May 22, 2013
Randi Weingarten is ramping up her support for Bill Thompson’s mayoral bid, just days before her successor at the United Federation of Teachers is due to make an endorsement of his own.
Weingarten, UFT president from 1998 to 2009 before moving on to head the union’s national organization, is helping to host a Thompson fundraiser at Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s home on June 12, according to an invitation that’s being circulated to drum up support from women voters. Tisch is Thompson’s campaign chair.
Weingarten worked closely with Thompson when he was president of the city’s Board of Education, from 1996 to 2001, and counts him as a personal friend. She has previously donated to his campaign, as have other education heavyweights who have personal ties to the candidate.
Weingarten is in South America visiting schools as part of her work with the American Federation of Teachers and did not respond to requests for comment. But a spokesman said, “She has great confidence in his character and abilities.”
The spokesman, Michael Powell, said Weingarten’s personal support should not be interpreted as a harbinger of the UFT’s endorsement. The UFT is scheduled to endorse a candidate one week after the women’s fundraiser, on June 19, when delegates will meet to cast their votes.
The union has gathered input from members by polling attendees of closed-door forums in each borough. Teachers are also meeting this afternoon at UFT headquarters to make their cases for the different candidates.
“The endorsement of the UFT is up to the members and that’s the way it should be,” Powell said. “That’s democracy.”
Asked if Weingarten’s support for Thompson would influence the union’s endorsement, President Michael Mulgrew said it would not. “The Delegate Assembly chooses who we endorse,” he said. Mulgrew gets to cast a vote of his own before the delegates vote.
The UFT already had one shot to endorse Thompson and passed, instead sitting out the 2009 election, which Bloomberg won. The decision not to make an endorsement came shortly after Weingarten left the UFT presidency.
Critics of the union who have complained that the Democratic candidates have focused too narrowly on issues important to the UFT, in part to win its endorsement, said they thought Weingarten’s role in the fundraiser was significant.
“All signs seems to be pointing to the fact that the union will be endorsing Thompson,” said Glen Weiner, acting executive director of StudentsFirstNY.
But one source with ties to labor in New York City, speaking anonymously, speculated that Weingarten’s public support could actually backfire, “since New York City labor leaders like to call the shots in their own backyards.”