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UFT Endorsement Process

April 19, 2021 pm30 10:23 pm

The United Federation of Teachers just picked a candidate to endorse for Mayor (Scott Stringer – he received 90% of the up or down vote).

Better Process

This has been a better process than previous campaigns – by far. Apparently the leadership took everyone who volunteered. That’s a change from the past. The Town Halls were like infomercials – but slick and well-run, and informative.

I did not participate (other than watching the final town hall – which Mulgrew ran nicely). I did not realize that the process was changed to allow all of us to participate (last time I had checked, members of other caucuses had a hard time getting in the door). But more than that, with ten serious candidates and many more not as serious candidates, this was going to be an enormous time sink. I chose to put my time into my chapter and my teaching.

This was very different from eight years ago. In 2013 I went to meetings with Mulgrew and the candidates – but we weren’t really participating – and there wasn’t much attempt to get input from us. But 2013 was already an improvement over what had come before.

Low Bar

But doing a better job than in the past is a pretty low bar.

Everyone knows the UFT’s track record with picking mayoral winners for the past couple of decades has been, ahem.

I guess I would say that making a bad pick while standing up for our values, our members, our profession – that would be completely understandable. But, hmm hmm…

What Pay? What Play? Hevesi 2001

We never learned what conversation between Randi Weingarten and Alan Hevesi led to the bizarre UFT 2001 endorsement. We do know that Hevesi was later found to have engaged in quite a bit of pay for play. I wish I knew what was in their conversation. In any case, Hevesi finished four out of four. The UFT went on to endorse in the runoff (finished second out of two), and then in the general (finished second out of two). One election, three last place endorsements.

2009 Cowardice in the Face of a Bully

We know what happened in 2009. I know, because I was there. Bloomberg rigged the works to run for a third term. He had done amazing damage to the school system in his first two terms. Did anyone know he would do his worst damage in his third term?

Bill Thompson was trailing in the polls, but at 8 points and closing. There were signs that this was going to be a closer election than in 2001, or 2005. So we stand up to Bloomberg, and if we don’t win, at least we go down swinging, fighting for education, fighting for the membership, fighting for what is right? Nope. The UFT leadership was quiet. It became clear they planned to sit out the election, as if not offending Bloomberg might do us some good. I got up at the October 2009 Delegate Assembly to move an endorsement of Bloomberg’s opponent – Bill Thompson. Mulgrew argued that by staying out of the election we would get a contract from Bloomberg. LeRoy Barr and Paul Egan got up to procedurally quash my motion, and to argue that Thompson was not viable.

Bloomberg won the election, but by his smallest margin, just over 4 points. Would a UFT endorsement have made a difference? Absolutely, yes. Enough? We don’t know. But that was a completely unnecessary mistake. Oh, and that contract Mulgrew told us we were safeguarding by not endorsing? H-hmm.

Moving Forward

I’m glad that the UFT leadership has seen the need to improve the endorsement process. It looks like they have taken some significant steps in the right direction.

But we should be talking about what went wrong in the past, so that we can learn from it. And so that we don’t repeat it. Open, honest discussion makes us stronger.

It is certainly the right thing, what the leadership has done, involving many more members in the process. But there is information that is not being shared.

Our internal polls – perhaps the fine details, the crosstabs – perhaps there is much that we don’t want to publish. But post-town hall – who impressed you? There are certainly topline numbers that members should have seen.

And the criteria being used to select candidates – what were they – and how were they selected? I know, I know, I heard the talking point – “we want a candidate who is good for education and good for our members” – but that’s general, and there was a specific list. How did that list get made, how do we arrive at specific issues? I personally was delighted that we made class size a huge issue. I wish that it had always been an issue. So something has changed, become better. But how did that happen?

The strength, at least in theory, of the union, of any union, is in members taking collective action. That works best when we take collective decisions. And that means discussion – not just members reporting what they think to leadership, and listening to what leadership decides. It means members speaking with members. Honestly, it means active chapters. It means open discussion and debate. It means decision-making involving members, with the direct participation of members and their delegates, rather than in secret.

The town hall process, the broad involvement of members, is a step in the right direction. There is a long way to go.

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