In 2001, the last time the United Federation of Teachers endorsed a candidate for mayor of New York City, it accomplished what Richard Steier, editor of the public union newspaper The Chief, called “a hat trick.” UFT endorsed Alan Hevesi in the primary, who picked up 12 percent of the vote and finished fourth. UFT endorsed Fernando Ferrer in the run-off, who lost to Mark Green. UFT then endorsed Green in the general election, who lost to Michael Bloomberg.
UFT retired from mayoral endorsements during the Bloomberg years, only to return with a vengeance this year, endorsing Bill Thompson. The union made 380,000 calls to its members, organized phone banks, canvassed neighborhoods with 1,000 activists, and spent over $1 million on Thompson.
The result? Thompson received 26.1 percent of the vote. The leader, Bill de Blasio, may have just enough votes to win the Democratic nomination outright. The day before the primary, WNYC asked UFT president Michael Mulgrew about whether the union had erred yet again in choosing a candidate.
“We don’t pick winners. We make winners,” he said.
Well, he’s half right. UFT won’t be able to repeat its 2001 feat of endorsing three different losing candidates for one elected office, but having extended its losing streak to four, will it go for five with a Thompson re-endorsement in the run-off, or a switch to de Blasio in the general election?
There’s a sizable group of UFT members who have questioned the union’s endorsement process, but maybe it’s time to wonder if UFT’s endorsement actually hurts a New York City mayoral candidate.