News stories

Golden is silenced

Public education is big winner as Democrats take control of state Senate

Two women on the phone Jonathan Fickies
Two men standing, one wearing suit

Gounardes (left) won a victory over state Senator Marty Golden thanks in part to UFT volunteers like PS/IS 104 teacher Barry Gibbons (right).

UFT wave felt in Washington

Democratic victories in close congressional races in Brooklyn/Staten Island and the Hudson Valley — districts with large numbers of UFT voters — helped ensure a new Democratic majority in the U.S House of Representatives.

Democrats picked up a total of 39 House seats nationwide, including three in New York State, surpassing the 23 seats needed to win a majority.

With a Democrat on track to chair the House Education Committee, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ privatization efforts will face stringent new oversight.

Two state governors paid a price for targeting teachers unions in the past. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who decimated public-sector unions in his state, lost his re-election to a former teacher, while an early childhood advocate unseated Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, the original plaintiff in the anti-union Janus case.

In Arizona, voters rejected a state proposal that would have dramatically expanded the state’s school voucher program.

Colorado voters defeated a measure that would have increased funding for public schools by $1.6 billion. But voters in four other states — Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and New Jersey — approved ballot measures that boosted school funding.

“When public education was on the ballot, voters overwhelmingly chose to invest in public schools and stand with teachers,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

With UFT volunteers helping power his way to victory, Andrew Gounardes on Nov. 6 defeated Republican incumbent Martin Golden to represent the 22nd New York Senate District in southern Brooklyn, opening the door for Democrats to gain control of the state Senate.

Republicans have controlled the Senate for all but three years since the 1940s and, in recent years, have used their majority to stymie UFT priorities such as severing the tie between test scores and teacher evaluation, oversight of charter schools and fair funding for public education.

“The Democratic majority in the state Senate should result in initiatives important to New York City families and schools, including significant additional state aid,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in an email to members.

He also saw more forceful oversight of charter schools on the horizon. “For years, state Senate Republicans have been dancing to the tune called by big-money charter school donors,” said Mulgrew.
The union had identified Golden’s Senate seat as a key opportunity to end the GOP’s one-seat majority in the chamber — about 6,000 UFT members live in the district, enough to tip the balance on Election Day.

“We energized our members to vote because we carry a lot of weight in the district, especially when our members bring their family and neighbors along with them” said District 20 Representative Ellen Driesen, who helped organize the UFT’s get-out-the-vote effort.

Driesen said many UFT members in the district were incensed by Golden’s refusal to support speed safety cameras near schools while racking up his own record of speeding violations in school zones.
For Gounardes campaign volunteer Tammy Castellanos, who teaches students with disabilities and English language learners at PS 69 in Brooklyn, Golden was an obstacle to necessary state school funding.
“I want funding for the schools, especially working with the population I work with,” Castellanos said. “Teachers need to be hired who have special licensing. Materials and programs need to be purchased. Everything costs money, but you can’t cut corners with children.”

Golden’s loss was the crest of a blue wave in New York State that carried Democrats to their biggest state Senate majority in more than 100 years. Statewide, Democrats unseated five incumbent Republicans and won three open seats. The UFT helped elect John Liu in Queens and, through its support of the Baker Project launched by Eleanor’s Legacy, gave a boost to Monica Martinez and Anna Kaplan in their winning races on Long Island.

Vera Pooh, a teacher at the District 20 Pre-K Center, said volunteering with the UFT to elect Gounardes made her feel “part of something huge.” By participating, she said, “you are essentially making history.”
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Senate Democrats, will now become the Senate majority leader. Stewart-Cousins will be the first African-American woman to lead the Senate and the first woman to head up either chamber of the Legislature.

In another history-making result, Letitia James won the race for state attorney general, becoming the first black woman to hold statewide office. The UFT supported James in both the Democratic primary and the general election.

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