Group of Eight Works To Boost Klein for Mayor

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The New York Sun

A group of eight political consultants, activists, and philanthropists is urging Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to jump into the 2009 mayor’s race, and they have not yet received a definitive “no” from Mr. Klein saying he is not interested, an organizer of the group told The New York Sun.

The group has been meeting for at least three months to discuss a possible campaign, and a political consultant who is leading the discussions said the conclusion is that Mr. Klein’s prospects are “robust.”

The push comes amid disenchantment with the current crop of likely candidates, which has reached such a pitch that some business leaders are calling on Mayor Bloomberg to extend term limits and run for re-election.

A spokesman for Mr. Klein, David Cantor, said he is not running for mayor. “As he has said several times, Chancellor Klein wants to continue to serve as schools chancellor,” Mr. Cantor said. “He’s not running for mayor.”

Mr. Cantor would not say whether Mr. Klein has met with the group.

Two of the people involved in the effort to explore a Klein candidacy spoke about the project on the condition of anonymity. One said he did not want to be named because he wanted to “protect the integrity” of Mr. Klein’s decision-making process.

To test a Klein candidacy, he said the group’s consultants have been analyzing polling data from mayoral races over many years and testing the idea with a slew of potential supporters.

The consultants make the case that the city would benefit from a Klein administration, which they argue would have the same cornerstone principle that has been the chancellor’s watchword in the last six years running the public schools — accountability.

Of course, consultants are also the people paid to run campaigns, and they would also stand to benefit from a Klein run.

But those who spoke to the Sun said that there are also philanthropists and activists involved in the effort, and they said Mr. Klein is not paying them, although they indicated that he is interested in the idea.

“Folks are considering it seriously,” one consultant said.

Mr. Klein has among the highest disapproval ratings of the city’s top public officials. A July poll by Quinnipiac University found that 37% of voters disapprove of the job he is doing. That is an improvement from Mr. Klein’s lowest point last March, when 43% of voters said they disapproved of the job he was doing and only 33% said they approved.

The July poll found his approval rating was up to 44%, the same level as the City Council Speaker, Christine Quinn.

Mr. Klein, 61, is a native New Yorker who often talks about how education was the key to transporting himself from the Queens housing project where he grew up to a distinguished career in law and business. He served as chief of the company Bertelsmann, Inc., for 19 months and, as a Justice Department anti-trust official in the Clinton administration, led the federal government’s case against Microsoft.

He became schools chancellor in 2002 and this year founded a national group lobbying for tough accountability measures in education, working with Rev. Al Sharpton.

The group making a case for a Klein candidacy said it is not concerned by his poll ratings. Their argument is that Mr. Klein’s name recognition and record of experience would put him in a strong position to land one of the top two spots in a Democratic primary.

“A Joel Klein candidacy would not need a press conference to talk about the latest member item delivered to a community group,” a consultant said.

They said they expected Mr. Klein would do well with all kinds of New Yorkers, but they were especially optimistic about his chances of winning support from the business community and from immigrants and racial minorities, who they said share Mr. Klein’s passionate desire to close the achievement gap.

Several people said they were skeptical that Mr. Klein will jump into the race.

“Given the fact that he had to take on a lot of entrenched groups, and given the fact that along the way when you take on difficult jobs you tend to be a lightening rod for people’s anger, I would say that that’s probably a less likely scenario,” the vice chancellor of the state Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, said.

Kathryn Wylde, the president of the business lobbying group the Partnership for New York City, said Mr. Klein personally told her he was not interested in running for mayor in June or July, when she asked him about speculation that he was considering a run.

“He’s known and quite well liked, and he certainly would have fundraising potential, but my understanding is the job he wants is schools chancellor,” she said.

The New York Sun

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