We need to change our approach to political endorsements
I’ve long known that the UFT endorsement policy was not great, but two incidents in the last few weeks have brought into greater relief the urgent need to reform (or replace) the current process.
Now, no one misunderstood the second part. “Who the membership does not want” is shorthand for Christine Quinn.
1. At the February 6 Delegate Assembly, a number of routine political endorsements were on the floor. I had seen them at the previous Exec Board, and none had stood out to me as extraordinary. But two got pulled from the floor debate – Marc Korashan pulled Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes, and James Eterno, a leader of the ICE caucus, pulled Rory Lancman, a nobody City Councilman from Queens. What? Turns out, Lancman had actively supported over several years the closure and destruction of James’ school, Jamaica High School.
Eterno’s appeal was coherent – school closing is a big deal, and should be a litmus test for endorsement. But it was also emotional. His school, his members, his students had been victimized by Lancman. The delegates empathized. And half of them ignored the official endorsement – the vote split about 50-50 (It really might have been evenly split; I have also heard claims that Lancman was actually voted down. It was certainly close). Mulgrew called for a revote. And the margin was about 75% for endorsing him.
2. At last Monday’s Exec Board I asked, as our leaders have stated that we WILL be making an endorsement in the mayoral primary, how were we going to poll the sentiment of the membership, and would we also poll the sense of who the membership DOES NOT WANT?
I thought Michael Mulgrew or Michael Mendel might complain that I was trying to “bind the hands” of the leadership by using member sentiment to rule out Quinn (even though I hadn’t used her name, everyone knew that’s who I was talking about.) But that’s not what happened. Mulgrew, and I am glad he was there to respond, stated that we would not make our choice by polling the membership and going with their choice. I readily confess, once I realized that my question had been either misunderstood or misinterpreted, that I didn’t catch all the fine details. I wasn’t asking that we make our choice by membership vote, but just that we include member sentiment in our calculations. But the response did not address the question: We have a process. You (that’s me) would be surprised by the results if we polled the membership. We will pick a candidate, and we can make any one of the four a winner….
3. What’s going on? At the DA, a woman who helped with the Lancman endorsement got up and explained something about a process as well. And added “I’m sorry about your school.” I had been with James through his speech, but it was that comment, how do you say “I’m sorry about your school” that’s clawed at me, cut at me, in the intervening days.
I think the politicians know the process. Mulgrew does. That woman from Queens did. But our membership does not. OK, that happens. But our activists, most of our chapter leaders, do not. We are not involved. Not asked. Not polled. Not part of any discussion. Not part of any process. And that is not ok.
Maybe the entire process needs to be overhauled? Maybe. But I am thinking about much less. Endorsement proposals should be published, as possible, a month before they are to be voted on. District Reps should solicit feedback from Chapter Leaders, especially for local candidates in the district, so that the proposed lists can be modified, if need be, before going to the DA for a vote. That’s all. Our best activists are not all on the borough committees. And our best activists should have their voices heard.