In the race for Roy Goodman’s state senate seat, the city’s union for public school teachers is endorsing the candidate who favors charter schools like Edison, increased school privatization and “longer school days and years”–causes not exactly dear to the hearts of the union’s 140,000 members.
The United Federation of Teachers says its endorsement is based purely on their relationship with Ravitz. “He’s been a sitting assemblyman who we’ve endorsed since 1992,” said UFT Political Director Tom Murphy. “In the past, John has been a good friend to the schools, he’s helped schools in the district, and we’ve established a good working relationship with him.”
In the world of New York politics, such a bedfellow is no surprise. Public sector unions traditionally go Republican in state senate races to avoid the wrath of Albany warlord Joseph Bruno. As State Senate Majority Leader, Bruno has power over public employees’ raises and pensions. In the February 12 special election to replace Goodman, whom Bloomberg tapped to head the United Nations Development Corporation, the upstate conservative supports Assemblyman John Ravitz over Democrat Liz Krueger.
“When you look at what he has done in the state assembly–we’ve delivered record amounts of increases for education–and you look at what his opponent has offered, it’s a no-brainer in terms of the decision,” said Bruno spokesman John McArdle, who denied his boss pressured anyone to support Ravitz.
But union insiders say public sector unions across the city have their hands tied tighter than ever in this election, which everyone expects to be close: Ravitz has never won big in his district, and Krueger lost her November 2000 race against Goodman by only 200 votes. And heavy-hitting public sector unions, whose get-out-the-vote machines are crucial in a close race, are starting to fall in line. The powerful hospital workers’ union 1199 also endorsed Ravitz January 11.
Now all eyes are on District Council 37, the city’s largest public employees union, whose 125,000 members could be crucial in a dead-heat race: After meeting with both candidates last week, a union screening committee voted 7 to 5 in favor of Krueger. DC 37’s delegates are expected to take a final vote this week, giving the union’s new leadership its first test. A new set of officers will take over the union this spring.
Meanwhile, Krueger’s own pro-labor record has netted her some private-sector union endorsements as well as those of some smaller, more independent public unions. As associate director of the Community Food Resource Center, she helped write legislation against replacing city jobs with workfare assignments a few years ago.
“The unions that are less reliant on the State Senate are able to do what they think is the right and appropriate thing for our members without being concerned about being punished by the Senate Majority leader,” explained Stuart Applebaum of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is supporting Krueger.
In fact, several union leaders said Bruno has been trying to sweet-talk them into supporting Ravitz. “This time, it’s less of a threat than a promise,” said one union president who’s backing Krueger. “They’re opening up their bag of goodies, which is another thing that tells me Liz has a damn good chance of winning.”