On January 1, the Washington Post reported that Arne Duncan and at least one other aide pressured NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio not to choose Joshua Starr as the schools’ chancellor because of his opposition to high-stakes testing, the centerpiece of the Bush-Obama “reforms.”

Politico reports the story and notes that this is not the first time Duncan has interfered in purely local decisions.

It writes:

“DID DUNCAN PICK NYC’S NEW CHANCELLOR?: The Education Secretary lobbied against Montgomery County, Md., Superintendent Joshua Starr, the Washington Post reports: “It was an unusual move by the nation’s top education official and came in the wake of Starr’s vocal criticism of some of the Obama administration’s school reform policies.” Education Department spokesman Massie Ritsch declined to comment to the Washington Post on “private conversations between the mayor and the secretary.” The article: http://wapo.st/1cn9tr7

“–Duncan has endorsed school leaders in the past: When Rhode Island state superintendent Deborah Gist’s contract was up for a vote last summer, Duncan spoke to reporters on her behalf. [http://bit.ly/1a2h5iV] He also offered support to D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, reaching out to the mayor to keep her on permanently. [http://wapo.st/1g2CetY] And he’s never been shy about weighing in on other state and local decisions, either.”

I recall that Duncan tried to help DC Mayor Fenty win re-election so that Michelle Rhee would survive, but that didn’t work.

Duncan became involved in New York politics in 2009, when mayoral control was up for renewal by the legislature. An independent civic group called Citizens Union was about to issue a report that endorsed mayoral control but requested that the legislature change the law so that members appointed to the city board served for a set term, not at the pleasure of whoever appointed them. This would assure members a degree of independence, so they could vote their conscience. This infuriated Mayor Bloomberg, who believed that mayoral control should have no limits whatever.

I happened to be at the meeting when the issue was decided. I came to speak on behalf of set terms. Then someone read a letter just received from Secretary Duncan, explaining why set terms were a bad idea and why the mayor needed unlimited power to reform the schools as he saw fit. The recommendation to preserve independent voices was snuffed out.

As I read about the latest example of Duncan’s desire to manipulate city and state leadership so it supports his failed agenda, I thought about the two years I served in the U.S. Department of Education under Lamar Alexander, from mid-1991 to January 1993. Secretary Alexander was scrupulous about not interfering in local decision making. He used his bully pulpit, as all cabinet secretaries do, but he never tried to influence the choice of local leaders. He respected the principle of federalism. Apparently, Duncan missed the class on federalism.

Somehow I got the impression when I worked at the US Department of Education that it was illegal for Cabinet members to get involved in local elections or appointments, but I must have been wrong. Let’s just say it was generally understood to be inappropriate.