Thursday, February 7, 2008

Speculation on Randi Weingarten's Successor

Part 1. See part 2 here.

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Green at the NY Sun nailed a very interesting story on Randi Weingarten's "successor" when she moves on to the AFT Presidency this July at the AFT convention in Chicago. Do I smell a road trip to the windy city to "celebrate" Randi's succession as an excuse to hang out with George Schmidt and the Substance gang? Hmmm. Maybe even provide the AFT delegates with some info on their new leader.

Titled "Which Rising Star Will Be the Next Randi Weingarten?" Green hit on a very important point -

"Another possibility, if Ms. Weingarten seeks the AFT presidency, is that she will not initially give up her role as UFT president, but hold onto it while she seeks the new job. Both Shanker and Feldman presided over both the UFT and AFT in their first years leading the national union."

Let's explore why this is a very likely scenario, at least until the next UFT election in 2010. Of course, it would not be beyond the realm of possibility for Weingarten to run for UFT President one more time, but that depends on a bunch of factors, including the outcome of the race for US President, especially if Hillary Clinton wins.

To flesh out Green's piece, we need to delve into the relationship between the UFT and the AFT, the particular way the UFT has been run over the years, and Randi Weingarten's methods (and madness.)

The AFT is dominated and controlled by the UFT
How does the tail wag the dog? Sheer numbers. The Unity Caucus controlled UFT (approaching 200,00 members), controls the entire NY State United Teachers (NYSUT) – 575,000 members and this one state has around an enormous percentage of all AFT members*

*EIA's Mike Antonucci reported in Oct. 2005:
"The disaggregated membership numbers also suggest AFT's "more than 1.3 million members" include an awful lot of people who no longer work in public education, or may have some other asterisk to merit their inclusion.
AFT reports 695,000 full-time members, 103,000 part-time members, 22,100 one-quarter, contingency or laid-off members, and 8,400 associate members for a grand total of 828,500. The union also has about 33,000 agency fee-payers.
In a follow-up in Oct. '06 Antonucci reports:
AFT reported 828,500 members on its LM-2, and in 2005-06 reported 822,504.
The AFT must be spinning out numbers like the NYCDOE spins grad rates.
The AFT looks more and more as an outpost of Unity Caucus. Randi will be right at home.

So, the key to controlling the AFT is controlling Unity Caucus. And therein lies the danger to Weingarten if she were to pass on the presidency of the UFT to someone else – the risk of losing control over her power base. But Al Shanker and Sandy Feldman eventually let go. Why not Weingarten?

Let's digress for a minute.

Some insiders think the AFT Presidency is not Weingarten's cup of tea - it is often looked at as a somewhat ceremonial position where the President goes around the country making speeches. Shanker and Feldman were comfortable in this setting, trying to shape national Ed policy. But Weingarten as a policy maker? Barely a step above all those Ed policy wonks that never spent a serious day in the classroom. (For those who don't know, Weingarten barely spent a serious day in the classroom either. Just a bit of a show – the school of "I'm going to be union president, so I'll do a little teaching so it looks like I was a teacher.")

One has to scavenge far and wide for signs of an original thought from Weingarten. She is not too farsighted and those of us who have seen her in operation for the past 10 years are often astounded at the narrowness of her vision and her attention to petty details (read the posting on the ICE blog to see the attention she paid to our obscure resolution on Letters in the File.) Weingarten clearly relishes the action and there's no more action in the ed/pol sphere than right here in NYC. (She will miss us. But I am willing to go along to Washington and continue my attacks so she'll feel right at home.)

Thus, the feeling she is looking beyond the AFT and is aiming for the Secretary of Education cabinet position in a Hillary Clinton cabinet. (And Joel Klein is aiming for either Labor or Education Secty. in a Clinton admin.)

If Randi were intending to go this route, then holding onto the reigns of power in the UFT/AFT is not all that important. A cabinet position means prestige, but then what? Once she is out of the labor movement, there is no turning back.

I tend to think NOT. Who wants to be the next Margaret Spellings? Or Rod Paige, who by the way praised Weingarten as a "responsible" union leader. Klein wants to be both, so good luck (and good riddance.)

There is enough action in the labor movement to keep Randi busy for years. First would come an attempt to merge the AFT and the much larger NEA and then emerge as the head of a united 4 million-member national teacher union. Would the NEA accept Randi as the leader? Once a merger takes place, her first job would be to install a Unity Caucus like machine (as exists in the Progressive Caucus in the AFT) and capture power. It might take time, but it will keep her off the streets.

In part 2 we will examine the local scene in the UFT and take a look at potential successors and explore the thesis that Weingarten wants to prevent a strong successor from emerging. Et tu Mike, Carmen, Michelle, Mike2, Leroy, Leo?


  1. I'm sure Randi's read this over and over as she plots her next move.

  2. Hey Norm,

    Throw your hat into the ring!!!


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