After reaching an agreement with the state over the framework for a new teacher evaluation system, Michael Mulgrew's popularity among his union members may have momentarily slipped, if the quiet grumbling from some teachers is to be believed. And no leader of a labor union is universally popular with the public, even in a pro-labor city like New York.
But one group of New Yorkers has embraced Mr. Mulgrew wholeheartedly, putting him at the top of their personal popularity lists: the people who would be mayor, The New York Times reports on Wednesday.
David Chen and Fernanda Santos chronicle the influence that Mr. Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, holds with mayoral candidates "declared and in waiting." They consult with him on education issues. They chat about personal matters. "One of them invited him to Finland," The Times reports.
Mr. Mulgrew is a coveted friend for the people who hope to become mayor. His union, the United Federation of Teachers, has 200,000 members: they are highly organized, and they vote. And at a time when education is a major issue for the city, and in a race with only Democratic contenders thus far, the union’s membership could have a disproportionate influence in a potentially decisive primary in 2013.
“I just had a press conference with one, and I talked to another yesterday,” Mr. Mulgrew said one recent Friday, as the number for yet another contender appeared on his phone’s caller ID screen. “I guess I’m a popular guy.”
Of course, Mr. Mulgrew's relationship with the current mayor is hardly as cozy. The two disagree on many issues related to public education, from the closing of failing schools to the rise of charter schools, and have been fighting fiercely over the release of teacher rankings as well as the basis for evaluating teachers going forward. But Mr. Bloomberg never relied on public unions to assist his self-financed campaigns, and he embraced the role of independent. Not so with the mayoral hopefuls.
The courtship of Mr. Mulgrew is symptomatic of a broader phenomenon. Labor leaders are eagerly anticipating a better relationship with City Hall after Mr. Bloomberg leaves office at the end of next year, and the candidates to succeed him are fostering those hopes partly because they are ideologically more aligned with labor, and partly because they are hoping for the financial and electoral support that can come from union members.
The likely mayoral candidates -- the City Council speaker, Christine C. Quinn; the public advocate, Bill de Blasio: the Manhattan borough president, Scott M. Stringer; the city comptroller, John C. Liu; and the business leader, Tom Allon -- don't agree with Mr. Mulgrew on every issue. But any candidate in her or his right mind would be crazy not to try to win over Mr. Mulgrew, given the help that an embrace can bring.
Still, perhaps they should also be wary:
Mr. Mulgrew has been preparing his union for battle, grooming political soldiers from the ranks of teachers, secretaries and school counselors. His union has trained its members over the past year in door-knocking and leafleting strategies. Some have attended meetings of block associations and civic groups, looking to channel parents’ frustrations.
The teachers’ union has run advertisements so critical of Mr. Bloomberg that, Mr. Mulgrew said, a mayoral hopeful asked after they had been broadcast, “Did Mike Bloomberg run over your dog?”
Mr. Mulgrew’s agenda is no secret: he seeks an end to closing schools for poor performance, an end to placing charter schools in district school buildings and an end to tight mayoral control of the school system.
“I’m in a position where, after all these years, I can’t trust anyone to have that much power again, even if it’s someone I really have a great relationship with,” Mr. Mulgrew said.
Also in the news this balmy Wednesday morning:
Gotham Schools reports that Tina Sciocchetti, a lawyer, was appointed by the state education commissioner, John B. King, to be the executive director of a new testing oversight organization, the Test Security and Educator Integrity office.
As Gotham reports, an oversight office was announced last week by Dr. King after an audit "found an array of deficiencies in the department’s capacity to receive and pursue test fraud allegations and issued a series of recommendations for reforms." The Board of Regents approved those reforms this week.
Ms. Sciocchetti faces a tough challenge: "She will confront a department that lacks an infrastructure to handle reports from local districts or pursue its own investigations."
Here's some of what's happening in education this Wednesday:
Early this morning, hundreds of parents, teachers and community advocates boarded buses to head to Albany for a day of lobbying "to urge elected officials to protect public school classrooms and social services as New York State puts together its budget for next year."
At 10:30 a.m. students will meet at Hunter College High School to try to spell their way to Washington and the national spelling bee competition.
Congratulations to Arvind Mahankali, a seventh grader from Forest Hills, who for the third year in a row won a trip to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, May 30-31. It is his third straight win at the Daily News Spelling Bee, the Daily News reports. Wednesday's contest will fill out New York City's roster.
At 11 a.m., the Manhattan borough president, Scott Stringer, holds a news conference to demand that the city Education Department immediately suspend serving meat treated with ammonia in public schools.
From 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., panelists will convene at the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center at 55 West 13th Street to discuss "Combating Youth Violence: Concrete Solutions for New York City." The event is organized by the Center for New York City Affairs.
And tonight, parents who are interested in sending their children to the new Urban Assembly middle school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, can attend an information session to hear about the program and meet the principal, The Local in Fort Greene-Clinton Hill reports.
At the 92nd Street Y at 8 p.m., Joel Klein, Seth Andrew, Juan Williams and Iris Chen will discuss "The Case for Civic Education." Tickets are $29.
And our friends at The Learning Network are gearing up for the opening of "The Hunger Games" this Friday. See their ideas and teaching resources: "The Odds Ever in Your Favor: Ideas and Resources for Teaching ‘The Hunger Games’"