New York City’s massive teachers’ union announced Wednesday they will back former City Comptroller Bill Thompson for mayor, providing their highly sought-after heft for the candidate they spurned four years ago.
The United Federation of Teachers’ 3,400-member Delegate Assembly voted to endorse Thompson, which would be a significant boost to his campaign but may cause him problems among Orthodox Jews and other communities who predominately send to private schools.
The union represents 200,000 teachers and school workers, including retirees. Thompson chaired the city Board of Education before it was disbanded by current Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“We’re not about picking a mayor,” UFT president Michael Mulgrew told Politicker in a recent profile. “We’re about making a mayor, making the winner. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
The UFT and Bloomberg have clashed bitterly over how to cascade teacher firings, a merit system, and on school closures.
“I don’t know what goes through voters’ minds,” the mayor said earlier this week , “but maybe they understand if the UFT wants it, it ain’t good and you don’t want that person.”
The teachers’ union has proven problematic for efforts to help private school tuition payers get funding equality from the government, according to Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, vice president of Agudath Israel.
“Traditionally,” Rabbi Lefkowitz said before the UFT announced who they were supporting, “the union has been opposed to any benefits that we could get, even if it was obviously constitutional.”
The UFT’s endorsement usually comes along with a promise to protect public schools by eliminating funding for private schools. But it is unclear how it will affect Thompson’s standing in the Orthodox community, with whom he has had a decades-long relationship.
The UFT is regarded as the most powerful of the city’s unions. Other major unions have divided their support among Democratic candidates. Thompson came considerably closer than expected to beating Bloomberg in 2009, when the UFT didn’t endorse anyone.
The New York Post reported Tuesday that either Thompson or Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was expected to win the endorsement. Both stayed away from a mayoral forum earlier this week that focused on charter schools.