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Henry Willson / Senior Staff Photographer

MTA chair Joseph Lhota took flak at the forum for his 1999 threat as a deputy mayor to defund the Brooklyn Museum.

Time to get out the watercolors and recorders.

Most of the mayoral field called for spending more money on arts education in public schools at a Teachers College forum on Tuesday night.

All of the mayoral candidates—except former Congressman Anthony Weiner—took the stage one by one in Horace Mann Hall to discuss their views on education and arts, among other issues.

The mayoral hopefuls unanimously agreed that they would increase city funding for arts education like music, drama, and visual arts classes in public schools. But most declined to give specifics.

“I would like to fully reintegrate arts education into our public schools,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. “It's a resource question, I'm not daunted by it,” he added.

WNYC hosts Leonard Lopate and Kurt Andersen, who moderated the discussion, also pressed the candidates on whether they would commit 1 percent of the municipal expense budget to supporting local cultural organizations—a proposal backed by the event's sponsor, One for Culture, a coalition of New York artists, politicians, and civic leaders.


The only major candidate to commit to that percentage was Republican John Catsimatidis. Catsimatidis, a businessman, said he would find room in the city budget by cutting what he called unneeded spending on bicycle lanes and “hills on Governor's Island.”

The leading candidates stuck to vaguer proposals on art and art education spending.

“I can't tell you the number, but I make the commitment to do better tonight,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a Democrat. “We need to change more fundamentally how the funding is set up.”

Comptroller John Liu talked about his frustration with city government spending, something that he has sparred with Mayor Michael Bloomberg over as comptroller.

“There is plenty of money in the school system, it's one-third of our budget,” Liu said, adding that the Department of Education could save money by cutting costs. “Right now they go nationally to find the most expensive consultants.”

One of the more uncomfortable moments of the evening came when Lopate explicitly criticized former MTA chair Joseph Lhota, a Republican, for his “attacks on the Brooklyn Museum.”  

As a Deputy Mayor under Rudolph Giuliani, Lhota threatened to defund the Brooklyn Museum for displaying a painting that depicted the Virgin Mary with clumps of elephant dung. 

“I've learned a lot and I made a mistake,” Lhota said. 

While none of the candidates matched the antics of Physics Professor Emlyn Hughes, who stripped in front of students in the same auditorium last semester, there was some levity at the forum. 

When Andersen asked him if he had an “aha” moment involving art as a child, Lhota said he met a girl he liked in a finger painting class in elementary school. 

“I did not tweet at her,” he joked, referring to the absent Weiner's sexting scandal.  |  @evakalikoff

Teachers College Christine Quinn Bill de Blasio John Liu John Catsimatidis
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