On charter reset, de Blasio heard from Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton at Bill de Blasio's inauguration. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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Before delivering a conciliatory speech on charter schools last Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio chatted with Bill Clinton about the issue, according to three soures familiar with the phone call.

During the conversation, Clinton told the mayor he understood his perspective on charters, but cautioned him to be careful not to give the impression that a substantive debate was becoming personal, the sources said.

Clinton and de Blasio, who have a longstanding relationship dating back to the mayor's tenure working at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in the 1990s, touched on the charter debate during a broader conversation over education issues, the sources said.

De Blasio recently blocked three of 17 charter schools from sharing space with traditional public schools, several months after former mayor Michael Bloomberg cleared the co-locations.

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The schools are operated by Success Academy CEO and former councilwoman Eva Moskowtiz, one of de Blasio's political foes and someone he frequently criticized during the mayoral campaign last year.

He permitted five other Success charters to move into existing city schools. 

Moskowitz has suggested de Blasio singled out her schools because of personal animus. The hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" echoed that charge, criticizing de Blasio earlier this month for making his decision based on personal feelings toward Moskowitz, rather than the substance of the issue.

(Host Mika Brzezinski played a video clip of de Blasio admonishing Moskowitz at a candidate forum to demonstrate that she felt his ruling stemmed from a personal rivalry.)

In addition, proponents of charter schools have poured $3.6 million into an ad campaign slamming de Blasio, and his poll numbers have dropped since the spots went on air.

The issue also caused friction between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, who fashioned himself a champion of charter schools to pit himself against the mayor as the two were locked in a battle of funding for universal pre-kindergarten.

Cuomo attended a massive pro-charter rally in Albany with Moskowitz to coincide with de Blasio's smaller event to call for pre-K funding.

Meanwhile his allies on the left, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James, filed a suit against the city for allowing the 14 charter co-locations.

De Blasio seemed to realize he was losing the public-relations fight, and on Sunday he delivered an education speech at which he acknowledged he did not articulate his stance on the issue effectively.

"We made some decisions in the last weeks, striving for fairness. But I have to tell you I didn’t measure up when it came to explaining those decisions to the people of this city," he said at Riverside Church.

The following day he vowed to find a home for Moskowitz's charters during an interview with WNYC's Brian Lehrer.

Spokespeople for de Blasio and Clinton both declined comment for this story.