Former Vice President Joe Biden promised an audience of New York City public school teachers Sunday he would fight to ensure they had the resources and respect they deserve if he is elected president in 2020.
Biden's speech for more than 1,500 members of the United Federation of Teachers labor union, who were gathered in midtown Manhattan for their annual teachers union day, comes amid efforts by the Democratic presidential candidates to secure endorsements from organized labor.
The American Federation of Teachers, the national affiliate of the UFT that represents 1.7 million members, has not yet endorsed a candidate in the 2020 race.
At the event, Biden, the Democratic frontrunner, stressed his personal connections to teaching and vowed he and his wife would be "the best partners you've ever had in the White House."
"We're going to provide you with the support you need and the respect you deserve," he said.
Biden's wife, Jill Biden, who is a community college professor, said her husband has firsthand knowledge of the difficulties teachers face.
"He knows how hard we, all of you here, how hard we fight for our students," she said. "And he knows we can't do this alone."
As president, Biden said he would boost teachers' pay and increase funding for schools with large numbers of low-income students. He also said he would work to increase the number of psychologists and social workers employed in schools, work to help teachers unload their student debt and fight the National Rifle Association "so that we don't have kids going to school to learn how to duck and cover."
Speakers at the event, including UFT president Michael Mulgrew and AFT president Randi Weingarten, expressed little appreciation for the administration of President Donald Trump or his secretary of education, Betsy DeVos.
"Four years of Betsy DeVos is plenty," Biden said. "We're going to make sure the next secretary of education is a teacher."
Biden's speech came one day after Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential hopeful, held a rally in Queens alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx) that drew more than 25,000 attendees.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) have endorsed Biden. Suozzi attended Biden's speech Sunday.
"People who are looking for an alternative to the current administration are looking for somebody who will bring stability," Suozzi said after. "That's the type of person [Biden] is. He genuinely cares about people."
National polls show Biden leading the Democratic primary race. A recent Siena College Research Institute poll showed him tied with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) among New York State registered voters.
Union members at the event Sunday praised Biden's speech.
"I think he'll come through on the things he promised," said Dave Fries, a fifth-grade teacher in Coney Island who lives in West Islip.
"We need the resources he was talking about," said Fries, adding he will vote for Biden in the primary.
Dorie Kamps, a kindergarten teaching assistant in Queens, said Biden understands the needs of educators and union members.
"He is for labor, he is for unions," she said. "We have to have somebody who know's what we're about."