Thompson on Union Backing: I Still Care About Yeshivos

NEW YORK -

Seeking to reassure yeshivah parents concerned about his endorsement by the teachers’ union the day before, Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign said Thursday that it will not detract from his support for yeshivos or private schools.

“New York City is a diverse place and no one understands that better than Bill Thompson,” Dani Lever, a campaign spokeswoman, told Hamodia. “He will always be sensitive to the needs of every community.”

The United Federation of Teachers, the largest and most politically powerful union in the Big Apple, represents 200,000 teachers and school workers, including retirees. That gives their preferred candidate a commanding edge over the others in terms of fundraising and boots on the ground, both of which are crucial in the expected close primary on Sept. 10.

But communities that send to private and parochial schools have come to view the union as a foe for their opposition to funding public schools. The union has said that any money that goes for private schools is a diverting resources from public schools.

Prior to the UFT announcing whom they would endorse, Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, a vice president of Agudath Israel, expressed concern that their backing may come along with a promise to block funding for yeshivos.

But on Thursday, Rabbi Lefkowitz agreed that Thompson has been a friend of private school tuition payers.

“I would definitely say that we trust Bill Thompson and he has a very good track record with the community,” he said.

Orthodox groups have tussled with Mayor Michael Bloomberg over the special needs of yeshivos, such as later transportation times and security grants. His administration has also opposed allowing parents of children in special education programs to select a school setting appropriate for their upbringing.

Rabbi Lefkowitz said he was not concerned that a Mayor Thompson would continue those fights.

In addition to Thompson, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio also actively sought the coveted backing. Another candidate, Sal Albanese, a former city councilman, posted after the endorsement was announced, “Here’s one UFT member who will NOT be voting for Bill Thompson.”

Thompson has said in the past that even if he disagrees with any specific community they will all have an open door with his administration.

The UFT support comes in the context of a recent stream of endorsements, including the principals’ union on Tuesday, and an expected Teamsters’ union Friday. The campaign says that is indicative that Thompson is viewed as “the adult in the room.”

Teachers, like most of the city’s public sector workers, have mostly been operating for the past few years without a contract, in the hope that the next mayor will be more forthcoming in terms of raises and how to fire teachers.

For example, the citywide strike by bus drivers and matrons in January was settled after the union met with the leading candidates for mayor, rather than with administration officials.

However, noting that Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the city’s Board of Regents, has also endorsed him, Thompson’s campaign said that there was no quid pro quo for the UFT backing.

“All the candidates pursued the UFT endorsement,” Rabbi Lefkowitz said. “So I’m not terribly concerned.”