The union representing the city’s public school teachers and other school staff is backing Scott Stringer as the Democratic nominee for mayor. The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) announced its endorsement on Monday after a brief virtual town hall with the union’s executive board and members of the delegate assembly.
The endorsement for Stringer, who as a former borough president, state lawmaker, and current comptroller has had a long history with the organization, was widely expected. But it still offers his campaign momentum at a critical time, as he continues to trail Andrew Yang and Eric Adams in the latest public polls.
In announcing the union’s endorsement, UFT president Michael Mulgrew said his members needed someone who knows what it takes to get things done.
“Certain people say they are going to do things and they don’t even understand how the government of the city works,” said Mulgrew, taking a swipe at candidates like Yang and Wall Street executive Ray McGuire who are new to city government. “That would be a rude awakening for anyone in office who would learn that there are checks and balances in New York City.”
“I don’t think this is a moment in our city’s history for a mayor with training wheels,” said Stringer, invoking a line from his stump speech, as he joined Mulgrew and other UFT members for the announcement at their headquarters in lower Manhattan. “I think we need someone to come in with actionable plans,” he said, to address issues such as housing, education, and health inequities exacerbated by the pandemic.
He said the city cannot reopen back to what it was, given ongoing inequality, and the next mayor must know how to wisely spend an influx of federal stimulus funds that could help address the city’s most pressing issues.
“I’m going to use every skill I have, the planning that we’ve done and also the experience, to bring this city back for everybody,” he said.
Even though this June marks the first citywide primary with ranked-choice voting, Mulgrew said the union opted to endorse just one candidate because they felt it was in the best interest of their membership and the schools system as a whole.
Last week, Stringer won the top spot in a ranked-choice endorsement from the Working Families party, a coalition of labor and community-based organizations, which party officials described as a stamp of approval from some of the city’s leading progressive organizations. He already has support from some of the city’s most progressive state and city elected officials.
The WFP also opted to also endorse Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive and former public school teacher, as their second choice and Maya Wiley, a civil rights attorney and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s former counsel as their third. Their decision to rank its endorsement was a reflection in part of the division among progressives within the organization. Similarly, the UFT leadership has faced criticism among its more left-leaning members over how the mayoral candidate finalists were selected and how the endorsement decision was ultimately made.
UFT officials defended the process, pointing to a four-month long vetting process, where 12 of the 40 declared candidates for mayor were selected for more in-depth consideration. The union conducted five town halls with the dozen candidates.
In the last town hall in early April, the union held a rare in-person forum with its final four candidates: Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, Maya Wiley and Andrew Yang. The only candidate who had worked as a public school teacher, Dianne Morales, was not invited, despite strong support among some members and a left-leaning caucus within the union.
“Overall, I think the union should have kept Morales under consideration,” said Liat Olenick, an elementary school teacher and member of the More Caucus, an activist wing within the union’s membership, citing the high number of donations from teachers to the Morales campaign.
While praising Stringer as a candidate, Olenick said all union members should be able to vote on citywide endorsements rather than only members of the delegate assembly. “Their endorsement would be stronger and more meaningful with a full democratic process,” she said.
Mulgrew said the union has always elected representatives to make these decisions on behalf of the full membership, giving them a chance to really “dig into the issues.”
He also defended the union’s track record despite unsuccessful endorsements in the past. In 2013, they picked Bill Thompson over Bill de Blasio. He said the union tries to determine which candidate would act in the best interest of the union and the city, “and then run a campaign as tough and as rough as it needs to be and try to get that candidate inside of City Hall.”
Asked later if the UFT was prepared to back whomever the winner was of the Democratic primary, Mulgrew doubled down: “Mr. Stringer will win the nomination.”