The UFT Endorsement Process: A Recollection and Critique

Last night, the UFT Executive Board approved the second and last round of City Council endorsements (full list at bottom of this article). While I did not agree with every name on the list, this time I can at least say that I was a part of the process. On Tuesday, May 2nd, 2023, I joined a subcommittee to make endorsement selections for Community District 1. It’s hard to say whether I was always going to be invited to this event (my school is in CD1) or if I was only invited because of my vocal criticism of the process. However, I’m grateful that I was invited, and I went.

The turnout was light, with only six UFT people showing up. This surprised me, because I remember seeing more people at my last iteration of an endorsement session, but that was also for a more wide-reaching position (Manhattan DA). In attendance was me (Nick Bacon), Ellen Gentilviso, Bridget Rein, Dennis Gault, Brian Dornicik, and Don Albright. I must say that everyone there took the process seriously and participated in earnest debate. Still, this was very much a Unity Caucus committee – I was the only opposition unionist there. Perhaps more alarmingly, only Brian and I were full-time teachers in the district, though Seung Lee later mentioned to me that the low turnout for in-service teachers was likely because of a conflicting AAPI event. Ellen also used to work at a school in District 1 before retiring (and is now a part-time staffer at 52 Broadway). The rest of the committee members were full-time UFT staffers, though Bridget Rein and Dennis Gault did not vote. Two members of the committee were also constituents, which I think was a plus.

The four questions we would ask were sent out before the meeting. They were mostly fine, though I should note that I wasn’t included in the process of writing them, and don’t completely have a sense of who was. In respect of the endorsement process, I’m not going to rewrite those questions here, especially if there is a chance that they will be used again. However, I will quickly note that making sure teachers (including opposition teachers) are the primary drafters of questions would help lend authenticity to the process.

The Candidates

CD1’s incumbent candidate is Chris Marte, a member of the progressive caucus. Two other candidates showed up, including Susan Lee and Helen Qui. Another candidate did not attend. While I did not sign an NDA, out of respect for the UFT members of the committee, as well as the politicians who showed, I won’t discuss the specifics here. But, I will say that I went in very interested in what would happen when the debate turned to Marte. Marte, you may remember, was a vocal supporter of the retirees who opposed Adams’ Mulgrew’s plan to amend 12-126. In other words, Marte was a candidate who sided with New Action’s view on retiree healthcare, not Unity’s (though please note that New Action itself has not endorsed Marte or any other candidate). Being as I was the only opposition person in the room, I wasn’t sure how it would go for him. But, after some debate, which I participated in, the committee decided to recommend that we endorse Marte – a welcome surprise.

With Marte’s potential endorsement by the UFT at the next DA, we finally are backing a councilmember who actively worked against Unity’s 12-126 amendment. That’s only fair, After all, UFT members were fairly evenly divided over whether the administrative code should be changed. In contrast, the UFT has also endorsed candidates willing to do things supported by virtually no one in the union – like pulling funding from public schools and handing over more money to Charters. The difference is, many of the candidates supporting such anti-UFT policies were endorsed in the early round, which means more time to benefit from our endorsement (and potentially, from our COPE dollars).

Going Forward

I repeat that everyone on the committee I worked with—Unity or not—acted professionally and served their function well. There are still definitely changes that could be made in the endorsement process. Notably, some unionists aren’t sure there should be an endorsement process at all, especially for candidates who are not obvious friends to unions/educators/public schools. To such critics, we should dedicate more of our political weight and COPE dollars to lobbying efforts instead. I think there’s an argument there, but as we do currently have an endorsement process, we need to make some changes.

Firstly, I’d note that something about the endorsement process reminds me of the approach for hiring principals and assistant principals, also known as the ‘C30.’ I’ve written at length with critiques of that process, although more to show that it’s a charade when used to hire administrators. In the endorsement context, I believe that the process is followed more fairly, but that new issues expose themselves as a result. Most notably, by confining our endorsement decision to how people in the room feel that candidates answer four questions in bite sized answers, we end up with limited information. To that end, what questions we ask becomes extremely important. But also, we need to make sure we are doing outside research. Otherwise, we risk going for the most ‘articulate’ candidates even when there are people in the room whose policies will be better for us. In my committee, it was clear that all the members were somewhat knowledgeable of the candidates, but I don’t remember feeling the same way when I sat on the endorsement process for Manhattan DA. To that end, I have big concerns that some of the committees may be making ‘less than informed’ decisions. Therefore, some pre-meetings, where research on the candidates is discussed, would help to improve the process.

Secondly, in addition to adding a more robust ‘research process’ to the equation, for any C30 style process to work it’s key that there are as many distinct voices as possible in the room, and that teachers get as much of a say as possible. To that end, the most important thing we can do is make the process more transparent, more teacher-led (or really ‘member-led’), and more diverse.  There are non-Unity people who have told me they’re always told by UFT staffers that they can’t join the endorsement process because committees are ‘too full’ to include them. Based on the numbers I saw on May 2, I sincerely doubt that it’s ‘full committees’ preventing opposition unionists from serving. Let’s include them. We need bigger and more politically diverse committees (in the sense of caucus affiliation), who have a say not only in which candidates we recommend for endorsement, but also in what questions we ask them to make our decisions. Indeed, let’s include independents too. Let’s send out ‘calls to apply,’ so that everyone who might be interested in participating has a chance to do so. That’s a bare minimum in how to achieve an endorsement process that works for our members.

The Full List of Endorsements from 5-8-2023

 Christopher Marte from CD 1, Carlina Rivera from CD 2, Gale Brewer from CD 6, Inez Dickens CD 9, Eric Dinowitz from CD 11, Oswald Feliz from CD 15, Althea Stevens from CD 16, Amanda Farías from CD 18, Tony Avella CD 19, Sandra Ung from CD 20, Tiffany Cabán from CD 22, Robert Holden from CD 30, Lincoln Restler from CD 33, Jennifer Gutiérrez from CD 34, Chi Ossé from CD 36, Sandy Nurse from CD 37, Shahana Hanif from CD 39, Darlene Mealy from CD 41, Chris Banks CD 42, Wai Yee Chan from CD 43, Kalman Yeger from CD 44, Farah Louis from CD 45, Mercedes Narcisse from CD 46, Amber Adler from CD 48, and Kamillah Hanks from CD 49,


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