Charter school boss Eva Moskowitz won't run for mayor

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Eva Moskowitz of Success Academy Charter Schools at rally outside the Capitol in Albany, N.Y., March 4, 2015. (AP/Mike Groll)

NEW YORK (AP) — Eva Moskowitz, the leader of a major chain of New York City charter schools and an outspoken critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio, ended months of speculation Thursday by declaring she won't run for mayor in 2017.

Moskowitz, a Democrat and former City Council member, had been touted as a viable challenger to de Blasio, with whom she has frequently clashed over education policy and the future of charter schools within the nation's largest public school system. But, in a City Hall news conference that at times was on the verge of being drowned out by the chants of protesters, she opted against a return to campaigning for now.

"I am not running because I think what we still can accomplish in education could be game-changing," she said, comparing her innovations to those of Apple and Google. "We have to fundamentally rethink every aspect of schooling. We can't be cynical about changing the politics of education."

Moskowitz said her focus would remain running the Success Academy, which operates 34 charter schools and educates 11,000 students, a system praised by some for giving opportunities to poor students and criticized by others for allegedly neglecting special education students and circumventing unions.

A savvy political operative backed by big-money hedge-fund donors, she has positioned herself as the city's loudest charter school leader and fought with the teachers union and City Hall over teaching techniques and space for her schools.

She also has organized massive demonstrations of students, including one Wednesday that was attended by more than 15,000 people and included a performance by singer Jennifer Hudson and a march over the Brooklyn Bridge before a rally at City Hall.

The de Blasio administration, though relatively cool to the charter school movement, has become leery of the optics of minority charter school children protesting City Hall over a lack of equality in schools. It has tried to de-escalate the fight with Moskowitz a year after it was blasted by a series of pro-charter attack ads.

Moskowitz frequently fueled speculation about a City Hall bid, and continued that on Thursday. When asked if she would consider a run in 2021, she answered: "I might. I like politics."

Considering her deep-pocketed allies, Moskowitz could still prove to be a powerful force in 2017 even as a non-candidate. She declined to endorse any pro-charter possible candidates, though she praised both Rep. Hakeem Jefferies and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., neither of whom has declared their candidacy, as "thoughtful leaders."

The charter school magnate's lightning-rod persona was evident in the circus-like atmosphere surrounding her news conference. As more than two dozen reporters encircled Moskowitz while she spoke, about the same number of protesters stationed in a park adjacent to City Hall tried to drown her out with their chants accusing her of using students as props to her own ambitions.

When asked later Thursday about Moskowitz, de Blasio simply said "the choice was hers" not to run and touted his administration's education achievements.