“It feels great to win!” said Eileen Moran of the PSC Legislative Committee. And in this year’s city elections, the PSC won big.
Bill de Blasio, the first Democrat elected mayor of New York City in 20 years, was considered a long shot when the PSC endorsed him in June. On November 5, he won by a historic 3-to-1 margin. In races for City Council, the union backed several insurgent candidates who scored upsets, and in the end, 39 of the Council’s 51 members were elected with PSC support.
The PSC also won in another, perhaps deeper way. For the first time in many years, CUNY became a significant election issue – and the focus of that discussion was the need to increase CUNY funding.
Commitment to CUNY
De Blasio staked out a clear position early, with a call for “$150 million worth of corporate tax breaks [to] be ended and the money invested instead in CUNY,” The New York Times reported. PSC President Barbara Bowen told the Times that this was a key element in the union’s decision to back de Blasio, along with his proposal to boost taxes on income earners above $500,000 to pay for expanding early childhood education and after-school programs in middle schools.
“We decided that de Blasio offered a real plan for overturning the austerity politics of the city and offered a cogent strategy for increasing funding and restoring funding at all levels,” Bowen told the Times.
Bowen emphasized throughout the campaign that the candidate’s plans for CUNY are based on the central role he believes it can play in moving New York City’s economy in a better direction. “De Blasio’s commitment to CUNY is part of larger vision of opportunity and economic justice,” she said in October, just before the CUNY Graduate Center hosted the second televised debate of the general election campaign. “We believe that New York City will thrive when every New Yorker has a chance to make the dream of college education a reality.”
“I’m proud that we stuck with our principles and helped propel the city in a new direction,” PSC First Vice President Steve London told Clarion. The PSC combined its principles with careful organization, he said, and that proved an effective combination.
“We took a very systematic and detailed approach to this election, starting a year and a half ago,” London said. The union worked closely with its coalition partners – the City Council’s Progressive Caucus, the Working Families Party, the Central Labor Council – and involved a wider section of the membership than ever before. And it paid off. “It catapulted the PSC into a new level, in terms of the work we were able to do and also the results,” London said.
Those results include helping to elect the most progressive City Council and mayor in recent memory. “We have built important relationships that will translate into real influence in the struggles of the next few years,” London said.
When the Times covered the PSC’s endorsement of de Blasio, it noted that the union’s “highly educated membership” is considered among the “best informed in Democratic circles.” The PSC’s endorsement “is also prized because the union’s members have a track record of actually voting on Election Day,” the paper reported.
PSC members heavily supported de Blasio in the primary election. Of the thousands of members reached through the PSC’s phone banking, 60% said they were voting for de Blasio, while just 13% said they were not (27% were undecided). Phone bank volunteers reported that many members said coverage of the mayor’s race in Clarion had been helpful in figuring out whom to support.
PSC phone banks were also active in the runoff election for the Democratic nomination for public advocate, in which the candidate the PSC had endorsed, Letitia James, won with 60% of the vote, and again in the general election.
Our Time Has Come
In addition to the phone banks and other member-to-member outreach, PSC members also handed out election flyers on 15 CUNY campuses and distributed palm cards at polling sites near CUNY campuses on Election Day.
PSC leaders agree and activists say they do not expect to agree with Mayor de Blasio on every issue, and that progressives on the City Council – though now a stronger force than they have been in decades – will not win every vote. But they are excited that New York City is moving in a new political direction and proud that the PSC’s efforts helped to make that possible.
And after 12 years of a billionaire as mayor, said the Legislative Committee’s Moran, “It’s about time!”