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May 12, 2011

Protesting Many Issues, but Aiming at One Target


They marched to Wall Street to protest issues as varied as the war in Afghanistan, bonuses for bankers and budget cuts. But many of them directed their unhappiness in the same direction: at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

Protesters [including members of Make the Road New York] in Manhattan on Thursday rallied against, among other things, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposed teacher layoffs.

To the thousands of protesters who inundated Lower Manhattan on Thursday, New York’s billionaire mayor seemed a fitting symbol of much that they found wrong with society, including the wide gap between rich and poor and the call to lay off teachers.

Teachers wore black shirts reading, “ ‘The Education Mayor’ Really?” Others called Mr. Bloomberg out of touch. One man carried a sign comparing him to Mr. Burns, the cold-blooded businessman from “The Simpsons.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s popularity has suffered in his third term, and public criticism has escalated since last Friday, when he proposed laying off 5,400 city workers, the majority of them teachers, to balance the city’s budget.

Mr. Bloomberg, speaking with reporters before the protests on Thursday, blamed Albany for the city’s budget cuts, which he attributed to a reduction in state aid. The mayor suggested that the protesters would have been wiser to direct their energy at pressuring the governor and the Legislature to allocate more money for the city.

“If they thought we should have more money, why don’t they go up to Albany and fight for it?” he said. “We’ve been up there and we haven’t really got a lot of help.”

The protests on Thursday were backed by some of the city’s biggest unions, including the United Federation of Teachers and 1199 S.E.I.U., which have been highly critical of the mayor.

“Who protects the kids?” shouted Michael Mulgrew, president of the teachers’ union, on a stage near City Hall Park. “Who’s going to fight the mayor?”

As the crowd meandered down Broadway, Karriem Akbar, 41, a vendor from Harlem, joined in. “The spirit just overtook me,” Mr. Akbar said. “Bloomberg is a multibillionaire, and he is making these cuts? We should help the poor and tax the rich.”

Donna Chin, a literacy coach at Public School 184 in Manhattan, said the prospect of teacher layoffs had made it difficult for educators at her school to focus. “This is usually a time when we can reflect and plan for the next year, but right now there is too much uncertainty,” Ms. Chin said.

The budget proposed by Mr. Bloomberg still faces debate in the City Council, which must approve the city’s annual spending plan. Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, has pledged to try to prevent teacher layoffs, but has not said how she would balance the budget without them.

Many of the demonstrators called for the state to impose on high-income New Yorkers a surcharge sometimes referred to as a millionaire’s tax. But state leaders, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, have rejected the idea. A previous elevated state income tax rate for high earners expired in December.


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