August 20, 2013
By Steven Wishnia
Education, says Noah Gotbaum, was the issue that impelled him to run for the City Council.
“We really need a significant change of direction,” he says. The city school system is “being run on a competitive basis by businesspeople who have no clue about education,” “our curriculum is being narrowed down to test preparation,” and “we’re pitting parents and teachers and administrators against each other and blaming them.”
Gotbaum is one of seven candidates running to succeed Gale Brewer in the Upper West Side’s District 6. A widowed father of three, he says he’s the only one of the seven who sends his children to public school. The son of longtime District Council 37 head Victor Gotbaum and stepson of former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, he cofounded the New York Cares volunteer organization and headed a recycling company.
The bigger issue the politics of education connect to, he says, is preserving the city as a place people can afford to live and sustaining its social fabric. We can’t have a stable city, he says, “if we’re pushing our middle class into poverty.”
Day-care centers keep people in the workforce, he says, so they “shouldn’t have to go through the dance” of worrying about getting funds every year. Public career and technical-education schools “have been completely gutted.” And every dollar spent on providing affordable housing will “save three, four, or five down the line.”
With the city’s power to regulate rents and ability to fund new housing sharply circumscribed, though, the main ideas he has on housing are “much stronger” inclusionary zoning—requiring developers to make more than 20 percent of what they build affordable, and at lower rents than “affordable” housing now has—and doing more to educate and organize tenants in both public and private housing.
For Gotbaum, these concerns came together in last winter’s strike by school-bus drivers and matrons. As the father of a special-needs child, he says, he took it personally. His support won him the endorsement of their union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1181.
“We entrust our children to them. They’re incredibly reliable. And yet, the mayor says ‘this is the place where we have to find cuts,’” he says. The Bloomberg administration’s obsession with costs, he charges, ignored the bus drivers’ and matrons’ hard work and relationships with children and parents, damaging the workers and “putting kids at risk.”