New York mayoral candidate William Thompson got a boost from the city’s teachers’ union, whose endorsement yesterday helps him mobilize the group’s members, money and political activists.
Thompson, 59, a former city comptroller, received the United Federation of Teachers backing over four main rivals for the Democratic Party’s nomination. He worked with the union as Board of Education president in the 1990s before the state put New York’s public schools under the mayor’s control in 2002.
“What this union is saying is that we need a mayor who will be for opportunity for all, not just a few,” union President Michael Mulgrew told a rally yesterday as he introduced Thompson at federation headquarters in Manhattan.
The union, which has a $2.5 million political fund and 200,000 active members and retirees, has a history of providing street campaigners, phone banks and money to candidates it supports. It also has a history of backing losers.
In 2001, it supported three mayoral candidates in one election cycle. First, it endorsed former Comptroller Alan Hevesi in a Democratic primary. After he lost, it backed former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who was beaten in a runoff by former Public Advocate Mark Green. The union rallied to Green against Michael Bloomberg, who won as a Republican.
The union didn’t back any mayoral candidate four years later, when Bloomberg gained a second term running against Ferrer. In 2009, it declined to endorse Thompson, who failed to stop Bloomberg’s re-election to a third term.
Since then, relations between the union and Bloomberg have deteriorated with disputes over the role of testing, evaluating teacher performance, merit pay, school closures, seniority and disciplinary procedures.
The mayor took a swipe at the union’s endorsement June 17, calling its support “almost a kiss of death.” He said it has been more than two decades since the UFT last backed a winning mayoral candidate: David Dinkins in 1989. Mulgrew focused on a different angle in response.
“Most candidates would rather be the victim of a zombie attack than get a Michael Bloomberg endorsement,” Mulgrew said.
The mayor, who by law can’t seek a fourth term, is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Thompson has already received endorsements from Randi Weingarten, president of the federation’s national arm and Mulgrew’s predecessor in New York, and Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents. The panel oversees education policy for elementary schools to universities.
Thompson, who said his mother was a teacher and federation member, called the union’s backing the “culmination of a lifelong commitment to education and teachers.”
“Teachers used to be the pillars of society,” the candidate told the the rally. “As mayor, I am not going to demonize teachers. We’ve had enough of that. I’m going to help them teach by giving them the tools that they need.”
While some voters disagree with its positions on school policies, others sympathize with the federation in its disputes with City Hall, said George Arzt, a political consultant not involved in this year’s mayoral race. He said the union’s members and money make its support a sought-after prize.
“It’s a real boost to Thompson’s candidacy,” Arzt said in an interview. “This union’s members vote, and they have a history of listening to their leadership.”
Thompson has also received support from the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, a union representing principals, and the Uniformed Workers of New York, a group of bargaining units for public-safety, sanitation and corrections workers.
“When I’m mayor, I’ll fight day and night to help the teachers of New York, because you are critical to the future,” Thompson said. “I’ll fight for all working New Yorkers who are struggling to make ends meet, make our city better, and keep our future bright.”
The city’s largest labor group, District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, endorsed Comptroller John Liu in May. Liu, a Democrat, is also supported by unions representing school bus drivers, operating engineers, electrical and communications workers.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the Democratic frontrunner in voter surveys, is backed by United Auto Workers, Teamsters, supermarket-employee and fire-officer locals.
Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, which represents health-care workers with about 300,000 members in New York and several other states, has endorsed Bill de Blasio, a Democrat and the city’s public advocate.
“Rather than the unions all being one monolithic block, it’s diffused among several of the candidates, so organized labor will not be speaking with one voice,” said Doug Muzzio, who teaches urban politics at Baruch College of the City University of New York.
“While union endorsements provide a psychological boost, a metric of success and a source of manpower and money, the various unions going in many directions may mitigate” any one group’s influence, Muzzio said.