The city teachers union formally endorsed Democratic mayoral nominee Bill de Blasio this afternoon, putting a finishing touch on a delicate post-primary process that included a secret meeting at the the union’s headquarters over the weekend.
The endorsement comes two days after de Blasio’s closest rival and the union’s original pick, Bill Thompson, conceded in the Democratic primary. Made with little of the fanfare that accompanied the union’s decision to back Thompson in June, the endorsement also shifts the focus of the mayoral race fully onto the race between de Blasio and Republican nominee Joe Lhota.
De Blasio spoke to teachers who make up the union’s Delegate Assembly at UFT headquarters shortly after they voted on a resolution to give him their endorsement. He then appeared with President Michael Mulgrew and about a dozen supporters at a staid press conference in a building next door.
De Blasio credited Mulgrew for brokering the concession agreement with Thompson, which took place at UFT headquarters on Saturday night. Mulgrew said the conversation between the primary rivals was not contentious.
“In the end, the decision was made that what was in the best interest of the city was to unite the Democratic party to make sure that a Democrat becomes the mayor of New York City and not the Republican nominee,” Mulgrew said.
“On Monday, you saw a result of that conversation,” he added.
De Blasio aggressively sought the union’s endorsement earlier this year but was passed up in favor of Thompson, who was seen as having a clearer path to victory.
In the lead-up to the primary election, the union focused most of its campaigning efforts on supporting Thompson, spending $2.6 million on communications and advertising for his candidacy.
But occasionally, tension with de Blasio surfaced as he shot to the top of polls in August. First, Mulgrew mocked de Blasio’s unsuccessful pursuit of the union’s endorsement after de Blasio made comments about being unencumbered by union interests when it comes time to negotiate new labor contracts. De Blasio compared himself to Mayor Bloomberg to characterize his independence to bargain with the teachers union.
Mulgrew, in response, said, “I am surprised he would have found our endorsement such a potential threat to his independence, particularly since he was on my calendar so many times earlier this year, many of our staff members thought he had an office in our building.”
Mulgrew also joined Thompson’s supporters in criticizing de Blasio’s plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, a proposal that would require approval from the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Today, Mulgrew signaled that he remained skeptical of de Blasio’s plan to raise taxes, even as he said he appreciates de Blasio’s promises.
“It’s getting it done is really what the vision and the goal here is,” Mulgrew said of de Blasio’s proposal. “We’ve been hearing about all day pre-K for 40 years and no one’s figured it out and he is saying he is completely committed to getting it done.”
A lot of attention was placed on the union’s failed endorsement, with suggestions that it would hurt its relationship with whoever occupied City Hall next. But de Blasio suggested that it would be water under the bridge moving forward.
And Mulgrew said that even though the union did pick the winning candidate in the primary, it had influenced the election results and would do so in the general election as well.
“The members know that where we endorsed Mr. Thompson and where he ended up was … very positive,” he said. “He moved up quite a bit and I was very proud of the work our union has done.”
De Blasio said that as a parent whose two children attended public schools (his now-famous son Dante attended M.S. 51 in Park Slope and now goes to Brooklyn Technical High School) the support from teachers meant more than a political notch in his belt.
“Chirlane and I have just the deepest appreciation for the dozens and dozens of teachers who took Chiara and Dante by the hand over the last 14 years and supported them, uplifted them, were there for them in so many ways,” de Blasio said. “We have had an extraordinary experience just as parents seeing just how good the teachers of this city are in every sense.””I think this support today strengthens our political coalition that will allow us to make the changes we need.”