It’s not surprising that the Tony Bennett scandal would lead to calculated outrage from teacher union officers, but American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was being especially clever when addressing a group of teachers in South Florida.
“I love when somebody says, like Jeb Bush, ‘[Bennett] had to resign because of hits he was taking from the right and the left.’” Weingarten said. “No. He had to resign because he was cooking the books. Just like Tornillo had to leave.”
For the newbies out there, “Tornillo” was Pat Tornillo, the late former president of the United Teachers of Dade who pleaded guilty to spending union dues on, among other things, luxury vacations and python print pajamas. It’s a weak analogy, and not just because Tornillo was a convicted criminal.
For one thing, the AFT knew something was wrong with Tornillo’s handling of union dues long before the FBI raided UTD headquarters in April 2003. UTD and its parent affiliates routinely denounced and tried to spike broadcast reports that Tornillo was crooked. Indeed, there is some evidence that Tornillo’s schemes dated back to the mid-1980s. No union affiliate took action until after UTD’s chief financial officer took the books to the feds. Well, at least the union learned its lesson, recognizing Tornillo as the crook he was.
Not so fast.
Tornillo was a “strong lifetime proponent of civil and human rights,” and “an advocate of strong local education organizations,” leading Florida Education Association president Andy Ford to submit a resolution that – in 2008, mind you – “posthumously honors the long and dedicated service of Pat L. Tornillo, Jr. to public education in Florida and the United States; to the children of our state and nation; to the rights and cause of all teachers and education professionals, and by extension, all organized labor; and to his faithful efforts to promote justice for all regardless of their race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation.”
It seems now that Weingarten’s analogy is even more inappropriate. Tornillo was a hero of organized labor, civil rights and universal justice – even after he had to exchange his python print pajamas for an orange jumpsuit for stealing teachers’ money. Tornillo’s transgressions go unmentioned in the resolution.
Bennett should continue to take his lumps for what he did, but if union officers are so worried about nefarious deeds by Indiana superintendents of public instruction, they have a great opportunity to show their concern for the public’s welfare.