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Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Files, 198501990, Series 391 


The Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Files, 1985-1990, document portions of the work of a well-known member of the Board of Education. They comprise Series 391 of the Board of Education Record Group, and are part of the Members of the Board subgroup. They have been assigned accession number 04-029.

The records were transferred to the Municipal Archives by the Department of Education in 2004, from the former Board of Education headquarters at 110 Livingston Street.

The series consists of 30.5 cubic feet of records. They were organized and inventoried by the Municipal Archives in 2005 in a project supported by the New York State Archives under its Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund.

Biographical Note

Robert F. Wagner, Jr. was appointed to the Board of Education in 1985 by Mayor Edward I. Koch to finish the term of Amelia H. Ashe, who died in office. The Mayor reappointed Wagner to the Board for a full four year term in 1986. The Board elected Robert Wagner president in 1986 and reelected him three times in 1987, 1988 and 1989. Robert Wagner left the Board in 1990.

Robert Wagner came to the Board of Education after a long career in the public arena. Born in 1944 into a well-known New York family--his grandfather, Robert F. Wagner, was a U.S. Senator and his father, Robert F. Wagner, Sr., was a three term New York City Mayor--Robert Wagner, Jr., continued in the family tradition of public service. He held elected office, was appointed to various public sector jobs by Mayor Edward I. Koch, and studied urban issues.

Robert Wagner earned a Baccalaureate degree from Harvard University in 1965. While there, he served on the editorial board of The Crimson and was editor of the Harvard Review. In 1969, Wagner earned a Masters degree in Public Affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University.

In 1974, Robert Wagner began his public career, winning election as a New York City Council member from Manhattan. He gave up his seat to run for Manhattan Borough President in 1977, losing the primary to Andrew J. Stein. Mayor-elect Edward I. Koch, creating his first cabinet, nominated Wagner as chairman of the City Planning Commission. As chairman, Wagner proposed revisions to the zoning for midtown Manhattan.

Mayor Koch appointed Robert Wagner a member to the Board of Directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1978. Wagner was reappointed in 1979 after the State Legislature restructured the authority. Later that year, Edward Koch reorganized his administration and appointed Robert Wagner Deputy Mayor for Policy. Wagner resigned from the City Planning Commission after his appointment. In 1980, Koch added chairman of New York City’s Health & Hospital Corporation to Robert F. Wagner’s resume while he continued as Deputy Mayor.

In 1983, Mayor Ed Koch nominated Robert F. Wagner for Chancellor of the Board of Education. During his time in the Koch administration, Wagner had many dealings with the Board, especially regarding its budget proposals. The Board selected Wagner to be chancellor, replacing Frank Macchiarola, over objections by groups who desired a minority candidate in the position. Since Robert Wagner was not an educator, a requirement for the chancellor’s position, the Board of Education filed a waiver application with the New York State Department of Education. However, State Commissioner Gordon Ambach denied the waiver, shocking both the Board and the Koch administration.

After his candidacy was denied, Robert Wagner resigned as Deputy Mayor to go back to Harvard University for a Fellowship at the John Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics. In 1984, Wagner moved back to New York City as chairman of New York University’s Urban Research Center Advisory Board where he proposed a research program to study the problems of youth and minority unemployment, homelessness, transportation deterioration and crumbling housing and their effect on the city’s economic health. While a member of the Board of Education, he continued to focus on these issues and their affect on students. In 1986, Wagner accepted the chairmanship of the watchdog group, Citizens’ Union.

In 1993, Robert Wagner served as a policy advisor for Rudolph Guiliani during his Mayoral campaign. Wagner endorsed Guiliani in the election. Robert F. Wagner, Jr. died in 1993 while in San Antonio, Texas researching a book. He was 49 years old.

Scope and Content

The Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Files document the work of a member of the Board, from 1985-1990. As a dedicated public servant, Wagner appears to have maintained good records of his activities while on the Board. Few gaps seem to exist within the papers. His records are organized into two subseries, reflecting the original structure of the records.

The main body of records are arranged into subseries I, Subject Files. The subseries comprises policy and administrative decisions the Board made during 1985-1990. These matters include curriculum changes, personnel, school buildings; including repair and construction, and state and federal legislation. Growing social issues such as AIDS, homelessness and drugs intruded into the educational sphere requiring responses from the Board which included sex education, temporary shelters and prevention programs. Important continuing concerns such as decentralization, special education, occupational education and dropout rates also appear. Although Wagner’s term began in 1985, materials dating from the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s are included. The New York City school system was shocked by the case of Lisa Steinberg, a child abuse victim, which resulted in a major homicide trial. The Board of Education’s Inspector General investigated whether school officials and teachers had seen the signs of abuse and issued the report “The Matter of Elizabeth (Lisa) Steinberg.” The report provided recommendations for procedures in training staff to better detect child abuse.

The second subseries, Community School Districts, reveals the interactions between the Board of Education and the school boards on the specific interests of individual local districts. Although Robert F. Wagner, Jr. began his first term as a member in 1985, the files include material from 1984, perhaps reflecting the use of Amelia H. Ashe’s records for continuity. Discussions which took place over the administration of the districts focused on personnel; including staffing, training and board elections, and financial management of allocated funds. Local school boards and parents’ grievances and appeals against the Chancellor’s actions, which superseded local board decisions, also appear in the records. While some of the issues detailed in these records pertain to all the districts, communications usually revolved around a local board’s specific needs.

Series Descriptions

Subseries I: Subject Files (1985-1990), 25 cubic feet

The subseries contains correspondence, memoranda, clippings, statistics, legal briefs, reports and printed materials. Arranged alphabetically, it spans the years 1985-1990. Reference materials from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s are included. The files comprise policy and administrative matters of curriculum, personnel, school buildings and legislation. Included also are important issues such as decentralization, AIDS, sex education, special education, drugs, homelessness and its effects on students, occupational education and dropout rates. The records reveal information about the Inspector General’s investigations, particularly the 1987 report focusing on the case of Lisa Steinberg, a victim of child abuse, which resulted in a major New York City homicide trial. The report provides recommendations for training staff in procedures relating to child abuse detection.

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Subseries II: Community School Districts (1985-1990), 5.5 cubic feet

The subseries contains correspondence, legal briefs, memoranda, petitions, plans and reports. Arranged numerically by district and alphabetically, it spans the years 1984-1990. The files reveal the interactions between the Board of Education and the local school boards over administration of the districts on personnel appointments, staffing, training, elections and financial management, because of decentralization. The records contain grievances and appeals by school boards and parents against the actions of the Chancellor which superseded local board decisions.

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