Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Updated: Charters, Bloomberg, the UFT and Randi Succession Obsession

Interesting article in the Voice by Wayne Barrett, who has always been anti-UFT.*

He makes lots of assumptions in this piece. Barrett obviously favors charters. But he misses on the growing opposition to charters from various forces in the schools and communities.

What this shows about Randi is that when you try to play the middle against both ends you get hammered from both ends. Barrett thinks she is opposing charters (while many of us think she supports them more than oppose them) to squeeze a raise by making a deal with Bloomberg even if such a deal totally subverts public education. But we have learned to never think she is above doing that.

Of interest to many of us is this passage:

The UFT will soon celebrate its 50th anniversary. Other than a couple of years of temporary and muddled leadership at its start in 1960, it has been governed by only three presidents, and each of its long-lasting potentates—Albert Shanker, Sandra Feldman, and now Weingarten—has handed it off to a designated successor. Weingarten, who was Feldman's lawyer for years before she became a part-time teacher to position herself for the presidency, is about to do the same. Former carpenter Michael Mulgrew, the vice president for vocational and technical schools, is expected to take over, possibly as soon as this summer.

Like Shanker and Feldman, Weingarten is giving up her city post after using it for 11 years as a stepping stone to the presidency of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and will leave town only when she is sure she can install a disciple here that she can influence from Washington (no rule bars her from holding both titles).

What's baffling is why Weingarten has embroiled herself in a Harlem street fight below her $350,000-a-year pay grade.

Weingarten's actions are baffling if she indeed intends to give up the UFT position to Mulgrew, who many feel is not ready for prime time. UFT elections are in March 2010 and it is theoretically smart to put Mulgrew into office so he can function as President and run as an incumbent. But both Feldman and Shanker replaced themselves soon after getting elected, thus giving their successors a few years grace. Weingarten's inability to let go is giving Mulgrew a small window. It would have made sense to have given him the position last January, over a year before the election.

Can she influence him from Washington? Sure. Shanker influenced Feldman. But Feldman had a harder time controlling Weingarten, who started purging her people fairly quickly. If Mulgrew screws up - something he is totally capable of doing (witness the City Council cue card fiasco) – and the Unity Caucus absolute control of the UFT, which is the heart of controlling the AFT, slips even a little, the shock waves will be felt all the way to the Beltway.

But maybe that's the plan all along– give Mulgrew as small a window as possible to screw things up before running for president. Now, don't get me wrong, the Unity machine has so manipulated the election rules that there is absolutely no chance of losing at the top level. But the real battle for control of the UFT ultimately lies in the schools with hand to hand combat. Sort of like the battle of Normandy. Maybe that's why the UFT has put up little resistance to the breakup of large high schools which used to be bastions of old-line UFT power. Make it hard for the opposition to get control of these places. Fragmentation of the school system can benefit both the UFT and Tweed. True partners in crime.

Oh, what to do? Mulgrew as a puppet with Weingarten pulling the strings from DC? What if Mike has that lean and hungry look for real power and starts purging Randi's people? Once the cat is out of the box there is little Randi could do since the real source of power lies in the UFT, the tail that wags the AFT dog. It wouldn't be that hard for a smart political operative to reverse the balance of power on Randi. She may not be worried about that occurring with Mulgrew in charge. Maybe that is why she chose him in the first place.

Barrett's piece evoked this comment on ICE mail:
What a tired old wind bag Barret has become. Doesn't even do his research anymore. Murdoch doesn't seem to mind though, imagine having one of those pesky investigative, trust busting crusaders on the payroll. Quite a coup for the consciousness industry fatcats, but another low point for the craft of journalism.

*Barrett was once a teacher who opposed the '68 strike and supported community control. I spent part of a day working with him and his wife campaigning against the UFT school board slate on the lower east side in the early 70's during the Luis Fuentes/UFT wars. The next time I saw him was at my childhood friend Marty Needelman's wedding a few years later when Barrett had left teaching and was a journalist. Marty, by the way, was working as a Vista lawyer doing community organizing in the late 60's in Williamsburg not far from where I was teaching and it was through him I became active in school politics.

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