
Eric Shuffler, President of the PTA, said skepticism over the plan was stoked by the city’s botched planning early on. He said parents at the school have been more engaged in recent months.
“No one was given advanced notice that this proposal was coming out and that was a huge mistake,” Shuffler said. “But we’ve been engaged in this for months. Since then, the PTA has been heavily involved with DOE and our elected officials, asking questions, understanding the process and timeline.”
The city is currently gauging interest from developers. Shuffler said that if any proposal is deemed viable, a new and more formal process would begin that would lead to requests for proposals.
Other P.S. 199 parents who support Gotbaum’s candidacy said they saw no problem with his campaign launch event and said the criticism came from a few small — but vocal — parents.
“He’s passionate about public education and he’s passionate about openness in government,” said Bill Hawthorn, a member of P.S. 199’s school leadership team. “I think a few people got to the head of the PTA and said we don’t like it, we don’t like this guy in front of the school.”
A copy of the email from P.S. 199’s Parent Teacher Association is below:
It has been brought to our attention that the campaign of Noah Gotbaum for City Council will be launched at the main entrance to PS 199 today, Saturday April 6 as many of you have seen from his campaign’s distribution of fliers at drop off and pick up over the past two days.
We wanted to provide some clarification because there has been a lot of confusion and questions from parents about whether PS 199 or the PTA supports or encourages this particular candidate, this specific announcement or this type of campaigning. We want to be clear that our school and our PTA in no way endorses any political candidate, nor do we encourage them to campaign outside our school. We do not control what candidates do around the gates or the perimeter of the school or on weekends.
Per guidance put out by the D3 Presidents Council, city council candidates are welcome to attend and listen to our PTA meetings and we understand that with an election upcoming, there will be campaign activities around PS199 and individual parents will be engaged in the political process in their own capacity.
All that said, neither the PTA nor PS199 endorse Noah Gotbaum or any other political candidate.
Enjoy the fabulous weather and get ready for an amazing Auction!
Your PS 199 Executive Board