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One of two brothers who are long-time Adams pals at the highest ranks of City Hall, and the long-time boyfriend of First Deputy Mayor Sheena Wright, Banks finds himself at the top of a teetering schools system.
- Lawyer for New York City, New York State
- Public school teacher
- Founding principal, Eagle Academy for Young Men
- Chancellor, Department of Education
David Banks was born in January 1962, and eleven months later, his brother, Philip, was born. While Philip followed in their father’s footsteps and worked his way up the NYPD and into a role as deputy mayor (despite being named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal criminal complaint), David got a law degree and worked at the City’s Law Department, followed by a stint at the state Attorney General’s office, before becoming a public school teacher in Crown Heights. He then became a CEO of a foundation that has opened a number of public schools for boys, and now, he’s Eric Adams’s head of the Department of Education.
Adams and David have reportedly known each other for three decades. Unlike the appointment of his brother as deputy mayor for public safety, Adams tapping David to lead the City’s schools wasn’t controversial—at least on paper. Banks had attended New York City public schools himself, and through his time at the Eagle Academy, whose foundation he led, was well-versed in the intricacies of the city’s school system. At the time, it was reeling from an exodus of students during the COVID-19 pandemic, when 50,000 students, representing 4.5 percent of the total student population, left City schools. But the appointment of two brothers to such high-level positions in the administration did lead some to question where exactly the power lay in New York City—was it with the mayor, or with this unelected pair and their coterie? Should we actually be referring to this era as the Banks administration?
“I’ve heard that term being used,” David Banks told New York Magazine’s Errol Louis. “But listen, we all work very closely together, and we’re all doing the best that we can on behalf of New York. We love New York, just like you do.”
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Announcing David Banks’s appointment in 2021, Adams said of his long-time friend, “We not only respect each other, we love each other.”
The love is real—and seems to extend to the whole family. Adams and Banks even hired each other’s partners. In July 2022, Banks hired Adams’s longtime girlfriend and DOE administrator Tracey Collins as the senior adviser to the deputy chancellor of school leadership, a promotion that came with a significant pay raise. Adams, meanwhile, hired Banks’s long-time girlfriend, Sheena Wright, a nonprofit executive who had been the head of Adams’s transition team, as his deputy mayor, at a salary of $250,000.
In response to a story from the New York Post that highlighted the dubious optics of the mayor and his schools chancellor hiring each other’s partners, the City Hall press office (see entries on Fabien Levy, Maxwell Young), put out a statement calling the implication of a job swap both “vile and sexist.”.
Speaking of his actual job, Banks told reporters his tenure as schools chancellor would focus on low-income students with learning disabilities and expanding early childhood education options, such as universal pre-K and 3-K programs.
But those expansions didn’t happen.
Even while flush with federal COVID relief money, the DOE almost immediately began slashing school funding after taking office. Early childhood education programs also faced (and continue to face) drastic cuts, with the City’s much-lauded universal Pre-K program threatened with $570 million in cuts, and its 3-K program now being significantly downsized. For the most part, the mayor has been responsible for talking about the budget and cuts, but in a meeting with parents on Staten Island in November, Banks said, “It is about to get really tough. The City is in a bad financial situation, the mayor’s been saying. I don’t know if people fully appreciate it.”
Schools that aren’t hurting during Banks’s time as chancellor? Charters, which can tap into private financing, have seen their enrollment rise from even before the pandemic, even as the City struggles to bring more students into its public school system. Adams was, notably, the choice of the charter movement during the 2021 mayoral primary, with a PAC started by the executive director of a pro-charter school advocacy group spending $6.3 million to help get him elected.
City Hall did not respond to a request for comment about David Banks.
There are some bright spots for Banks’s DOE—while Adams has for months been warning that migrants would “destroy” New York City, it’s been the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant students that finally has turned around the City’s slumping public school enrollment, something Banks and Adams celebrated. While the schools system still faces steep cuts in coming years under Adams’s austerity budgets, Banks announced that schools would most likely not face cuts midway through the 2023 school year if they lose students. That’s good news for students who have only seen their schools’ budgets shrink, teachers leave, and after-school programming face cuts during an Adams administration set on slashing funding for the city’s youngest.
- David Banks, Educator and Adams Ally, Is Next N.Y.C. Schools Chancellor | New York Times
- Welcome to the Banks Administration | New York Magazine
- NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks, Eric Adams put each other’s girlfriends in top posts | New York Post
Last updated: 12/18/2023
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