Leave my kid out of this.
That was the message City Council candidate Josh Skaller sent out to opponents last week when he accused one in the field of five to succeed Councilmember Bill de Blasio of using his decision to put his special-needs child in a private school as a negative campaign tactic.
“Frankly, I am sick and tired of it,” Skaller told moderators during a Monday morning debate, a collaboration between Community News Group and Brooklyn Independent Television (BIT) on the BCAT TV Network, as he accused candidate Brad Lander of publicly criticizing his decision to put his eight-year-old son, Wolf, in Berkeley Carroll School at various campaign stops throughout the district. “I’ve knocked on a lot of doors in my neighborhood and I’ve heard what’s been said. I know what’s going on.”
A few days earlier, Skaller’s wife Kelly penned a letter to supporters claiming that Lander “has decided to make our schooling choice an issue in this campaign.”
“We won’t make our opponents’ children an issue in this campaign, because children should not be political pawns,” she wrote. “Wolf’s education is a private matter to us; it has everything to do with who Wolf is, and nothing to do with how we feel about public schools.”
Neither parent would go into what Wolf’s special needs are, although Kelly said that “Wolf’s school works well with him to overcome his struggles with reading.”
“It allows him to feel positive about his abilities and his role as a learner,” she wrote.
“[Skaller’s decision about Wolf’s school] has become a talking point,” said a Skaller campaign spokesman. “Kelly was extremely bothered by this and you know what they say about a woman scorned.”
When questioned, Lander flat-out denied that he was criticizing Skaller’s decision to send Wolf to a private school.
“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,” Lander said, calling the allegation “simply false.”
“I respect the choices parents make to seek the most appropriate education for their children,” he said, adding that “the Skaller campaign has repeatedly made accusations with no evidence.”
Yet some disagree.
Candace Carponter, an attorney who is the head of the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn’s legal committee as well as a longtime supporter of Skaller’s campaign, said that Lander caught up with her when she was handing out Skaller campaign literature at a school on Eighth Avenue and 13th Street.
“[Lander] confronted me, there is no other way to put it,” she said. “He was obviously annoyed that I was doing this in front of his kid’s school and he asked me, ‘Did you put on that flyer that Josh’s son doesn’t go to a public school?’”
Carponter turned the tables on Lander by saying that she knew where Wolf went to school -- the same place her child attends.
Lander was taken aback by her response, she remembered.
“Well...you know,” he said before referring to the school she was standing in front of -- P.S. 107. “This is where my kids go to school.”
“I think [Lander’s criticisms] were wrong-minded,” she said. “It’s inappropriate to use children in any way in a campaign. You shouldn’t make a child a focal point.”
Other candidates in the race for the 39th District include Gary Reilly, Bob Zuckerman and John Heyer.