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Hard work pays off in national, state elections
by Michael Hirsch | November 22, 2012 New York Teacher issue
Election Day was sweet for UFT members who had worked so hard in the weeks leading up to Nov. 6 to get out the vote for President Barack Obama in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, in a critical Senate race in Connecticut, as well as in key state races.
“We were instrumental in electing lawmakers who will support public education and labor,” said Paul Egan, the UFT’s director of legislation and political action. “We couldn’t have done it without the many hundreds of members who turned out for phone banks and door-knocking. In many of the races, it was the work of our members that provided the margin of victory.”
Egan estimated that hundreds of thousands of calls were made by UFT volunteers from the union’s five borough offices. Running mobile phone banks for the first time, hundreds of UFT retirees made scores of calls into the battleground states of North Carolina, Florida and Nevada.
In the presidential race, President Barack Obama garnered 63 percent of the vote statewide, handily winning the state’s Electoral College votes. The retiree phone banks contributed to the president’s narrow victory in Florida.
With the strong backing of the UFT and its state affiliate New York State United Teachers, Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney beat Republican Nan Hayward in the Hudson Valley’s 18th Congressional District. The winner was quick to call Egan to thank the UFT for its support.
The UFT worked hand in hand with NYSUT in crafting and executing its electoral strategy across the state.
In the most important state race for the UFT in the city, incumbent state Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. was re-elected to a third term from his 15th Senate District in Queens. Addabbo beat Republican City Councilman Eric Ulrich by 57 percent to 43 percent in what looked to be a highly competitive contest. In that race alone, Egan said, some 175 UFT members on three consecutive weekends went door to door for the state senator.
Addabbo credited his resounding victory to his team of on-the-ground volunteers. “It’s not about the money,” he said at his victory celebration. “It’s not about the billboards, it’s not about the commercials, it’s not about the mailers. It’s about heart. And there’s a lot of heart in this room.”
All in all, it was a great day for NYSUT-endorsed candidates across the state. Should preliminary results hold, the Democratic Party may regain control of the state Senate. As the New York Teacher went to press, the Democrats had 31 seats in the Senate, compared with 30 for the Republicans, but one race remained too close to call and depended on absentee ballots. The shift would give Democrats control of both legislative chambers in addition to the governor’s office.
Among the state races where the UFT and NYSUT played a big role, Assemblyman George Latimer beat his GOP opponent to succeed the retiring Suzi Oppenheimer, the former State Education Committee chair, in Senate District 37 in Westchester.
Two upstate candidates for state Senate backed by the UFT and NYSUT scored upset victories against great odds. In Rochester, Democratic County Legislator Ted O’Brien defeated a Republican assemblyman for an open seat previously held by a Republican. In the Hudson Valley, Democrat Terry Gipson maintained a lead over longtime Republican incumbent Steve Saland, with paper ballots yet to be fully counted. In the last legislative session, Saland came to New York City to stand with Mayor Bloomberg and announce legislation that he was sponsoring to take away due-process rights from New York City teachers.
In the two state races where the NYSUT-backed candidates lost, the margins were extremely close. Democrat Justin Wagner lost by 2 percentage points to his GOP opponent in Senate District 40, which covers Mount Kisco, Newcastle, Peekskill and Brewster. Chris Eachus, an Orange County legislator and 30-year-schoolteacher who was a first-time candidate, lost in another close race to a longtime Republican incumbent for the newly drawn Senate District 39.
“We expect these excellent candidates will be back in two years campaigning again for schools, union rights and working families,” Egan said.
Recognizing that the state candidates that they favored were going to be outspent by a huge margin by the Republicans, NYSUT and the UFT used the same tactics that were being used by opponents and set up independent expenditures, separate from the candidates’ campaigns, to level the playing field. These independent expenditures were critical in the success of O’Brien, Gipson, Latimer and others.
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