Noah Gotbaum has made a name for himself on the Upper West Side as a fierce advocate for public education, and now he’s considering taking that reputation for a city-wide test run in a campaign for public advocate.
As a father of three children in local public schools and a member of District 3’s Community Education Council (CEC), Gotbaum has led a charge against the co-location of charter schools and has been an outspoken critic of the Department of Education’s policies. He’s also been involved in making the CEC a unified voice for parents from a diverse district that encompasses the Upper West Side as well as Manhattan Valley and parts of Central and West Harlem.
Now Gotbaum has formed a campaign committee and said that he’ll be spending the next six to nine months raising money and garnering support for a potential run, one he will base on his experience as an education advocate.
“I come from a labor family, but I’ve worked for 25 years in the private sector. Public service has always been in my blood,” Gotbaum said in an interview, acknowledging the influence of his father, Victor Gotbaum, a prominent labor leader, and his stepmother, former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, as well as his family’s history of teaching in public schools.
“I see the public advocate position as a way to really stand up and speak up for those who feel disenfranchised, and that’s really expanded, unfortunately, under Bloomberg,” Gotbaum said. He wants to encourage grassroots and community involvement in local decision-making and would point to some of the collaborative successes of the Upper West Side community as models for other neighborhoods.
Education reform will be the cornerstone of any campaign, he said.
“One in every three New Yorkers is involved in the public school system in one way or another. We don’t really have effective advocates for us as parents and for our kids,” said Gotbaum. “We waste money when it’s not being watched. We are wasting literally billions on no-bid contracts, on services that aren’t being delivered, on funds that aren’t even being collected. We have $600 million in special education fees that Bloomberg has not collected that are owed [from the state and federal governments]. While we’re not getting our fair share, we’re threatening to lay off teachers; we need to hire more.”
He said that neither Mayor Bloomberg nor Chancellor Dennis Walcott have done enough to ensure that every student gets a quality education, and is critical of mayoral control of the school system.
“The office of the public advocate is about ensuring that the services of the city are being delivered properly and efficiently and that they work for our communities, for everyone. When you have essentially close to a dictatorship at the top, that doesn’t happen,” Gotbaum said.
He also said that the lack of services applies to other sectors, like the economy and jobs, and that the public advocate should be watching those areas closely.
“In terms of the middle class and working class, we’re not providing the services that we need. We’re not investing properly in education, which is huge—in training our students and our work force adequately,” Gotbaum said. “We’re also not providing the services that enable people to get into the workforce: child care, after-school programs, job training programs.”
Gotbaum said he will wait for current public advocate Bill de Blasio to declare his 2013 plans—he is likely to run for mayor—before making an ultimate decision on whether to run. City & State reported last week that other likely contenders in the race will be City Council Member Letitia James of Brooklyn and Reshma Saujani, who challenged Upper East Side Rep. Carolyn Maloney in 2010 and has been working for de Blasio’s office since. Manhattan-Brooklyn State Sen. Daniel Squadron is also reported to be considering a run.
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