City's Biggest Union Backs Mayor

Categories: Citystate
Dems' ideas on subways and schools will take backseat to mayor's union coup

District Council 37 is due to endorse Michael Bloomberg for reelection this afternoon—a blow to Democratic hopes of solid union support in the effort to oust the mayor.

The largest municipal union, DC 37 last year struck a contract deal with the Bloomberg administration covering 2002-2005 that included a $1,000 lump sum, a 3 percent raise for 2003, a 2 percent raise for 2004, and a possible additional 1 percent raise if productivity savings paid for it.

Nationally, union power in elections isn't what it used to be (ask SEIU and AFSCME about what their support did for Howard Dean, and ask John Kerry how many unions backed him). But on the local level, the manpower that unions provide for phone banks and other get-out-the-vote efforts still matters.

The Democratic candidates for mayor claim union support of their own, but with its 121,000 members, DC 37 packs a lot of punch. In the zero sum game of city politics, DC 37's move is less a gain for the well-heeled Bloomberg than it is a loss for his opponents, who might have used DC 37's people power to offset the mayor's monetary advantage.

But the biggest impact of the DC 37 move might be the media splash: It will be treated as another nail in the Democrats' coffin.

The timing is particularly bad for Fernando Ferrer, who today released a detailed plan for Bloomberg's signature policy area—the city's public schools. Undaunted by the improving test scores the administration has hyped, Ferrer points to the city's high dropout rate (only 54 percent of the class of 2004 graduated on time) as indicative of a system in failure. He promises to get schools to graduate 50,000 more kids over four years when he's mayor through mentoring for middle school kids, pre-kindergarten programs, and expansion of after-school support.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Anthony Weiner unveiled a bill to provide $1 billion for transit security, and Gifford Miller called for a task force to allow the NYPD to take over subway security from the MTA.

The union move will likely trump serious discussion of those ideas (yes, even right here on this blog, mea culpa). But the fact is, DC 37's electoral record is mixed. It won with David Dinkins in 1989 and Rudy Giuliani in 1997, but last time around couldn't find a winner despite three tries: Peter Vallone Sr., in the primary; Fernando Ferrer in the runoff election, and Mark Green in the general. A union with 121,000 members boils down to 121,000 individual decisions on whom to vote for, and whether to listen to their labor leaders in making that choice.

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