The Spector of De Touqueville: The Power of Teachers and Parents In the Democratic Arena of Politics


There are about seven hundred school districts in New York State, and 1450 schools in New York City. Teachers, union members, in every single nook and cranny of the state. Add to the mix other titles represented by teacher unions, paraprofessionals, school nurses, and, the UFT recently organized home child care workers, almost all of whom live in communities of color.
Politics is the lifeblood of a democracy, the ability of ordinary citizens to express their opinions at the polling place.
A billionaire, the creator of a massive financial communications empire, spent skads of his own dollars in a campaign for the mayoralty in 2003. Those of us without billions can band together through community and/or ethnic organizations, through labor unions, and endorse candidates, collect voluntary contributions, build campaign structures: phone banks, mailings, building a constituency for a particular candidate.
On Wednesday, September 16th, three of the winning UFT endorsed candidates thanked the standing room only thousand plus Delegate Assembly. John Liu (Comptroller), Bill Di Blasio (Public Advocate) and Daniel Dromm (a teacher running for  City Council seat, who defeated an incumbent) basked in the adulation of the  delegates, and calculated the impact of a well organized, well-oiled union political machine.
In the 1830s Alexis De Touqueville marveled at the ability of Americans to form associations,
“Americans of all ages, all stations of life, and all types of disposition are forever forming associations…In democratic countries knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others.”
Liu and De Blasio will be in runoff elections on September 29th, there is no question that the union endorsement vaulted them into the runoff.
The face of the New York City electorate has changed dramatically in the last eight years and the Obama push last year registered many new voters and many voters of color.
Having already spent tens of millions of dollars one would expect the incumbent mayor to be ahead by 20 or 30 points in the polls. His lead is in the 10-15 point range.
While the mayor has made  education the core of his campaign his policies have united oft times fractious, to use De Touqueville’s term, associations.
It is unlikely that with contract negotiations in progress the teacher union will make an endorsement. I’ve meet many teachers who voted for Bloomberg twice, but not a third time. Perhaps his biggest albatross is Joel Klein. Joel, who has spent a lifetime as an aggressive litigator, can’t avoid that flip comment, his malady, foot in mouth disease, has succeeded in driving together teachers and parents and the range of associations around the city.
His comments about pushing to layoff ATR pool teachers has resonated in every school around the city and angered all staff members.
Chris Cerf, Deputy Chancellor for Politics, has skipped from Tweed to the Bloomberg campaign, reportedly to organize charter school parents.
Will charter school parents, almost all of whom are of color, vote for Bloomberg over Thompson?. In the early days of the presidential primary season Hillary Clinton was polling very well among Afro-American voters, on election days 90% of the Afro-American votes flowed to Obama.
The lesson of primary day is that labor voters, and, especially the teachers’ union, can bring out their members, as well as influence parents.
Thompson is still a very long shot, however, for electeds around the city, as well as aspiring electeds, opposing the Mayor and Joel Klein is simply “good politics.”
I was speaking with a former school board member,
“Yes, if an elected official who had passed legislation and drove dollars to our district asked us to find an $18,000 school aide job for a constituent we would find the job …. now when some partner in a white shoe law firm calls Joel he finds a $130,000 job for the partner’s kid … what’s the difference?”
Even Bloomberg’s turf, Manhattan, voters have lost their enthusiasm. The overcrowding debacle, coupled with the financial meltdown has made local public school more attractive. Parents seeking public school seats have been frustrated, shuttled from office to office, and electeds are totally out of the loop.
Stonewalling legislators, and trekking to Albany, hat in hand to ask the very same legislators for help has only succeeded in alienating the representatives of parents and teachers.
Bloomberg may very well win on November 3rd, it will be a close vote, however the City Council, probably with a much less compliant City Council Speaker, and the Albany contingent, will not not go away.
A prime example is the newly amended Governance law, unless it fully complied with in a timely manner I would expect the legislature to make substantive changes.
As former Speak Tip O’Neill opined, “All politics is local.”



One response to “The Spector of De Touqueville: The Power of Teachers and Parents In the Democratic Arena of Politics

  1. Pingback: Remainders: The unforeseen dangers of cute | GothamSchools

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