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Why did the UFT endorse Thompson?

September 4, 2013 pm30 9:01 pm

The UFT leadership say that they looked at all the candidates, and chose the one with the surest path to victory. Does that seem plausible?

As we close in on the NYC Mayoral primary in less than a week, the range of outcomes is three:

  • De Blasio wins outright
  • De Blasio / Thompson runoff
  • De Blasio / Quinn runoff

Given those choices, and given that De Blasio is not a bad guy for the United Federation of Teachers, how did the UFT end up endorsing Bill Thompson?

The UFT leadership say that they looked at all the candidates, and chose the one with the surest path to victory. Does that seem plausible?

Well, certainly they didn’t really look at Christine “greased the skids for Bloomberg” Quinn. And probably not Anthony (don’t insert joke here) Weiner. And probably not the Republicans. And I like Sal Albanese, but… you know.

Coming through the winter, and especially coming out of the UFT elections, the leadership went through the process of choosing candidate. And while they claimed to be open to all of them, eyes were really on De Blasio, Liu, and Thompson.

Recall, in January, Quinn was way ahead of the pack. The UFT line was that we could move De Blasio, Liu, or Thompson into a run off, knock off Quinn, and then win the general election.  And while today Liu is going nowhere, eight months ago there was still a glimmer of hope that he could put the campaign financing thing behind him.

Quinn has half a decade of making life easy for Bloomberg. Notably, she organized the term-limit extensions. I am glad the UFT leadership want to defeat her, but back in January I wasn’t sure. Remember, when she did that term-limit stuff, there was a healthy bit of self-interest in play. Politicians look out for themselves – that’s not news. When the UFT leadership kept the organization from fighting the term-limit extension (we could have defeated it), and then killed the possibility of working for Thompson (who lost by only 5 points), that’s not acting in self-interest. That’s blundering, massively. But would the UFT leadership fault Quinn for doing out of self-interest what they themselves did out of….?  Well, Quinn did enough else to bother us that we won’t get an answer to that question. We do know that the leadership does not want her.

In the Spring, Mulgrew and Egan described a long slow process of interviewing each of the candidates, and making them lay out their path to victory, and making them lay out benchmarks along the way, medial targets, if you will. Egan reported that they looked at the teams, at the financing.  The UFT ran candidate forums (fora?) in each borough, and did some straw polling. In all they claim to have collected a massive amount of data. Insiders claimed that just days before the endorsement a decision had not been made.  (though by this point, Liu was clearly out of the running – he just couldn’t shake the campaign finance thing).

My caucus, New Action, had already weighed in, ABQ (here in February, and here in April, and here in June). We would be okay, we said, with De Blasio, Liu, or Thompson. But we wanted a guarantee that the UFT would not support Quinn. In our own discussions, we were divided about equally four weighs (D/L/T/ any of the above). Personally, I liked Liu but thought he might not be able to get past the campaign financing thing.

The 3rd group, MORE, as I predicted, is sitting out the mayoral race, although they took an explicitly anti-Thompson position. They’ve either implicitly or explicitly taken an anti-Quinn position – I think implicitly. It seems that their voices are divided between De Blasio and not participating in the process, although their voices are united in mocking the leadership for Thompson’s current standing in 2nd or 3rd place.

So dial back to June. Quinn’s at 30 or so, De Blasio, Liu, and Thompson are each around 10, Weiner’s just jumped in.  Is it plausible that the UFT was looking for the one of the three with the easiest path?

Let’s start with something else – are the differences between the three so great that this would have been an unreasonable approach?  No. On issue after issue, Thompson and De Blasio are close. De Blasio’s better on colocations. Thompson’s a little better on mayoral control. De Blasio has some slumlord support. Thompson has Meryl Tisch in his campaign. Neither one of them would be 100% our guy, but both would be far easier to work with than Bloomberg (or Quinn).

But what about some negative comments by each towards us? Thompson in 2009 after we didn’t endorse him, and De Blasio in 2013 after we didn’t endorse him?  I don’t put much stock in sour grapes comments. Though Unity and ICE (now MORE) liked the Thompson “no raise” comment because it let them say “see, we were right not to endorse him” (and to earn us four more years of Bloomberg).

So, I’m claiming the differences are not that great.

Was labor support lining up in such a way that the UFT should have let that be a major, if not THE major factor?  Nah. Unions were divided, all over the place, with a few even supporting Quinn. As of today, the list looks something like:

  • De Blasio:  1199 SEIU, CWA Local 1, UNITE/HERE, PSC (CUNY professors and professional staff)
  • Liu: AFSCME DC37, AFSCME DC1707, CWA 1180, IBEW Local 3
  • Quinn: RWDSU, 32BJ SEIU
  • Thompson: UFT, Teamsters 237, Firefighters, TWU Local 100

Labor support was dispersed.

So it was plausible, to me at least, that the leadership was really looking for the best path to victory for a candidate who is neither Bloomberg nor Bloomberg-lite.

On June 19 AdCom voted in the morning to endorse Thompson. (I wasn’t there, of course). But I was at the Executive Board that afternoon, where Egan and Mulgrew laid out in great detail the process they had used to decide which candidate to go with. They examined the campaign staff, the candidates’ claimed routes to victory, benchmarks along the way. They examined the results of the straw polls at the UFT candidate forums (fora?) in each borough. They shared the results of the straw polls. But they didn’t share anything else. Paul Egan did not tell us why we believed that Thompson’s path to victory was easier than De Blasio’s. Mulgrew did not comment on Liu’s campaign team. Egan did not tell us where Thompson thought he needed to be in June, and did not provide evidence that Thompson’s campaign had hit that benchmark. The leadership essentially said – “Here we have a great process that we never had before. Now trust us that we used it well, and we’re giving no details.”

One leadership loyalist stood up and said we should have endorsed Thompson in 2009. Glad he did (I made the motion to endorse four years ago at the DA, shot down by Egan and LeRoy Barr). There was a question about whether Thompson would hold 2009 against us. And that was it.

The same scene played out at the DA. One real question – why not De Blasio? – was completely ignored. The “great new process. now trust us” pitch worked just fine, especially since the delegates knew there were only two choices, and probably thought Thompson had the edge (especially since Weingarten had personally endorsed Thompson weeks in advance. A proud local would have admonished the national president for speaking out of turn.)

Did the leadership really use the process they described? It’s the simplest answer to why they endorsed Thompson. It is most likely the real answer. But it is impossible to know, because they shrouded their new and improved process in secrecy. (It’s also frustrating that the people who did not fight Bloomberg when he overturned term limits, and did not endorse Thompson in 2009 when he could have toppled Bloomberg, were essentially saying “trust us.”)

With the criteria the leadership says they applied, could Thompson as a choice have made sense?  Let’s look at what happened after.

  • 30/10/10/10 Quinn – DB/L/T
  • Weiner’s numbers increase, and he moves into first place. He takes points from Quinn, and from the undecided column. (many progressives worried that we might face a Weiner Quinn runoff)
  • Weiner implodes, again. But some of his numbers return to Quinn, most move to De Blasio (maybe that’s just what the polls look like superficially. I still don’t quite understand the politics of that shift).
  • By the time of De Blasio’s strong ads (Dante!) he had momentum, passed Quinn, and has broken 40% in one poll.
  • Thompson, in the meantime, has slowly risen, recently passing Quinn for second place in the polling.

None of this was predictable. It’s possible they were convinced that Thompson had the better shot. I can still see a path for Thompson to pull it out – De Blasio misses 40% by a little bit, Thompson edges Quinn, and in the run-off the party regulars favor Thompson, and his percentage of the Black vote increases as the portion of the electorate with sufficient motivation to turn out for what is essentially a special election, that group leans clearly Thompson.

Or not. The UFT will work to push Thompson into the runoff. The UFT will work to push him past De Blasio. But a runoff may not happen, or De Blasio may beat Thompson head to head. But in either of those cases, the UFT will help De Blasio beat the Republican. Either we crown Thompson, or we give late support to De Blasio, but in either case the next mayor will not be a Bloomberg clone.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. chaz permalink
    September 6, 2013 pm30 2:29 pm 2:29 pm

    Great analysis and very informative. I believe your predictions are right on the mark

    • September 7, 2013 am30 8:16 am 8:16 am

      I can still see how they might have analyzed Thompson’s chances, and found them likelier than De Blasio’s. And I still don’t see a whole lot of differences between the two, save some campaign posturing.

      In other words, I believe Mulgrew and Egan – I just wish they’d explained themselves.

  2. Fsmedu permalink
    October 17, 2013 am31 2:33 am 2:33 am

    Thompson knew what he was talking about and had a plan for ed, health and housing,job and police,He was City comptroller, Bd of Ed President, His father is in the NY Justice system.

    Wiener was a dreamer.

    And de Blasio was a tax and spend liberal which is no longer popular.The concept of a tax on the wealthy to fund PreK ed does not sit well with Cuomo Jr and Albany and this remains blurry to say the least as an initiative.

    Yes there i s a shortage of affortable housing units in the city but it will take Federal govt , Albany and City resources to address the problem.The private sector cannot be left out of the affordable housing reconstruction effort.

    Hospital closing is not a hoax. Again technology,asset management, Albany and Fed and private sectors will have to combine the available resources to address this problem.

    Education real dilemma is not charter school rather the weakening of the NYC Public School System that de Blasio never stated how he is going to address.

    Demoralized Teachers,Inexperienced supervisors..An evaluation system designed to get ride of teachers.

    Teaching common core curriculum w/o appropriate materials. Unrealistic expectations…neither the teachers or supervisors welcome the new evaluation system.

    Scores of beginning teachers with three or four years of teaching within license with s rating who still did not complete probation or are still not tenured.

    Closing schools & ATRs …Municipal workers w/o a contract for at least 5 years…


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