Canvassing efforts in Staten Island, Brooklyn
Lisa Rose, a social sciences professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, was still feeling “so surreal” during a celebration at the PSC’s office two days after the midterm elections. For many in America seeking a political change, the shift of the House of Representatives to Democratic control was welcome news. For Rose, it was personal. Her son, Max Rose, was elected as a new Democratic congress member for the previously GOP-controlled district that covers Staten Island and South Brooklyn.
Describing her son as someone with a “strong moral compass” and who has long had political ambitions, Rose noted that friends and colleagues thought his chances of winning were slim.
“There’s a huge misconception about what Staten Island is,” Rose told Clarion, describing her days going door to door for her son’s campaign, noting that she met Asian, Latino and Haitian households while canvassing. “It is more diverse than people think. There’s this real sense of community that Max tapped into.”
Max Rose’s campaign was one of several that the PSC focused on this fall, and not just because of Rose’s union connection. More than 1,000 PSC members live in the district, and the union had the potential to get out the vote. “Knowing that my union was behind him was so important,” Rose said.
Max Rose will join several other new progressive Democrats in the state’s congressional delegation next year, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a huge upset primary victory in the Bronx and Queens, and Antonio Delgado, who replaces a Republican in the Hudson Valley, where numerous PSC members were actively involved.
For the PSC, flipping the House is a significant victory. PSC legislative representative Mike Fabricant sees a Democratic lower house of Congress as a “goalkeeper” in federal government, thwarting potential challenges to the Affordable Care Act and other right-wing legislative actions.
“PSC members coming out in support was important for Max Rose. He had a lot of get-out-the-vote volunteers, because people in New York City wanted to participate in a red-to-blue seat and it was important that we were in that,” said John Jay College political scientist Susan Kang, who is active in the union’s political outreach work and was just named one of the top ten up-and-coming leaders from Manhattan by the City & State magazine.
Perhaps more momentous was the New York State Senate’s flip to Democratic control by a significant margin. The past Republican control of the State Legislature’s upper house – in part due to Democrats who caucused with Republicans, many of whom were ousted in the primaries – has frequently been a roadblock preventing ambitious progressive legislation, such as the DREAM Act, campaign finance reform, teacher evaluation reform and a statewide single-payer healthcare plan. PSC members made thousands of get-out-the-vote calls to members. Some, like Borough of Manhattan Community College counselor Justyna Jagielnicka and former PSC Secretary Cecelia McCall made more than 1,000 calls. In addition, many members canvassed door-to-door in districts the PSC Legislation Committee prioritized.
“Legislative work for me is highly personal – flipping the House, New York State Senate and a Staten Island seat was the ultimate goal,” Jagielnicka said. “As an immigrant woman who has experienced firsthand racism, xenophobia and lack of respect for human dignity, it is my duty to fight for all brothers and sisters.”
One PSC electoral priority that resulted in a State Senate victory was the election of Andrew Gounardes, a pro-labor Democrat and Hunter College graduate who ousted longtime Republican incumbent Marty Golden.
Many observers thought that Golden, an entrenched local leader, would be impossible to beat. But for Reem Jaafar, a professor in LaGuardia Community College’s math, engineering and computer science department who lives in Golden’s district and is active in local politics, it seemed even a year ago there was enough ammunition against Golden.
“He has taken no responsibility for the lack of reliable transportation,” Jaafar said. “He voted against marriage equality and made egregious claims against Muslims in his community in an effort to defend the Muslim ban, including a lie stating that 9/11 hijackers came from Bay Ridge.”
The PSC support, Jaafar said, was integral to Golden’s defeat. “The union’s endorsement for Gounardes helped bring in more volunteers; we knocked on thousands of doors together,” she said. “One day, about 18 union members showed up for canvassing. We knocked on over 1,500 doors that day alone. Some members kept coming back for volunteering up until election day.”
What does the shift in the State Legislature mean for PSC members? “The change comes at a crucial time for the PSC,” said union president Barbara Bowen. “When we reach a contract settlement we will need to work with the legislature to demand that it be fully funded, and we will also need their support to end poverty pay for adjuncts.”
Of course, political change won’t happen instantly – newly elected state senators will take time to get their footing and create relationships within the chamber and the governor’s office. But with an entirely Democratic legislature, organized labor and public higher education advocates have new leverage when it comes to dealing with Governor Andrew Cuomo. “In the past, there have been institutional blocks to going forward – now there’s an institutional opening,” Kang said. “Cuomo is still a pro-austerity and pro-private corporation governor, so he needs to be pushed on fully funding CUNY and the state’s public schools. Now is the time to hold Cuomo accountable.”
Kang noted that PSC members and leaders must follow up on these election victories to advance the union agenda in the new State Senate. “It’s really important that the union leadership engage with elected officials,” Kang said. “But it is also really important for PSC members to go to senators as constituents and communicate to them directly what they think is important.”
Fabricant added, “Our work is to hold them accountable.”