At UFT headquarters, energy high for Thompson endorsement

The United Federation of Teachers’ months-long process to endorse a mayoral candidate ended today with a warm embrace between President Michael Mulgrew and Bill Thompson, the former Board of Education president who will get the union’s support.

Thompson got the nod after a series of meetings that concluded with a vote by thousands of delegates in which the vast majority supported endorsing him, teachers said. Afterwards, teachers were handed bright posters touting the candidate, which many brandished as they exited the union’s Lower Manhattan headquarters.

At a press conference after the endorsement vote, Thompson was coy after he was asked whether he was worried that the union’s support could prove to be a “kiss of death,” as Mayor Bloomberg alleged earlier this week.

“If I received a kiss from the UFT today, I’m feeling pretty warm and fuzzy,” he said.

Speaking to the delegates, Thompson delivered a seven-minute speech that focused on his respect for teachers. “I know how hard you all work!” he said, citing the example of his mother and daughter, who each taught in city schools.

“When I’m mayor, I’m going to fight day and night for the teachers of New York, because you’re critical for the future of New York,” Thompson said, to cheers.

Several teachers said the energy in the room was electric, particularly after Mulgrew announced that the endorsement was official. “When he said it, it amped it up 100 percent,” said John Leftridge, who teaches at P.S. 93 in Brooklyn.

“It was kind of like Obama in there,” said Charlene Johnson, a teacher at P.S. 64 in Manhattan.

But some teachers said the time to discuss whether Thompson was the right candidate to support had been too short, and several noted that only one person had spoken out against endorsing him before a union official called a vote.

“I think there should have been more of a debate,” said Rosie Frascella, a teacher at the International High School at Prospect Heights. “This is a huge issue for our union and I think there needs to be more member voices heard.”

Frascella is part of the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators, a minority faction in the union which handed out a fact sheet indicating that Thompson might not be the best candidate for teachers. But she said she was willing to support Thompson, although she worried that the labor movement had divided itself by endorsing different candidates. “I want a new mayor and would like to see a Democrat in office,” she said.

Other delegates said they were satisfied that union leaders had carefully vetted the candidates during candidate forums in each borough, a citywide forum at the union’s spring conference, and behind the scenes. “They had to pass muster, and it wasn’t easy,” said Paula Washington, a music teacher at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art & the Performing Arts.

Teachers said they were prepared to man phone banks and knock on doors to get out the vote for Thompson. Deborah Sherlock, a teacher at P.S. 305 in Queens, and John Kamps, who works at I.S. 5, also in Queens, each took a stack of posters and a bag of pins to hand out to their colleagues. “It’s great to know that there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel,” Sherlock said, referring to the Bloomberg years.

“It was exciting, with the chanting,” Kamps said. “It felt like we were all united behind one man.”