President's perspective

Mayor’s ‘NRA’ comparison shameful

Michael Mulgrew - 155 x 230

As this issue of New York Teacher goes to press on Jan. 14, the UFT and the city are in the midst of intense negotiations over a new teacher evaluation system. After a period during which no talks took place, the Department of Education returned to the table in the wake of our advertising campaign calling on the mayor to put politics aside and strike a deal by the governor’s Jan. 17 deadline.

If an agreement is reached and it is approved by the Delegate Assembly that was rescheduled for that day, we will need to work very quickly to stop the spread of misinformation about the new system. Communication and collaboration among colleagues will be essential.

If an agreement cannot be reached, the mayor will inevitably try to blame us for the impasse. Our work will then center on getting out into our communities to make sure that parents and others know that we are, as always, fighting to make the school system better for the kids we serve.

Mayor Bloomberg needs a thicker skin. He was so angered by our recent television ad calling into question his “educational legacy” — and calling him out for refusing to negotiate fairly with us over a new teacher evaluation system — that he nearly lost it on his weekly radio show on Jan. 4, the day the ad started to air. That’s when he made his now-infamous and absolutely absurd comparison between the UFT and the National Rifle Association.

I would say that I was shocked by his comments, but after 11 years of his administration and all the unkind things he has said about teachers and the UFT during them, I’ve come to expect this level of anger from the mayor when he doesn’t get his way. And we routinely stand in his way.

We’re one of the few organizations in this city that consistently pushes back against him, preventing him from running roughshod over our students and our schools, and it infuriates him. He hates to be challenged. The mayor can dish it out, but he can’t take it. With an attitude like that, he wouldn’t last a minute in a New York City classroom.

I wear the mayor’s attacks as a badge of honor. But the comparison to the NRA — just weeks after a national school-shooting tragedy — marked a new low for the mayor.

The remark would have been insulting under normal circumstances. New York City’s tens of thousands of hardworking teachers who have dedicated their lives to helping children share nothing in common with the NRA. But in the wake of the Dec. 14 fatal shooting of 20 small children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., that remark was reprehensible — and the mayor should be ashamed of himself for making it.

The UFT and New York City’s teachers have always been there for our students and our city. Before he levels his next attack on us, the mayor should remember that it was UFT members who answered the city’s call for volunteers as Hurricane Sandy approached, flocking to hurricane shelters to help evacuees; that it was the UFT that launched a massive relief effort in the days following the storm, sending thousands of volunteers to the city’s hardest-hit neighborhoods; and that it was the UFT and the Teachers’ Retirement System that made

$1 billion available for investment in the city’s recovery from the storm.

Year after year, our union has been at the forefront of the fight for better schools and a brighter future for our children. We are the initiators of the effort to create community learning centers in New York that will offer our students and their families a full array of wraparound social services. We are a leader in the fight against bullying in our schools. And we are, as always, the most consistent and powerful voice for greater funding for our public schools.

We never expected this mayor to thank us for all that we have done and do for our city and our schoolchildren, and this union is used to his abuse and attacks. But comparing us to the NRA because he was upset about a television ad?

The mayor owes New York City’s teachers an apology for his remarks. We aren’t the only ones who think so. More than 120 elected officials, education advocates, members of the clergy and community and labor leaders have signed a letter to him demanding that he apologize. But don’t hold your breath.

The mayor is great at putting his foot in his mouth, but not as good at pulling it out.

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