After hearing candidates pitch ideas to teachers at union-run forums across the city over the past few weeks, members apparently heard enough. They voted to scratch plans to open up Wednesday’s union-wide Delegate Assembly meeting to comments. The meeting instead adjourned after UFT political director Paul Egan explained what laid ahead in the final stretch as the union prepared to make an endorsement.
The workload includes a lot more vetting, with viability as a crucial quality, Egan explained, according to several people who attended last night’s meeting at 52 Broadway. Over the next four weeks, Egan said his team of political consultants, which includes the firm Red Horse Strategies, will analyze fundraising and expenditures, who’s advising and consulting for the candidates, and lots of poll data.
There’s one more task, too. The union said it plans to meet with and interview Anthony Weiner, who formally announced his candidacy on Wednesday.
As usual, the Delegate Assembly meeting was closed to the press. But afterward, many delegates were eager to talk about their opportunity to play a role in the outcome of a monumental election.
“This mayoral race campaign is really important to me,” said Lucy Pagoada, teacher at the High School for Construction Trades, Engineering and Architecture in Queens. Pagoada said the Bloomberg administration had been “disastrous” for schools and she was “doing everything that I can to raise a lot of the consciousness at the teacher level in my school, talking to my neighbors, making sure I talk to my family, my friends, everyone who can vote.”
UFT representatives summarized the mayoral forums that took place in each of the boroughs, including who won straw polls taken of teachers before and after each event. John Liu won Queens, Bill Thompson won Brooklyn, and they split the Bronx, according to one delegate who was in the meeting. Several delegates said Thompson performed especially well in Staten Island, too.
Teachers said tehy felt that energized by the union’s ability to play an important role in the race, which it has not played in several election cycles.
“The union has a lot of power and we need to exercise that as a body,” said Pagoada. “As teachers, we have a lot of influence over students, over parents, over communities. And so if we are out there, like we are now, in this campaign, we’re definitely going to have a big impact.”
Delegates said dissatisfaction with Bloomberg helped fuel their motivation to have an impact.
“It feels at least like there’s a little bit of a turn in democracy right now,” said Michael Schirtzer, an active member of the Movement of Rank and File Educators, a minority caucus within the union. “We all have an opportunity to decide who the union’s going to endorse.”
Not everyone shared Schirtzer’s optimism, however. Norm Scott, a retired teacher and outspoken critic of the UFT’s leadership, chimed in with a prediction for who the UFT would ultimately endorse. He said the process laid out by Egan was mainly theater.
“It’s going to be Thompson,” said Scott, referring to the former Board of Education president who appears to be a frontrunner after former UFT Preisident Randi Wengarten signed on to fundraise for his campaign. She will host a fundraiser just a week before the UFT is set to make its endorsement.
Schwirtzer, who ran against the UFT’s leadership as MORE’s vice presidential candidate this spring, dismissed Scott.
“I truly believe what Paul [Egan] and the UFT says, that they haven’t chosen anybody yet,” he said.