The city’s powerful teachers union announced Wednesday that it endorsed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s bid for re-election, and vowed to battle with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos if she threatens New York City’s public schools.
The endorsement comes as little surprise, since the United Federation of Teachers has been a reliable ally of de Blasio’s throughout his tenure and supports many aspects of the mayor’s education agenda.
Though UFT President Michael Mulgrew has more recently broken with City Hall on some minor policy issues, Wednesday’s announcement signals the powerful union will stand by the mayor — and broadly, his education platform — through his re-election battle this fall.
After Tuesday’s contentious Senate confirmation of DeVos, who has no personal experience with public schools and supports private school vouchers, both Mulgrew and de Blasio said they wanted to stand together in support of public education.
“Considering what happened yesterday, it became so simple for us that we know we’re going into another war,” Mulgrew said. “We know we’re going into this and it’s an amazing thing to us that we’re going into it with a mayor standing on our side.”
For his part, de Blasio agreed. While accepting the endorsement, de Blasio also pledged to fight the shifting winds in Washington.
“It’s not the first surreal thing that we’ve seen in the last few months, but it’s a really troubling one if your heart is with children,” de Blasio said of DeVos’s confirmation. “This is a tough week for anyone who cares about public education.”
After years of rancor between the UFT and former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Mulgrew and de Blasio have enjoyed a mostly friendly relationship. In 2014, Mulgrew secured a long-term contract that raised teacher salaries and, facilitated by state policy shifts, recently agreed to a revamped teacher evaluation system that will allow for new ways to judge teacher progress, such as evaluating portfolios of student work.
The union leader is also supportive of the city’s “community schools” model, which provides additional resources to struggling schools. Mulgrew described his strategy at an event last October. While it is good to have a “foe” at City Hall, he said, it’s better to have someone who can help enact changes important to union members.
Recently, Mulgrew displayed a slight shift in his tone. He openly disagreed with the mayor’s decision to ban suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade and in an interview with Chalkbeat said it is time to create some “positive friction” with the city.
On Wednesday, Mulgrew acknowledged that he has had “positive friction” with the mayor, but mainly focused on the mayor’s education accomplishments.
“It was a breath of fresh air to have a mayor who really was dedicated to the public schools, but that wasn’t enough for us to do this endorsement,” Mulgrew said. “We’ve had a real partner. Someone who really understands education.”
That’s a far cry from how Mulgrew has described Mayor Michael Bloomberg. During Bloomberg’s tenure, the union held rallies at City Hall and fought about virtually every aspect of the mayor’s education agenda, including the teachers union contract and Bloomberg’s push to close struggling schools and open more charter schools.
Bloomberg once called the union’s endorsement the “kiss of death.” Mulgrew fought back, saying, “Right now most candidates would rather be the victim of a zombie attack than get a Michael Bloomberg endorsement.”
Advocacy groups that typically oppose the unions and de Blasio quickly expressed displeasure with the endorsement and characterized it as a political deal.
“It’s no surprise that the teachers union would pay back Mayor de Blasio’s steady stream of sweetheart deals with a political endorsement, but the sad reality is that no one in this equation is looking out for underserved students,” said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis.
The teachers union did not support de Blasio in the 2013 Democratic primary, though it did support him in the general election. This election cycle, de Blasio has already received early endorsements from other unions. Randi Weingarten, former head of the UFT and current head of the American Federation of Teachers, recently hosted a fundraiser in Washington for his re-election campaign.