August 11, 2009 / Brooklyn news / Politics / Election Coverage

Schoolyard brawl over Skaller’s 8-year-old kid!

The Brooklyn Paper
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The once-genteel race to succeed Councilman Bill DeBlasio was thrown into turmoil this week, when the pregnant wife of one of the candidates sent an e-mail from her hospital bed to slam another candidate for making an issue out of the couple’s decision to send their son to private school.

Kelly Skaller, the wife of candidate Josh Skaller, sent the e-mail to the Skaller campaign’s list of supporters and member of the media last Saturday, charging that rival candidate Brad Lander had “attacked” the Skallers’ decision to send their 8-year-old son, Wolf, to the elite Berkeley Carroll School rather than to public school, where Lander’s two children are educated.

“Josh and I struggled to find the school that was most appropriate for our son and his special needs,” wrote Kelly Skaller, a public school teacher. Though she did not reveal the nature of Wolf’s special need, she said that he “struggles with reading.”

“Unfortunat­ely, one of my husband’s opponents, Brad Lander, has decided to make our schooling choice an issue in this campaign. As a mother, I have had enough of the lies and misinformation [by Lander], who is playing the same old politics as usual. We won’t make our opponents’ children an issue in this campaign, because children should not be political pawns.”

Lander denied that he had made any attack in his campaign to represent the 39th District, which sprawls from Borough Park to Cobble Hill.

“I have pointed out that I am the only public-school parent in the Democratic primary, but I have never questioned or attacked any of the other candidates for their choices, and never said a word about anyone’s family,” Lander told The Brooklyn Paper. “It is simply false.”

Lander has never been directly quoted talking about the Skaller family’s private school decision. Indeed, when The Brooklyn Paper asked the candidat es in July specifically about this very question, Lander answered: “I am a proud public school parent, with two kids at PS 107 in Park Slope, where my wife has served on the school leadership team. … Our schools need real champions in public office — people who have shown that they’ll fight for what our kids need: A high-quality, neighborhood elementary school, more teaching and less testing, genuine parent involvement, real support for teachers, greener, healthier schools.”

In his answer, Skaller himself raised the issue of his son: “The selection of our child’s school was a serious, difficult and personal issue, and we chose to send our son, Wolf, to a neighborhood private school based on his unique needs. … I support giving our public schools the resources they need to succeed, and I support the individual choices that parents all over Brooklyn make when raising their children.”

But since then, the public school issue has become more heated, with Lander distributing a flier over the weekend touting his public school credentials and listing dozens of public school parents who support his candidacy.

In a debate held Monday by The Brooklyn Paper, the issue came up again, with Skaller, saying he is “sick and tired” of talking about his son not going to public school.

“Every single candidate should have right to conduct his family in the way he sees fit,” said Skaller, whose wife gave birth to a daughter, Selah, on Sunday after a difficult delivery.

Lander said he agreed, but added that being the parent of a public school child “is a relevant qualificat­ion,” for a city councilmember. He also denied the allegation that he or his campaign workers talked about Wolf Skaller’s schooling.

“We’ve never spoken about anyone’s family,” Lander said.

But Skaller said voters have told him otherwise.

“I’ve knocked on too many doors and heard from too many community members to agree with Brad,” he said.

Later, Skaller’s campaign directed reporters to a New York Observer blog where a commenter claiming to be a Park Slope resident said that Lander had mentioned that Skaller’s son goes to an elite private school.

The validity of that comment could not be verified, and it is not clear what Lander actually said.

In Monday’s debate, Skaller did express a desire to move beyond the issue of where his child goes to school, expressing hope that the “real issues” of education could be discussed. But in a district with so many politically active parents who send their children to public school, where a candidate sends his school-age children is a real sway factor for some voters.

“I really like Josh and Brad, but all things being equal, why wouldn’t I vote for the guy with a kid in my kid’s school?” said one PS 107 mother. “As a parent, he’s going through everything that I’m going through — the testing anxiety, the middle school crap, the bad teachers who don’t get fired, the good teachers who aren’t rewarded enough, everything. He’ll see stuff that other candidates won’t see on a fact-finding tour.”

Kelly Skaller disagreed.

“Josh and I are invested in the public schools,” she wrote in her e-mail. “Both of Josh’s parents went to public schools in New York City. My father attended public schools here as well. My grandmother was a public school teacher in New York City for over 20 years. I attended public schools from kindergarten through high school. I have a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education.”

She also offered a laundry list of public schools at which she has taught.

“My husband and I share a core value: Every child deserves a high-quality education. As a City Councilmember and the father of a child with special needs, Josh will fight to make sure that schools remain true to the developmental needs of their students and provide support to teachers and administrators so that they can teach in ways that connect to every student.”

Other candidates in the race are John Heyer, Bob Zuckerman and Gary Reilly. None has a child, though Heyer’s wife is pregnant.

In addition to the exchange about public school education, there was lots of action and high-minded policy positions in Monday’s debate. Here are some of the highlights:

• The idea of a car-free Prospect Park is controversial in this district because many residents in Windsor Terrace and Kensington think drivers will wind their way through their neighborhoods if they’re forced out of the park.

Reilly said with “an unequivocal yes” that he supports banning vehicles in the park, Zuckerman agreed that “that’s the goal,” and Heyer proposed a trial period of no cars to see if Windsor Terrace and Kensington experience an increase in congestion.

Lander and Skaller, who have been at each other’s throats, found common ground saying that they do not favor banning all traffic in Prospect Park while there is such strong opposition in Windsor Terrace and Kensington.

• Gay marriage resurfaced due to the unorthodox — and, some contend, conservative — position of Heyer. Instead of granting gay marriage, he favors granting “legal unions” to all couples, straight or gay, to ensure equal rights to all couples. Marriage, Heyer said, should be private ceremonies to sanctify a legal union if people want.

The four other candidates all favor permitting same-sex couples to simply marry.

• If Bruce Ratner abandons his Atlantic Yards project, Heyer said he “would be disappointed if the Nets don’t come” to Brooklyn, though unlike his rivals, he predicted that “Forest City Ratner will be able to do what it wants to do.”

The other candidates treated Atlantic Yards like the third rail of politics, refusing to show any support for it, let alone any belief that it might come to fruition. Zuckerman proposed relocating the basketball arena to Coney Island and Skaller said he would not be disappointed if the Nets didn’t move to the borough.

Reilly said he wouldn’t give Ratner another cent in subsidies and said the city “could take back what it gave him in the first place.”

Lander, however, found himself on the defensive because he claimed to have always opposed Ratner’s project. Yet Zuckerman unearthed statements he made to the New York Observer in 2007 when Lander said, “I consider myself in a very highly ambivalent position. … I believe that the project could’ve been, and maybe still could be, modified to a place where I could support it, yet still be recognizab­le.”

When pressed by relentless moderator Gersh Kuntzman, Lander maintained the same attitude, saying that if the plan was revised with an actual public review, traffic studies and reduced taxpayer subsidies for it, he could support it.

The debate will air on the BCAT TV Network on Tuesday, Aug. 18 and can be watched after that on and The Democratic primary election is Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Updated 5:14 pm, July 9, 2018: Story was updated to include more details from our candidates debate.
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Reasonable discourse

Mary from Windsor Terrace says:
My daughter, too, has a small learning disability. If Brad Lander started using her as a pawn, he would be getting more than just an e-mail from me. The arrogance of making another candidate's child a campaign issue astounds me.

And no, I haven't heard it directly from the Lander campaign. However, I did know that Josh Skaller's son went to private school. I heard it from a woman on the block at a block party (after Lander and Skaller both visited). This woman is a Lander supporter and it seems that the public vs private school issue is her biggest concern. So even though Brad Lander might not have said it to me, his campaign is clearly doing a good job of spreading this information.

I did not know it was because of a learning disability (I wonder if the woman on the block knows this). I'm so disgusted with Albany that I wasn't planning on voting again for a long time. This might change things.
Aug. 11, 2009, 3:24 pm
Mary from Windsor Terrace says:
I almost forgot. It is NONE of your business where my daughter goes to school.
Aug. 11, 2009, 3:26 pm
sue from park slope says:
With the dramatic increase in autism spectrum disorders, why didn't the Skaller's choose a special education public school? My autistic child attends a special education public school in Brooklyn because I can't afford $50,000 in tuition for a private school...Kelly's lashing & reasons for choosing a pvt school has only swayed me to vote for Lander
Aug. 11, 2009, 5:21 pm
Disappointed from Park Slope says:
It's disappointing that the Skallers accuse a rival candidate of "lies and misinformation" without any evidence to back up such an incendiary charge. Lander is apparently the only public school parent among the candidates; therefore it's not a "lie."
Can we get back to talking about the issues, instead of playing the victim?
Aug. 11, 2009, 6:20 pm
John from Carroll Gardens says:
Lander owes Skaller (and his wife and child) an apology. He comes off smug and self-righteous, so this in no surprise.

President Obama was criticized by the right-wing crazies for picking Justice Sotomayor because she possesses empathy. Maybe Brad Lander could use a dose of empathy. Blindly criticizing somebody's child's education is Rush Limbaugh style politics.

I agree, lets talk about the issues and leave the children out of this.
Aug. 11, 2009, 8:06 pm
bklynlifer from cobble hill says:
Brad's campaign put out an effective piece of literature which highlights the fact that many public school parent leaders, as well as former District 15 Supt Carmen Farina, are supporting Brad in part because of the knowledge and experience he gained as a public school parent. It also points out that no other candidate has this experience. How does that translate into an attack on another candidate's child? Josh is the one who is making his child the issue. Now, thanks to his parents, Josh's kid's "reading problem" is known to the entire Goggle-able world. What some people will do to win a race!!

BTW this is the first time I heard that Berkeley-Carroll is a school receptive to kids with reading problems.
Aug. 11, 2009, 8:35 pm
mark from carroll gardens says:
Josh Skaller and Brad Lander's sophomoric bickering over topics completely irrelevant to Brooklynites has left me cold. I honestly don't care about who Howard Dean endorsed, who cribbed an email to supporters or where these seemingly identical candidates send their kids to school. For their reluctance to concentrate on real issues, neither one of them deserve to serve us on the City Council.
Aug. 11, 2009, 10:32 pm
Pete from Park Slope says:
See for proof that Skaller's team is lying.
Aug. 11, 2009, 11:45 pm
Charles from PS says:
I grew up in Brooklyn and went through the public school system. No offense to all those old school Democrats who support public schools, but sending your child to public school is only the best you can do, not the best thing to do. In my opinion, sacrificing lifestyle to send a child to private school shows a deeper commitment and dedication to a child than the notion of supporting the public school system. People support the public schools because they are a free ride, not because they are better for a child.
Aug. 12, 2009, 12:12 am
Mike Curatore from Carroll Gardens says:
I'm wondering if the Xerox stock has shot up as a result of democratic primaries in New York City. Is this the best issue they can use to distinguish themselves from one another?

There are alternatives to the Democratic candidate for the November general election.

Green? Republican? Others? Will probably be worth taking a closer look at after these silly primaries are over.

The democratic party in this one-horse town is on the verge of collapsing under it's own, ethically-challenged, monopolistic, crushing weight.

And don't say that non-democrats don't stand a chance. We've elected a Republican for Mayor for the last 4 terms because the dems have a tendency to implode, and the GOP offered an alternative.

I'll be looking for an alternative to whomever the dems front in the 39th race.
Aug. 12, 2009, 2:02 pm
al panklin from downtown says:
I sent two of my children to private school, so does alot of legislators all over new york and long as they can afford to do it, they should. you can't compare the diffence in the qualit of the education provided and the learning experience. too bad everyone can't send their children to private school. better teachers, better everything...who wants to waste their kids.
Aug. 12, 2009, 4:08 pm
Josh from park slope says:
I'm so happy we have other people running for this seat, like george smith. He keeps it right to the improtant stuff, things that make a difference not attacking peoples kids. Thats just not right, thats why I support George Smith for City Council District 39
Aug. 12, 2009, 5:06 pm
Mike from Park Slope says:
Here's the inherent problem with this issue. Lander supporters aren't going to say Brad said anything to them. The other candidates are happy to sit back and watch Lander and Skaller fight. That leaves Skaller supporters as the only ones willing to speak up. Anybody who comes forward will automatically be pegged as a Skaller supporter.

However, voters reading this who have talked to Brad know the truth.

Here's an interesting update...
Aug. 12, 2009, 8:27 pm
Joe Nardiello from Carroll Gardens says:
This 'schoolgate' seems to say that being the parent of a public school student is a qualifying & relevant factor. You can't blame him for trying to express a difference (its what politicians do) & it may be working, but you can form your own opinions about the connotations. Interestingly enough, as the "other candidate" now with a child at public school (check -- I'd hold my direct comments for another time.

For now -- in the Democratic slate both Skaller & Heyer's spouses alike have the vocations of being actual teachers in public schools (which is first-hand advocacy & understanding). You can curry as many endorsements as possible...but these 2 candidates have MARRIED into a full life relative to the public school system.

I've seen it with the participation of my wife with our PTA, as with many of our neighborhood friends (especially those past & present Presidents of PTAs)... and with my own mother that worked for 35 years at PS 32 as an example... that a teacher and that spouse (meaning Heyer & Skaller alike) would have every night understanding of lesson-plans, grading, preparing a classroom, trying to reach children per day, per week, per month and year, over & over... and the 100s of other aspects that go into a day within a NYC public school -- greatly outweigh simply being a parent, concerned and involved and caring, or not.

It's an interesting debate point to be certain, but the elitism-angle seems to lose a bit when we realize that the Skallers are sacrificing to keep their son enrolled.

Good luck, to all...
Aug. 16, 2009, 12:52 am
bklynlifer from cobble hill says:
To Joe Nardiello -- Skaller's wife is NOT a teacher in the public schools. She teaches for an organization that works with kids, many of whom are in the public schools.

To Josh from Park Slope -- you propose George Smith as an alternative in the 39th -- do you mean the George Smith who impersonated a cop and is being investigated on sex charges?

To Al from Downtown -- you can't compare the public schools when you attended to the public schools now. Having experienced both, I can tell you that, at least in elementary school, the quality of public school education throughout District 15 is very good, and stacks up well against the private schools. And, at the same time, the kids don't get any ideas about being better than other people.
Aug. 18, 2009, 11:57 am

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