The United Federation of Teachers has gone all-out in its endorsement of mayoral candidate Bill Thompson, spending more than $1 million through its political action committee and producing a new television ad. But will teachers follow their union’s lead?
Schoolbook reached out directly to dozens of city teachers the week before the Democratic primary, and also gathered comments through social media. We’ll be the first to admit this was not a scientific, representational sample but we heard from a lot of teachers who do not plan to vote for Thompson.
Megan Moskop, who said she teaches at a Washington Heights middle school, spoke for many of those we heard from when she explained why candidate Bill de Blasio is her choice.
“His idea of universal pre-K is almost like a no-brainer because we’ve known for a really, really long time that early childhood education is one of the best ways to close the achievement gap,” she said. “So when he came out early with that plan, I think it made it clear that he was a good candidate most committed to making our system better and making our schools stronger for all students, not just for some students.”
A Manhattan elementary school teacher, who did not want to be identified, agreed that de Blasio “understands that pre-k for all NYC kids is an essential if we are ever going to bridge the huge divide between the haves and have nots.”
Some teachers said they weren’t happy with the way the union endorsement was handled, claiming that the fix was in from the start. They pointed to the fact that the influential president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, threw her support early behind Thompson, whom she knew from when she headed the UFT and he was president of the former Board of Education.
Sam Coleman, a member of the MORE caucus and a teacher at P.S. 24 in Brooklyn, questioned the process.
“The union (Unity) leadership has its own reasons for supporting Thompson that have nothing to do with the rank and file. There was no democratic process for that decision,” he said.
Arthur Goldstein, a chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School in Queens, said initially he backed Thompson but has changed his mind.
“I supported Thompson until de Blasio surged,” he said. “I think he's the better choice. Thompson sways with the wind.”
But other teachers said their union’s endorsement does matter to them. One, who teaches special education Washington Heights, said it meant Thompson would represent their concerns.
Anna Maley, who teaches at I.S. 181 in the Bronx, also cited Thompson’s experience and family background.
“I want a mayor that supports and respects teachers,” she said. “Since Thompson's mother and daughter were both teachers I feel that he has seen, first-hand, the tremendous work we put into this profession and will stand by us through this new teacher rating and will give us a fair contract that we are entitled to.”
Maley also summed up why few if any teachers have come out in support of Christine Quinn.
“Christine Quinn is just another Bloomberg and we all know that Bloomberg has targeted teachers,” she said.
Quinn was booed, in fact, when she appeared at a candidate’s forum in the spring sponsored by the union. Many teachers were upset that she didn’t strongly object to Bloomberg’s focus on test scores and to the closing of low-performing schools. She is also the only Democrat who said she would be willing to appoint a chancellor who is not an educator, because she wouldn't want to rule out someone with other solid credentials.
But long-time teachers also know they can’t count on any candidate’s campaign promises, especially now when the city faces contract negotiations with all of its major unions.
Martin Haber, a chapter leader at John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, said he preferred de Blasio but, he added: "I do think of [de Blasio] as a politician, though, and fear that he will make a deal to continue to sell out public school teachers."