In NYC mayoral race, crafting a position to the moment
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The taunt sounds gutsy and candid -- until you examine its context.
On Monday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg dismissed the value of a United Federation of Teachers mayoral endorsement, which is expected to go to Bill Thompson Wednesday. "Almost a kiss of death," he called it.
"I don't know what goes through voters' minds, but maybe they understand if the UFT wants it, it ain't good and you don't want that person," he said.
For Bloomberg -- as with most politicians -- such statements are crafted to the moment. And in a different moment, in 2004, he was calling then UFT president Randi Weingarten "a friend of mine since I entered public service" while they negotiated contracts that substantially raised teacher pay.
Back then, with re-elections and contract talks still in its future, Team Bloomberg seemed to view the union quite differently. In fact, a member of the mayor's 2005 re-election crew recalled Tuesday: "We were just happy that the UFT just sat out the election" -- rather than endorse Democratic challenger Fernando Ferrer.
When it posed a political risk, Bloomberg refrained from anti-UFT battle cries.
But over the long term, blessings and curses are difficult to predict.
These days, Council Speaker Christine Quinn's rivals treat her alliances with Bloomberg over eight years as the real kiss of death or at least a liability worth exploiting.
Quinn (D-Manhattan) has fought recently to draw distinctions between her governing record and Bloomberg's as the Democratic primary heated up. Amid complaints about police stop-and-frisk tactics, she backed legislation that would impose an inspector general on the NYPD. Bloomberg said: "This is a dangerous piece of legislation and anyone who supports it is courting disaster."
Are the current mayor and speaker now politically alienated? A City Hall source said rather flexibly: "You can't characterize one thing as a dealmaker or a deal breaker. The mayor will look at the totality of people's records [in the current race] and then make a decision."
Endorsements vary in impact. Post-9/11 commercials featuring then Mayor Rudy Giuliani undoubtedly helped Bloomberg 12 years ago. It remains to be seen if Giuliani's backing after all this time can help propel his former deputy mayor Republican Joseph Lhota into the job.
A Thompson backer in Staten Island, meanwhile, said in anticipation of Wednesday's UFT vote: "Parents generally like their kids' teachers, whatever they think of the union as an institution."
Labor unions that pick a loser in this six-way Democratic primary get to choose again for the runoff -- and perhaps again in the general election. Sometimes unions back a winning candidate only to go to war later. Sometimes they get along fine with an incumbent they'd opposed.
Much is crafted to the moment.