Over 1200 UFT members packed the Hilton ballroom at 8:30 Saturday morning to listen to six candidates (Quinn, DiBlasio Liu, Thompson, Albanese and Carrion). UFT President Mulgrew and Elementary School VP Karen Alford asked the questions for an hour and audience members lined up at microphones and queried the candidates for the last half hour.
Gotham Schools has been “collecting” statements of the candidates – with so far over 150 comments – an “issues tracker,” (http://gothamschools.org/2013-mayoral-race/)
The election wonks are predicting a 600-700,000 voter turnout for the September 10th primary. Who are the voters? Do the polls include new voters of color? Asian voters? How will the “outer borough” antipathy towards Bloomberg translate at the polls? Will endorsements translate into votes?
The huge voting blocks are teachers and parents, how will they vote
The UFT, the teacher union, is a “major player” because of the potential power at the polls – well over 100,000 registered democratic voters, and, how will a UFT endorsement influence parent voters?
At the April UFT Delegate Meeting members overwhelmingly supported making an endorsement at the June 16th meeting; the May 22nd Delegate Meeting will include a “speak out,” an opportunity for delegates to advocate for or against candidates.
In each of the boroughs the UFT is sponsoring candidate forums, and, asking UFT members in the audience to “vote” for their choice by a secret ballot before they leave.
At today’s Brooklyn forum over 200 union members packed the meeting space. It was a diverse group – by gender, by race, by teaching level and from different districts.
From a little after 4 PM until near 7 PM, no one left as Liu, Quinn, Di Blasio, Albanese and Thompson fielded similar questions.
There were no surprises, and not much of a difference in policies. Liu is an “old friend,” endorsed by the union as a City Council candidate and in his race for Comptroller. A product of the school system with a 7th grader in a public middle school he fielded question with ease.
UFT Borough Rep Howie Schoor reminded the audience that while Quinn supported a third term for the mayor and the council she is responsible for thwarting Bloomberg’s budget which would have laid off 7,000 teachers. Quinn skillfully answered questions and used the word “collaboration” many times.
Di Blasio, also a public school parent, continued to attack Quinn, over her support for a third term, and called her the “Bloomberg Lite” candidate.
Sal Albanese, a teacher for eleven years, as one teacher noted, seemed to be running for chancellor.
Bill Thompson thanked the audience for waiting and charmed with stories about his mother, a career teacher in District 16 in Brooklyn. A graduate of Hudde JHS and Midwood High School, both in Brooklyn, Thompson reminded the audience that he spent 55 of his 58 years in Brooklyn. Time and time again he rapped the Bloomberg administration and in the strongest terms said he would hire an experienced educator as chancellor. The audience applauded as he criticized Tweed, policies made by a staff without much school experience, and, “not a lot of diversity.”
Each of the UFT Borough Offices has, or, will be hosting the same type of meeting; a thousand or so union members, from every district and level, will be participating in the forums and casting ”straw” votes.
I think the final endorsement will be driven by the “straw votes” at the borough meetings and the attitude of the delegates at the May 22nd meeting.
Will the fund-raising convictions of Liu staffers fatally impact his campaign?
Is DiBlasio too far to the left? Will he “turn off” the middle of the road voters? Will he mobilize the business community to make an all-out effort for Lhota? (Lhota is about at the same level as Bloomberg was at this time in 2001)
Can Thompson capture voters of color: Afro-American and Hispanic? Are his middle of the road economic and safety views acceptable to a wider swath of voters?
And, the key issue: will the union membership follow the union endorsement?
Between the delegate meeting, the Spring Conference candidate forum and the five borough forums over 2,000 union members will have participated in the endorsement process.
The mantra from Michael Mulgrew has been – let’s not pick a winner, let’s make a winner.
With many opportunities to participate in the endorsement process it is likely that an enthusiastic, involved membership just may make the difference in September and November.