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by Michael Mulgrew | November 22, 2012 New York Teacher issue
As we continue to face the tremendous hardship and difficulties that Hurricane Sandy has caused for so many of us and so many of the communities that we serve, we must remember that it is our support for each other and our school communities and our passion for the work that we do that carries us through these difficult times.
An important part of that work is advocating for policies that improve schools and help children, and as we move forward with the challenges left by the storm, we should not lose sight of all that we were able to accomplish on Election Day and of all the work that we did leading up to it — work that was driven by our passion.
It is that passion for — and dedication to — our work that makes the UFT so special.
We succeeded on Election Day because of the hard work done by so many of you. Staff from our Political Action Department and its director, Paul Egan, deserve special thanks for spearheading our campaign efforts — but they relied on you, the educators and caregivers who make up our union, to carry the day, and you did.
You volunteered your time to phone bank, leaflet, knock on doors and travel to both critical swing states in the presidential election and to other states where pro-labor and pro-education candidates faced difficult congressional races.
From Connecticut to Florida, from Queens to Westchester, you were there, on the phones and in the streets, working for change — and I am proud to say that everywhere we went, we succeeded.
Indeed, due to your work, we helped turn back a right-wing national campaign, elected members to Congress who will help push forward a progressive agenda and a state Senate that promises to be more supportive of the needs of New York’s working- and middle-class families.
You worked tirelessly in the presidential election to see that our president, Barack Obama, would be elected to a second term. Both from our central and borough offices and from mobile phone banks across the city, you made hundreds of thousands of calls to union households in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania to get out the vote for the president.
In Florida, our retirees — whom I had the chance to visit and see in action during the campaign — focused on the I-4 corridor, a hotly contested area that cuts across the state, and were able to swing it for Obama, helping him win that key battleground state.
Ohio, Nevada and New Hampshire were also delivered for Obama in large measure because of the work of our retirees. Their work in Ohio was particularly impressive, with a team of 32 retirees working 12-hour days for 10-day stretches from October right up until the election.
But your work was not limited to the presidential election. In both congressional races in the Hudson Valley, Connecticut and Florida and in state Senate races across New York State, we supported candidates who share our belief in the importance of workers’ rights and public education — and your tremendous efforts helped carry almost all of them to victory.
In Congress, your support helped Sean Patrick Maloney, our candidate in the Hudson Valley, carry the day over Nan Heyworth — in a race few thought he could win. In Connecticut, where you boarded buses and knocked on doors, Democrat Chris Murphy defeated conservative multimillionaire Linda McMahon. And our candidate in Florida, Patrick Murphy, defeated longtime conservative opponent Alan West — in part because of the work of our retirees and the calls you made on his behalf.
Your work — and the victories it brought — was no less impressive in races for seats in the state Senate. Republican senators have had a penchant for introducing bills that ill-serve our schools, our members and our communities — bills that would have allowed charter schools to toss aside their students with special needs, falsely promise to empower parents through the creation of a “parent trigger” in New York State, and erode parents’ rights to advocate for their children with special needs.
In the most egregious case, state Sen. Stephen Saland, from the mid-Hudson Valley, had the gall to propose a bill restricting due-process rights for New York City teachers — restrictions that he does not even have in his own district — and then come to New York and stand beside Mayor Bloomberg, a major financial supporter of the Senate Republican conference, to push for the legislation. That’s a major reason we went all out to oust Saland, a 30-year incumbent, from his seat.
With state Republican war chests in the tens of millions of dollars, far more than was available to us, the UFT and NYSUT established independent expenditures in key races, separate from the campaigns, to allow us to reach out directly to voters. We mobilized our ground troops and sponsored get-out-the-vote efforts to support candidates for the state Senate — candidates like Queens’ Joe Addabbo — who understand the importance of public education and the work that we do every day in the classroom.
Joe has been a friend of our union since his days in the City Council, helping us to secure funding for our schools, fight back against the mayor’s misguided school-closing policy and win tax reforms to make the rich pay their fair share. He is the type of state Senator we need — and because of your work on his campaign, we now have the opportunity to work with him to press forward with the legislation we need for our city and our schools.
Thank you again for your contributions to COPE and for the time you always volunteer to support pro-education and pro-labor candidates. It makes a world of difference.
Now, however, we must turn our attention back to the most important challenge that confronts us: taking care of our more than 10,000 members — as well as the countless schools and communities we serve — that have been affected by Hurricane Sandy. I have no doubt that we will meet that challenge with the same passion that carried us to victory on Election Day.