The results from yesterday’s primary election are in, and although it is not yet clear whether Freddy Ferrer will make the 40% cutoff which would give him the Democratic nomination for Mayor outright, Scott Stringer has handily beaten Eva Moskowitz for Manhattan Borough President by a margin of nine percentage points. Given that term limits had created an extraordinarily crowded field of nine candidates, a situation which worked to Moskowitz’s advantage with her narrow political base in the wealthiest part of Manhattan, the verdict of the electorate was rather decisive. There can be little question that she would have lost a two person race by a much wider margin. Since Moskowitz made no secret of her intentions to use the Manhattan Borough Presidency as a springboard for a run on the Mayor’s position, this is a significant result.
The UFT and organized labor in NYC supported Stringer, who has an impressive education, labor, civil rights and government reform record as a State Assemblyperson. And it is no secret, of course, that teachers in New York City were very angry with Moskowitz, after she decided that the way to advance her political fortunes was to engage in demagogic attacks on public school teachers. One would think that Al D’Amato’s defeat by Chuck Schumer would have been an object lesson in the fact that New York voters do not reward politicians who think that there is pay dirt in launching broadsides against teachers and unions, but it appears that some in their ranks are slow learners.
Eduwonk has taken on the task of being Moskowitz’s apologist on the Internet, so you can read all of her ex post facto justifications for her poor showing there. [It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it, and Eduwonk seems constitutionally unable these days to exercise even minimal balance and perspective on matters involving teacher unions, so it seems like he is the man for the position.] We have seen some pretty lame excuses by defeated politicians in our time, but these have to go in the first rank. She is suggesting that the well-established New York practice of fusion parties cross-endorsing and supporting the major party candidate closest to their political views, which dates back to the 1930s, is somehow a violation of city campaign finance laws. The board overseeing these matters has responded that it is clearly permissible. As long as the fusion party’s campaign is not coordinated with the candidate’s primary election campaign, which clearly did not happen in this case, there is no violation of the law, a board spokesperson told the New York Times. These accusations were a sign of Moskowitz’s increasing desperation in the final weeks of a losing campaign, part of a pattern that included calling the Department of Education to complain that teachers were campaigning against her. She seems to have some issues with the First Amendment, as well as New York state election law.
Eduwonk’s case for Moskowitz “doing the right thing” on educational issues should win an award for creative writing in the fiction category in one of those blog competitions. The notion that the UFT would oppose Moskowitz, or any other elected official for that matter, on the basis of support for charter schools can not pass the laugh test. Not only is the UFT sponsoring two charter schools of its own, but it endorsed Governor George Pataki’s bid for re-election after he had singlehandedly pushed the legislation establishing charter schools through the state legislature and signed it into law. And there is a long list of other elected officials we have actively supported, including Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who have been much more vigorous and intelligent advocates of charter schools than Moskowitz.
Eduwonk is quite forthright about the fact that Moskowitz did her best to sabotage efforts to reach agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement in New York City, even though teachers have now gone for two years without a raise. It would have been a “sell out,” he tells us in “edu-translation,” for Bloomberg to engage in a negotiating process which would result in a contract. Perhaps in a Milton Friedmanite world where collective bargaining and unions do not exist, but not in New York State where public employee law requires ‘good faith’ bargaining on the part of the city. And certainly not in a context where the union had made a whole series of path-breaking reform proposals, from a school-based contract for new small schools to salary differentials for working in low-performing, high needs schools to expedited disciplinary procedures.
In the very same paragraph which begins with his account of how Moskowitz set out to sabotage a contract settlement, Eduwonk concludes with the claim that the possibility of a contract settlement based on the fact-finders report which was made public today in the news media could not have happened “without [her] public clarion call.” There is an “edu-reasoning” here, a triumph of the ability to combine completely contradictory statements, that our prosaic powers of comprehension do not grasp. If Eduwonk were not so caught up in the twists and turns and the contradictions of the Moskowitz apology, he might grasp the obvious from his own comments: the UFT opposed Moskowitz because of her attacks on NYC teachers — her efforts to sabotage a contract settlement is simply one among many exhibits in a rather substantial record in that regard. That is one of the reasons why teachers have a union.
The argument made above, Eduwonk responds, is one that equates any criticism of the contract with “teacher bashing.” Given this posture, he says, “little can be done.” This is a mischaracterization of the argument, and a misrepresentation of the stance of the UFT. Far from objecting to any criticisms of the contract, we have criticisms of our own. Contracts are a product of compromises between labor and management, not all of which embody the best interests of teachers or of students, and it is a historical document, which must be updated to respond to new circumstances. That is why, in negotiations, we put forward proposals for changes. We maintain positive working relationships with and even support many elected officials and organizations who disagree with us about parts of the contract, or how it should be changed, because those relationships are based on mutual respect and on support for the principle of democratic voice and collective bargaining for teachers.
But there is a fundamental difference, which Eduwonk would ignore, between criticisms of particular contractual clauses and suggestions for change in different facets of the contract, on the one hand, and wholesale attacks on the very idea and the fundamental principles of democratic voice and collective bargaining for teachers, on the other hand. It is such wholesale attacks which are the trademark of Moskowitz and Klein. To cite just one example: it is one thing to talk about reforming due process procedures, making them less bureaucratic, more expeditious and more effective, and quite another thing to talk about eliminating due process altogether.
And we have seen differences just that stark in New York City, with Moskowitz and Klein as partisans of the evisceration of democratic voice and collective bargaining for teachers. Randi Weingarten and the UFT proposed what is considered an extraordinarily progressive step in the rest of the nation, the development of school based contracts for schools with strong collaborative relationships between principals and their staffs, allowing them to negotiate their own school pacts for most areas covered by the contract. Klein responded, with Moskowitz’s full support, with an 8 page proposal to eliminate for all schools virtually every part of the contract, from limits on class size to requirements for the health and safety of the physical school environment to procedures for dealing with student misconduct. They would leave only two clauses of the collective bargaining agreement, non-discrimination by the employer and the use of seniority in layoff situations. How could it be any clearer that their target is the very existence of democratic voice and collective bargaining for teachers?
Contrary to what Eduwonk would like to conclude, there is much that could be done in New York City, if only there was the will on the part of the Kleins and Moskowitzes to do it. Given Randi’s and the UFT’s longstanding proposals for how to turn around low-performing, high poverty schools, including proposals for attracting experienced, accomplished teachers to those schools [all of which is laid out in detail here], a program which could become a model for the entire nation could be negotiated in New York City tomorrow. But some would rather use the issue as a bludgeon in a campaign to end all teacher voice in their school assignment then work with the UFT to address the actual problem.
Perhaps Eduwonk should start considering whether a defense of what Klein and Moskowitz have done makes him part of the problem, as opposed to part of the solution.