Teachers’ union endorses scott stringer, offering much-needed boost

By Eliza Shapiro and Katie Glueck

The city’s influential teachers’ union endorsed the city comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, in the race for mayor Monday, providing a much-needed boost to a campaign that has struggled to gain momentum thus far, despite Stringer’s deep experience in city politics.

Stringer is a decadeslong ally of the United Federation of Teachers and was long considered the front-runner for its support. With nine weeks before the June 22 primary, the endorsement comes at a critical time: In the limited public polling available, Stringer consistently trails former presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Brooklyn borough president, Eric Adams.

In recent weeks, some labor leaders, political operatives and his own allies had privately worried about Stringer’s viability in the race, as the more moderate Yang has threatened his Manhattan base, and left-wing activists and leaders — expected to be solidly in Stringer’s corner — have not yet coalesced around a single candidate.

Stringer is hoping to assemble a broad coalition that includes both traditional sources of Democratic power — in particular, union support — as well as backing from the left-wing activist slice of the party that has been influential in several recent elections across the city.

Last week, in an effort to build a unified progressive front, the Working Families Party endorsed Stringer as the party’s first choice, followed by Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, and Maya Wiley, a former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Stringer referenced his position in the race during a news conference to announce the endorsement Monday. “This race is getting started,” he said. “I’ve been known to close strong, this union closes strong, and I promise you the race of your lifetime.”

The UFT’s endorsement is coveted, because of the union’s political influence and its ability to mobilize its roughly 200,000 members. Still, its members are split into several political caucuses and may not vote as a bloc, and the union does not have the same organizational prowess as other large city unions.

The city has now reopened all grades for in-person learning, with many younger students back full-time, though some high school students who have returned to classrooms are still learning online from inside their school buildings.

Stringer, who is himself a public school parent, was not a vocal supporter of de Blasio’s push to bring students back into classrooms last fall, and was sometimes sharply critical of the mayor’s effort. Stringer and his wife decided to send one of their sons back into classrooms last fall, and keep their other son learning remotely.

As comptroller, Stringer has also criticized the mayor’s handling of the city’s homeless student crisis, and appeared to briefly jeopardize the rollout of the successful universal prekindergarten program after he raised alarms about the contracting process for some of those programs.

Stringer’s promise to put two teachers in every elementary school classroom as mayor is attractive to the union, since it would boost its membership. But the idea has also appealed to education experts who have said adding more teachers could make traditional public schools more attractive to parents who might have considered gifted and talented programs or private schools, which tend to have large teaching staffs.

Stringer is also one of a small group of mayoral hopefuls who have committed to eliminating the high-stakes exam that dictates entry into the city’s top high schools, including Stuyvesant High School. Like many of his rivals, he is skeptical about charter schools, a position that is all but a prerequisite for the UFT’s backing.

Stringer’s campaign is likely to use the UFT endorsement as fresh evidence that his coalition-building strategy remains viable. Perhaps more than any other candidate in the race, Stringer’s candidacy — already supported by a long list of prominent New Yorkers — will test whether endorsements move voters in an unpredictable election unfolding amid a pandemic.

The UFT’s choice of Stringer also carries enormous stakes for the union.

Unlike other powerful city unions, the teachers’ union has failed to endorse a winning candidate since 1989, when it backed David Dinkins. That has prompted concern among UFT officials that the union’s clout in electoral politics could shrink if it again bets on the wrong candidate.

The outcome of the race could offer major clues about how much weight the UFT’s endorsement — or the backing of any municipal union — still matters in local politics.

With the UFT endorsement settled, most major municipal unions have made their choices — with the notable exception of the union representing transit workers. Many prominent unions have backed Adams, but Wiley scored a major victory in February when she won the endorsement of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, the city’s largest union.

In some years, labor unions have largely flocked to a particular candidate. Stringer, for example, had overwhelming support from labor groups in his 2013 race for comptroller, when he defeated former Gov. Eliot Spitzer. But this year, the labor endorsements are diffuse.

One of the biggest open questions in the mayoral race is whether there will be any union-affiliated independent expenditure effort to stop Yang — but it is not yet clear which organizations, if any, would have both the resources and the inclination to mount one.

Stringer has won the backing of other education unions, including the union representing school principals and administrators, and the union representing teachers and staff at the City University of New York. Yang has not earned a major union endorsement yet, but is leading in all publicly available polling.

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