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A Sailboat Ride

October 11, 2021 pm31 4:04 pm

I’m not sure where the East River ends and Long Island Sound begins. By Connecticut it is the Sound, even just Greenwich it is definitely the Sound. Rikers and LaGuardia are East River. Is it Throggs Neck? Further? And what is a “Sound”? Looks more a like a huge trough to me – open on one end to the Atlantic – but that’s far, far from Orchard Beach and Little Neck – and open on the other side to – well, probably the East River, right? And the “East River” – not a river at all. It doesn’t flow, it sloshes, back and forth, with the tides. Estuary. The East River is an estuary.

We were on David’s sailboat – in the water off City Island – whatever that water is called. We may have reached Mamaroneck. We may have passed Edgewater. I don’t know – Dave was navigating. Me, Annette, and Cathy, we just sat back and enjoyed the breeze and chatted.

This was July 7, 2009.

David was the former United Federation of Teachers Bronx High School District Representative. He had retired in 2003. His successor, Lynne Winderbaum, had just retired, days earlier, July 1 2009. Annette and I were candidates to replace Lynne. Cathy was a secretary at my first school, and friend to Annette and Dave.

In the old days we would have been real candidates – running for election – with the chapter leaders in the district voting. But Randi Weingarten threw that system out several years earlier. Lynne, who would easily have won an election, was instead appointed. And in 2009, if there’d been an election, I would, likely as not, have won. But there was a process.

Me and Annette had met through Dave and Cathy several years before. We would go out to dinner after Delegate Assemblies and other union meetings. And then Annette, a secretary, was elected Chapter Leader at Grace Dodge. Annette was a knowledgeable secretary, who provided information and ran workshops for other secretaries. But chapter leader was new. I had been a delegate, but chapter leader was new for me, too.

And so Annette offered me a ride to new chapter leader training. It was at a convention center/hotel in New Jersey. Spring 2003. Dave was still there. I met a bunch of people. There was another new chapter leader, smart, Mary Atkinson. I sat at the bar with her and her DR late one night. Today Mary is the Bronx Borough Representative. It was a fun weekend. They gave us a game, let us think it was zero-sum, when it was not, and waited to see how long it took us to figure out. There was dancing at night, which I don’t normally do, but I did, and I met someone met someone – though that didn’t go far. But the best part? The long car rides, in both directions, with Annette.

We talked and talked, and traded stories. We had enough in common, knew enough people in common, that there was that thread. But we had been raised in different places and different circumstances, which meant we also had tales for the other that seemed a bit foreign or exotic. (I know, Fordham Road vs Connecticut suburbs, but still, it worked).

Now, Annette was a Unity member, and I was – well, not a Unity member, not ever. But I have never been unalterably opposed to working, at times and on particular issues, with Unity. And Annette was not hostile to oppositionists. In fact, when the 2005 contract came up for a vote at the Delegate Assembly, Annette voted with the wishes of her chapter (she had held a chapter wide discussion) and against her caucus. She voted no. (which was absolutely the right thing to do, even if her caucus scolded her harshly for acting honorably). Despite the political affiliations, we were two union people, in agreement about the importance of our union.

Annette started offering me rides. After every union meeting. Downtown. Across the Bronx. And we talked. And talked. I rode everywhere with her. When my life got more interesting, or her life got more interesting, the conversations lasted longer than the ride. She parked in front of my apartment, or in front of her apartment, and we talked for hours, and hours.

When Lynne announced her retirement, me and Annette knew that both of us should apply. Annette was a secretary. That was going to be tough. We weren’t even sure it was allowed (it was). I worked in an opposition caucus, New Action, and against Unity, the leadership caucus. For an appointed position, an opposition person was going to be a long shot. But me and Annette did not care. We talked and talked and prepped each other. We made up interview questions, and critiqued each other’s answers. I remember parking around the corner from my apartment, longer than usual, maybe two hours, from daylight to dark, and peppering each other with situations, scenarios, questions. We argued, we agreed, we suggested, we praised. We were making each other as ready as possible.

The biggest obstacle would not be our preparation. The biggest obstacle would be the UFT leadership. The borough office and full-timers downtown saw the DR as an important job – important to the career advancement of friends and allies. They did not understand or care about the importance to the chapter leaders and members in the District. And they conspired to prevent a Bronx HS Chapter leader from taking they job. They had someone else. A favorite. Without what should have been the minimum qualifications. High School people, unbeknownst to me, fought this, and stopped it. Me and Annette only had a chance, it turned out, because there were those, behind the scenes, who were willing to insist on what was right, even when powerful forces in Unity wanted to do something wrong.

Years later Unity eliminated even the policy that DRs should come from among the CLs in the district. They want control, and they want jobs to be awarded for loyalty, and they do not want to be constrained by fairness, or by what is right. And they have the votes to make these changes official. But back in 2009, they were glad that they stopped elections, and had not yet realized how much more damage they could do.

In any case, Annette and I applied, and prepped. There were maybe 10 – 15 candidates. We nailed the first round interview. Me, Annette, and one more, at least two of the three unlikely friends and unlikely District Reps, we were sent downtown for the second stage.

And before that round, we got on the boat.

David had been a bit out of touch since he retired, 6 years earlier. He had been passed over for High School VP, despite being the best candidate. But Unity was shifting more and more to filling positions with yes-people – and avoiding independent thinkers who spoke up. David was also the Bronx HS DR when Randi and her deputy conspired with the Department of Education and Bill Gates to destroy the Bronx’s High Schools. Weingarten and Casey and Nadelstern promised members one thing – but delivered destruction instead – destruction of schools, destruction of chapters, destruction of professional autonomy. They told us one thing, and did something else. But they also told Dave one thing, and did something else – and Dave proceeded to pass on the lies to chapter leaders, not knowing that they were lies. He was duped. But Chapter Leaders, at least back then, didn’t necessarily see it that way. And it took a few years to repair some of those relationships.

As a side note, a few years after this story happened I helped bring some of those (former) chapter leaders back together with Dave so that they could begin talking again – that was a good thing.

But David was not completely disconnected. Far from it. He still had many friends in the UFT, and many, many others who he might speak to from time to time. He knew the politics, at least from a few years earlier. He knew most of the major players. He knew many of the Bronx Chapter leaders, though there was rapid change with the creation of scores of cookie-cutter mini-schools.

So there we were. Picking Dave’s brain. Chatting. Wanting to know how he saw it. He thought we were both unlikely, even impossible choices, but that it would go to Annette. He was right. And it was a beautiful day. Warm, light breeze. We were no sailors, but David was. We were in good hands, with good company.

The second stage interviews were later that week. Where we met another committee. There were no chapter leaders on this committee of three. I had no friends. None had taught for years, and one had never taught. I still did well, but not as well as in the Bronx. Annette did better. But I didn’t do that badly – the two of us advanced to the final interview. It was going to be a pain-in-the-ass oppositionist, or a school secretary.

I found a note I wrote to Lynne a few days later:

Me, Cathy, and Annette went out sailing with your predecessor last Tuesday. It was relaxing, and interesting. Dave still has that absolutely magnetic personality. Me and Annette have been talking regularly, sharing ideas, helping each other, comparing notes. We even spoke yesterday, after the interviews downtown…

And then Annette did get the job. I got the call while I was in East Texas. And I immediately called Annette to congratulate her. I wanted to be the first. And I was. I got offered a job, three afternoons a week. But I didn’t like the terms (they wanted me downtown, to leave the Bronx). And I said “if I can stay in the Bronx…” and they never said no, the offer just evaporated…

So why am I telling this story? This small story? Today? Because these last days I have been remembering Annette Carlucci, and I have been remembering David Shulman.

Annette became the District Rep. And then she got sick. But her spirits were good, and it looked like she’d beaten it. When she called to tell me that the cancer was back, that it had spread to her brain, I was standing in the kitchen, and I slipped to the counter. She died soon after that, 10 years ago this summer, July 11, 2011. I organized a gathering of activists and retirees – across caucuses – to remember her. And then I kept organizing the gatherings. I’m not sure who else remembered why we started – but I sure did. And it’s been almost two years since we’ve met up, but this is the 10th anniversary, so it is on my mind…

I was friendly with David when this story took place. But after that David and I talked more and saw each other more. We met for food. He joined those gatherings I just mentioned. I joined a club he helped run. And once the pandemic started, while we did not meet up, we spoke fairly regularly by phone. And this summer the Bronx High School District Rep job became open again, and David submitted a letter in support of my candidacy (spoiler – I didn’t get the job). We last spoke in August. When I called in September one of his daughters answered. David Shulman, friend and mentor, died a few days later, October 3, 2021.

I feel both losses. But today I am feeling instead the sun and the spray from that warm July day.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Y T permalink
    October 13, 2021 pm31 8:56 pm 8:56 pm

    Thinking of you as you mourn David and remember Annette. Thank you for sharing the story of your beautiful friendship with them.

    • October 16, 2021 am31 12:02 am 12:02 am

      I know you, right? Last saw you outside, at Clinton?

      Thank you for the kind words – much appreciated.

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