At a press conference this afternoon at City Hall, the 125,000-member public sector giant DC 37 threw its unanimous endorsement to congressional candidate and Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron, in a break from nearly all its labor brethren across the five boroughs.
While Barron has had consistently strong labor credentials, labor support has gone almost entirely to his opponent, Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, in part because unions have been scared away by Barron’s frequently controversial rhetoric. (As one example, a eulogy he gave in November for Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi.)
Asked about how DC 37 had decided to back Barron despite those kinds of comments, DC 37 Associate Director Oliver Gray, who spoke on behalf of the union (executive director Lillian Roberts was not present) said those types of questions had been asked and answered privately when a committee of DC 37 affiliate leaders interviewed Barron.
“All questions were asked by that committee, and they were satisfied,” Gray said. “Individual issues, I can’t speak to those, because that’s not what we set out to do. We set out to review this man’s record. To look at the way’s he perceived and worked for the interests of public employees. We looked at how he interacts with his community, and what happens in his community.”
A report recently stated that DC 37’s decision had to do as much with dissatisfaction with Jeffries’ record on charter schools and a strong relationship with Brooklyn Democratic leader Vito Lopez as the union’s loyalty towards Barron. But Gray said emphatically that was not the case, and that Jeffries had in fact done some good things for city workers.
“This is not about us being with a vendetta or a grudge against Assemblyman Jeffries,” Gray said. “He’s done some good work.”
DC 37 also has a history of going its own way on endorsements. During the 2009 mayoral race, for instance, Roberts was more of the more aggressively outspoken opponents of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, even as he was strongly favored to win re-election, and the union also decided to stay neutral in Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s re-election race.
In a scrum after the endorsement press conference, Barron addressed the broader labor picture in the race, saying repeatedly that while believes DC 37 is completely behind him, a slew of unions that have backed Jeffries are giving their endorsements in name only. Barron said he expects to peel off substantial rank-and-file support from various Jeffries-backing unions including 1199/SEIU, TWU Local 100 and 32 BJ, citing the endorsement decisions by the unions’ leadership as ones of political expediency.
He also said that the United Federation of Teachers’ decision yesterday to stay neutral in the race (at least for now) was made for for political reasons, noting his longtime support of public education, and the fact that he helped save two public schools from closing in his own district. Jeffries, meanwhile, has been more supportive of charter schools, which are anathema to the UFT.
“They’re also under pressure, because when you are pressured by the establishment, not to do things, people have their interests,” Barron said of the UFT. “But I’m not worried about that because I know the rank-and-file members of UFT, as you said, I’ve been there with them.”
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