There are several issues that are core UFT concerns. For example, if a politician supports ending the cap on new charter schools, he/she should not receive a UFT endorsement. That politician is no friend of public education. Our endorsement means money but just as important, it means UFT volunteers work at phone banks to call our members to urge them to vote for a particular candidate. Our support can make the ultimate difference in deciding whether a particular candidate wins or loses an election.
Keeping this in mind, I was completely dismayed last Tuesday when I opened my agenda for the February Delegate Assembly and read that the UFT leadership wanted Delegates to endorse Rory Lancman for City Council. Rory was the Assemblyman for the Jamaica High School area; to say the least he was not very helpful in the battle to save our 121 year old school.
At the DA last week, I think I was very successful in convincing the Delegates to oppose the Lancman endorsement. Here is what I said:
I oppose endorsing Rory Lancman for any political office. Rory may have been good on various UFT issues,but strong opposition to school closings should be a make or break issue for our endorsement and on the phase out of Jamaica High School, Assemblyman Lancman was not our friend.
When Jamaica was first put on the proposed phase out list at the end of 2009, not only was Lancman not friendly to a delegation that came to visit him, that included the Jamaica PTA President some students and me, he was spewing DOE talking points while simultaneously he was also involved in community meetings with DOE officials to help start the replacement schools. When he saw that we had organized the community in January 2010 and pretty much filled up our one thousand seat auditorium against the closure, he temporarily changed his tune and spoke against the closure but then did nothing after to help us.
A year later after we won lawsuit one to stop the closure of Jamaica and many other schools, but Joel Klein deprived us any help and proposed phasing us out again, Assemblyman Lancman was back in our building to endorse not only phasing us out but also a DOE plan to take the best students out of Jamaica High School to put them in the new Jamaica Gateway to Sciences High School. Our top sophomores and juniors were transferred out to the new school with Lancman's full support.
The kids generally hated being separated midway through their high school careers. One young man who won an Albert Shanker UFT Scholarship last June refused to acknowledge that he was from Jamaica Gateway and instead listed his school as Jamaica High School. (Click here to read my full opinion on Jamaica Gateway)
Other local politicians such as Senator Tony Avella and Councilman Mark Weprin signed on to the 2011 UFT second lawsuit to stop Jamaica's closure which I hope the UFT is not abandoning. (President Michael Mulgrew interrupted me to say the UFT was not abandoning the suit to which I replied that this is very good news) Councilman Leroy Comrie and Assemblyman David Weprin have been great friends too (as have the local community boards, civic organizations, churches and others). Meanwhile, Lancman in the spring of 2011 told a delegation of students who went with the NAACP to Albany to lobby for Jamaica that there was nothing he could do.
Opposing school closings should be mandatory for any politician to get a UFT endorsement. Rory Lancman by his actions has shown that he favored the totally unjustified phase out of Jamaica High School. I strongly oppose this endorsement.
When I finished speaking, I received some nice applause from the Delegates. Barbara Silberman, a retiree who was the political action person for Queens UFT, spoke next and pointed out that Lancman was good on UFT issues and in fact introduced a bill to lower class sizes. She then said she was sorry for what happened at Jamaica. That was the end of the discussion.
The vote followed and clearly the Lancman endorsement did not have enough votes to carry. Mulgrew must have been stunned that a recommendation from the leadership was going down to defeat so he called for a second vote.
From where I was sitting it was clear that a number of Unity Delegates, who all sign a pledge to support caucus positions in union and public forums as one of their caucus obligations, were moved by what I said and decided to abstain rather than support Lancman. This was not good enough for Mulgrew. Hence, the call for another vote. This time, knowing that the leadership was watching close, the Unity faithful woke up and supported Lancman. His endorsement carried.
There are two lessons to be learned from this one small episode. First, the UFT leadership talks a good game about opposing school closings but when it's time to put their money where their mouth is, they sometimes come up short. The Lancman endorsement is proof. Do others out there have similar stories with other local politicians on other UFT issues?
Next, I have said this over and over how the regular absence of so many Delegates, some are my closest friends, is what allows the leadership's Unity caucus to control the Delegate Assembly so easily. If all of the non-Unity Delegates and Chapter Leaders would show up on a regular basis, it would make a real difference. I certainly could have used your help last Wednesday.