The United Federation of Teachers, which has radiated contempt for New York City’s school kids throughout the pandemic, just endorsed city Comptroller Scott Stringer for mayor. Stringer, all smiles, accepted.
Does it get any more cynical than that? Any more transactional? Any more shameful?
For more than a year now, the UFT has done everything in its power to keep its 200,000 members as far away as possible from Gotham’s 1.1 million public-school children. As recently as last week, thumbing its nose at new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention social-distancing guidelines, it torpedoed yet another city effort to reopen schools.
To be clear, nobody should expect anything from a competent union beyond hard-knuckled advocacy for its members. Thus, teachers unions view public schools principally as meal tickets and pension pumps.
And it certainly wouldn’t be fair to hang sole blame for the shipwreck that is public education in the Big Apple on the UFT; Mayor Bill de Blasio and his hand-crafted schools team belong in the dock as well.
But that’s for another day. The question here is this: Why would any responsible candidate for mayor seek an endorsement from the UFT in the first place?
The obvious answer — who wouldn’t embrace the union’s vast political-action resources? — turns out on examination to be not so obvious: The union’s last mayoral winner was David Dinkins, in 1989, and its most recent choice in an open primary, former city Comptroller William Thompson, in 2013, fell to de Blasio.
So one would expect Stringer to steer clear on precedent alone. But also out of common decency.
Because when it comes to self-serving cynicism, it’s hard to rival the UFT. Lay aside for the moment the union’s shameful pandemic performance and simply consider its obdurate opposition to productive education innovation — especially New York’s largely successful charter-school experiment — and its cheerful acquiescence in the ongoing racialization of public-school policy in the city.
Not that any of this matters to Stringer. To the contrary, when it comes to retrogressive public-education policy, the comptroller marches at the head of the parade.
Exhibit A, so to speak, is that city watchdog Stringer refuses to bark. He questioned certain de Blasio administration pre-school spending early on but backed off when the union frowned and has had virtually nothing to say about the city’s cratering schools since.
The message to the union? If the man with the city-charter-mandated responsibility for fiscal- and performance-related oversight of the schools has been blind all these years, why expect him to be more demanding should he become mayor?
Beyond that, Stringer has advocated for UFT interests throughout his now-moss-covered career: He opposes charter schools, which the UFT loathes because most of them substantially outperform traditional public schools and have done so for years. Now the best of them have kept chugging along during the pandemic, a further rebuke to both the UFT and to de Blasio’s education department.
But the charter-school battle is complicated. Here’s a Stringer plum for the UFT that’s easier to understand: He wants two teachers in every elementary-school classroom instead of one, a boon for union revenues if ever there was one.
Union boss Mike Mulgrew says: “We want to make sure we have a partner who is going to work with us.” Take orders is more like it, but why quibble over words: Scott is now officially Mike’s man.
Again, whether the union’s backing will help Stringer is an open question; as noted, the UFT’s handicapping skills are unimpressive — and maybe old-fashioned union endorsements don’t mean that much anymore.
New York’s political debate is increasingly radical; social media have fragmented, if not atomized, traditional power bases — and there are no obvious clues to what the city’s new ranked-choice voting system really means.
But this much is clear: Scott Stringer’s ambitions have caused him to accept a poisoned apple. This says a great deal about his values — and what sort of a mayor he might make.
The message is not a happy one.