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Long IslandColumnistsRick Brand

NYSUT supporting Pellegrino in Assembly special election

Democratic nominee Christine Pellegrino is seeking a State

Democratic nominee Christine Pellegrino is seeking a State Assembly seat in the heavily Republican Ninth Assembly District, which straddles the Nassau-Suffolk line. The special election will be held on May 23, 2017. Photo Credit: Pellegrino for Assembly

New York State United Teachers has funneled $200,000 into an independent campaign account to aid Democrat Christine Pellegrino, a teacher and anti-Common Core activist, in her special election bid for the state Assembly.

Republicans returned fire, drawing attention to Pellegrino’s own past tweets against NYSUT and former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

State Board of Elections filings show New Yorkers for a Brighter Future, an independent expenditure committee that has NYSUT president Andrew Pallotta as treasurer, gave $200,000 on Friday to Teachers for Christine, another independent expenditure committee, where NYSUT vice president J. Philippe Abraham is treasurer.

The filing shows $29,677 was paid to political consulting firm Red Horse Strategies in Brooklyn used for mailers supporting Pellegrino and another $27,000 which NYSUT spent on a “visibility survey.”

Republicans say three pro-Pellegrino mailings have already hit.

“I’m so energized,” Pellegrino said. “I’m so proud of my fellow teachers supporting my campaign to protect our waters, fight opioids and get better funding for our schools.”

NYSUT is backing Pellegrino, a Baldwin teacher who lives in West Islip, against retired teacher Tom Gargiulo, a Conservative who has Republican backing.

The May 23 special election in the heavily Republican Ninth Assembly District straddling the Nassau-Suffolk line is to fill a vacancy left by former GOP Assemb. Joseph Saladino, now Oyster Bay supervisor.

Democrats concede the race is uphill with a 12,000 GOP-voter edge in the district. But they say progressive voters unhappy with Republican President Donald Trump could make a difference in a low-turnout race.

However, even the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee has put no money into the race.

Carl Korn, NYSUT spokesman, acknowledged the union is making a major investment in the race. He noted that Pellegrino was part of the union’s “Operation Pipeline” to boost teacher involvement in the political process.

“She’s one of us,” Korn said. “Albany needs more classroom teachers shaping classroom policy and ending overreliance on standardized tests.”

“My record in education speaks for itself,” countered Gargiulo. “When you’ve spent 30 years . . . teaching special education students, it’s kind of a head-scratcher to see the state teachers’ political action committee spending money against you.”

The Republican Assembly Campaign Committee released a half dozen Pellegrino tweets from the period of last year’s Democratic presidential primaries bashing Clinton and saying teacher union support of Clinton “makes no sense.”

In one, dated Oct. 8 2015 stated “HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] hasn’t fought for teachers on privatization or funding,” adding in another June 2, 2016 tweet “HRC is no friend of public education.”

Pellegrino said she first backed Bernie Sanders but switched when Clinton became nominee.

Jay Jacobs, Nassau Democratic chairman, dismissed the tweets as GOP “mischief” that means nothing. “The question is do voters in the Ninth District worry about yesterday’s primaries or tomorrow’s future. In my estimate, they are worried about the future . . . because it’s the Republicans who have the Tweeter-in Chief.”

Some questions whether the infusion of money will help. “In a primary you are trying to create turnout on a day no one normally votes,” said Michael Dawidziak, a consultant who works mainly for Republicans. “But if you do high-profile stuff like radio and TV, you can do the other side’s job for them. You don’t want to turn out the other side’s vote.”

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