M & M 2014 Goodbye
Two months in the fall of 2014. Two retirements I’m glad I witnessed. Of course I am writing about Mariano Rivera and Michael Mendel.
Both Yankee fans (one in pinstripes).
Both ended long careers
Both in New York.
And I was at both of their goodbyes. (In fact, I was at Mariano Rivera Day at the Stadium, and then at his last game. I was there when Jeter and Pettite took Mariano out for the last time, which is probably my #1 all time Yankee Stadium moment)
I did not get bobbleheads for either of the 2014 NYC Goodbye M & Ms (I chose to skip the Rivera bobblehead game, and Mendel apparently did not have a bobblehead day. I might have gone.)
I liked both of them from the first time I saw them – Mariano as a shaky starting pitcher. Do you remember – unhittable until the first hit, and then he would collapse? Mendel as a regular at UFT stuff.
I sat in the front rows at their goodbyes. With Fran Miller who got the guards to let her sit in the handicapped seating at the top rail (because her hip was painful), and with Michael Shulman who was friends with people at the friends of Mendel table.
Both got standing ovations, and I stood and applauded. A lot.
But I never met Rivera. I met Mendel. Spoke with him lots of times.
Rivera’s a baseball player. A star. He got paid a lot of money to play a game. He did play it well. But we cheered him on as he entertained us, and as he benefited. We are no longer talking about similarities.
If you don’t know who Michael Mendel is you’ll probably never know who he is. He was a teacher. And he worked for the members (paid by the union.) Now, I might say about lots of people at 52 Broadway that they work for the union, and that would be true. It’s not insulting. Could say it about Michael Mendel. But some people, you always know they are working for the members. Mendel was one of them.
At his retirement dinner, Amy Arundell and Adam Ross emceed. They were really good.
Larry Becker, DoE Human Resources, he killed. Made fun of Mendel for claiming knowledge of rules that were only written down on cocktail napkins or pages torn form desk calendars, and eventually pulled out an actual agreement, framed, written on a page torn from a calendar, with about five more stories and anecdotes in between. The audience howled. You listened to that, and you knew, this guy respected Mendel, he liked Mendel. Not only was delivery sharp, but he must have spent hours writing and revising that speech. You don’t that for just anybody. You prepare for something that matters. For Larry Becker, Mendel mattered.
Weingarten, Mulgrew, and Howie Solomon also spoke. And then Michael spoke.
There were times over the years that I loved what Mendel was saying. He was a lion with the DoE, when he had to be. He got indignant when members were wronged. It offended his sense of decency.
But we belong to different caucuses. There were times he agreed with what I said. And he told me so – and I appreciated that. It is such a nice thing when someone goes out of their way to say something nice. And there were times we disagreed. I remember one time I spoke quite clearly, and opposed to the direction our leadership was trying to take us. Many people were angry at me that day. But the next time he saw me, Mendel came up to me and said “Jonathan” and he may have been wagging his finger a little, “Jonathan, I disagree completely with the what you said, but I wanted you to know that you spoke very well.” Mensch.
And it wasn’t just me. He knew we are on the same side. He knew how to disagree, but also how to say a kind word. He even knew how to apologize, a rare enough skill these days. Remember his last DA? Megan (don’t know if she was TJC or MORE at the time) had presented a resolution a year or two earlier that Unity did not like, but also that was riddled with errors. Mendel took the floor to oppose it, and though there was no danger of losing the vote, he went entirely over the top in attacking and mocking it… And at the last DA he apologized, publicly. Not for opposing the resolution, but for expressing himself in an unfraternal sort of way. Mensch.
There were times he just got it wrong… but even then, he was doing what he thought was best for the members. Even when Mendel raised his voice at me (he thinks he didn’t, but he did), even then, he was “animated” because he thought what I was proposing was bad for the members. I never minded that. I wanted to change what he thought, of course. But how can you mind when a leader is passionate because he cares about the members? I’d rather get yelled at by Michael Mendel then be politely addressed by some of the snakes slithering around the system.
I liked Mendel’s speech.
He defended teaching – as a profession. “I don’t like it when people tell young people not to be teachers” I applauded nervously, because I myself have been waffling on my own advice-giving lately. The teaching part is wonderful, but I worry about how awful the system has become.
He wished for the day when teachers will again decide what to do and how to do it in their classrooms.
He told stories. Funny. Silly. He could have told about going head to head with some of the bozos at the DoE. But the story he chose to highlight is one about a member, a weak man who needed some help, and how Mendel yelled (yelled) at a Board of Ed guy, yelled at him to do the right thing by his employee, and how the Human Resources guy did just that.
Mendel standing up for someone too weak to defend himself.