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After Thompson concedes nomination, UFT to back de Blasio

The next phase of the education election kicked off today as the UFT’s pick for mayor conceded the Democratic nomination on the steps of City Hall.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who was among Bill Thompson’s supporters at the event this morning, threw his support behind Bill de Blasio, who finished last week’s primary with a commanding lead. He said he would ask the union’s leadership to endorse de Blasio this week.

Thompson’s loss was a significant blow for the UFT, which had declined to endorse mayoral candidates in the two previous mayoral elections and has not picked a winner since 1989. This year, the union decided to back Thompson, who ran unsuccessfully against Mayor Bloomberg in 2009, after determining in June that the former school board president and city comptroller had the best chance of winning in November.“He is the next mayor of New York City,” Mulgrew declared at the time.

But de Blasio’s come-from-behind campaign netted him just over 40 percent of the vote last week, pushing him over the threshold to avoid a runoff. Thompson unofficially has 26.2 percent of votes with 99 percent of precincts reporting, and until today he had adamantly sworn that he would not withdraw from the race unless a final tally put de Blasio at over 40 percent. The union maintained its support, even as Thompson faced pressure from from allies and Democratic heavyweights to withdraw.

Today, Thompson said it remains “a disgrace” that the final vote count is not complete nearly a week after the election. “Anyone in this city who cares about democracy and the ability of our people to express their will to the voting booth ought to be outraged,” he said.

The Board of Elections will continue to count votes, but Thompson said he had determined it would be impossible to campaign or to “offer a meaningful choice to Democratic voters” with the results of the election in limbo. Instead, he asked his supporters to get behind de Blasio to install a political progressive inside City Hall. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was on hand for the show of Democratic Party unity.

Mulgrew said that while there was a lot of anger about the incomplete vote count, he had had “very nice conversations with all the parties involved” and agreed to move forward in supporting de Blasio. The union has called an emergency meeting of its delegates assembly for Wednesday, where Mulgrew will ask delegates who three months ago voted to back Thompson to reassign their allegiance.

“Both of these men understood very clearly that our school system is in really tough shape right now and that there’s a lot of work to do.” Mulgrew said today.

The union spent $2.6 million dollars to support Thompson since endorsing him and is likely to spend considerably on de Blasio, too. Union members can also be counted on to play a role in de Blasio’s ground game, by distributing materials and making phone calls on his behalf.

Now that the union is supporting de Blasio after passing him over for its primary endorsement, the two will have to make nice and put the past behind them. After de Blasio lost out on the UFT’s endorsement, he declared himself “unburdened by the support” of municipal labor unions and would be tougher on labor unions when it came to negotiating new contracts. Today, he extended an olive branch to UFT members and to Mulgrew.

“I noticed the presence of some real heroes, the people who teach our children every day,” he said. “I want to thank the teachers and I want to thank Michael Mulgrew for being here.”

Mulgrew returned the favor by adopting de Blasio’s campaign language.

“We have to stop having a tale of two cities,” the union chief said. “I’ve been saying this for two years and I’m glad it’s come to the forefront in this mayor’s race.”

Critics of the UFT have pointed to Thompson’s second-place finish as proof that the union’s power has waned. But Mulgrew today credited the union with helping to make education a leading priority in the mayor’s race, and he noted that 48 out of 54 union-endorsed candidates won their primary races, including Scott Stringer who is the Democratic nominee for comptroller.

“I think you can ask the [likely future] comptroller how he feels about our endorsement,” Mulgrew said.

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