We can debate the efficacy of UFT political office endorsements especially in light of recent experience but little is widely known about the process of these endorsements. There is little doubt that both candidates and our Union take the endorsement process seriously yet our membership does not have a clue about how and why these endorsements are made.
The process begins with boro reps and “selected” others interviewing candidates who express an interest in a UFT endorsement and generally have completed a questionnaire. This group then forwards, through our political liaison, recommendations for endorsement to the Executive Board and then on to the Delegate Assembly where the endorsement recommendation is usually followed.
The current election cycle demonstrated just how secretive the process is and how defensive the leadership became when the process was challenged. There are currently several candidates in the Democratic primary for the office of Public Advocate. Since the incumbent, Betsy Gotbaum, was such a favorite of our leadership there really was no need to go through the process. When questioned about the process at the Executive Board the leadership became very defensive first suggesting that other candidates had not expressed their desire to address the Executive Board as had been done in the previous election and that it was long standing UFT policy to endorse incumbents unless they turned on us. (In other words don’t pick the best candidate; maintain the status quo).
While the candidates eventually did address the Executive Board the fervor that enveloped demonstrated just how flawed our candidate selection process is. (How did Pataki get endorsed, but I digress).
There are published guidelines (AFSCME and Fire Fighters) and even NYSUT has issued criteria to be utilized but our Union leadership would rather keep this process in the dark corners of 52 Broadway.
The gravamen of NYSUT endorsement policy, at least as laid out by Mark Vona of the Eden Teachers Association in a column in the New York Teacher seems to rest on not whether the candidate is good for the office but whether that person represents our Union’s interests. I guess this justifies a Pataki endorsement or a couple of arch-conservative New York City Council candidates who support gun licenses for our students.
As with much that we are fighting the endorsement process and COPE in general needs to be more democratic. Other unions have not had a problem involving the membership in this process. We need to open those windows in 52 Broadway.
Thanks to New York State and New York City law the contributions by our Union are disclosed. Two weeks ago we gave $200,000 to a new entity the UFT Victory Account and you can track their state contributions at this site. Previous years were filed under UFT COPE and are located here. City contributions can be found here. There are some interesting disclosures.