Bill Thompson Wednesday won the endorsement of the 200,000-member United Federation of Teachers in his run for mayor, putting the union's money and political might behind him as he seeks to climb from fourth place in polls.
Within hours, the union began making robocalls for Thompson, a former city comptroller and onetime president of the Board of Education, who came close to defeating Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the Democratic nominee in 2009.
With hundreds of teachers chanting "Thomp-son! Thomp-son!" at the union's lower Manhattan headquarters after a vote by more than 1,500 delegates, UFT president Mike Mulgrew promised that support would help push Thompson to victory in September's Democratic primary and the general election.
"We're confident we have the right guy, with the right team, with the right people, and we're going to make a big difference," said Mulgrew, whose union has fought Bloomberg over education policy.
Bloomberg a few days earlier disparaged the UFT's endorsement as a "kiss of death." Thompson retorted: "If I received a kiss from the UFT today, I'm feeling pretty warm and fuzzy."
Mulgrew said that while the Democratic hopefuls have roughly similar education stands, Thompson shares the union's vision that "the city's going in the wrong direction."
Thompson said he'd retain mayoral control of schools -- a Bloomberg hallmark -- but would give up majority control of a policy panel that has been a rubber stamp for the mayor.
"As mayor, I'm not going to demonize teachers. We've had enough of that," Thompson said. "I'm going to fight day and night for the teachers of New York because you're critical to the future of New York."
City funding for education was a flashpoint for the Democratic candidates in a televised debate focusing on Latino issues Wednesday night. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio accused City Council Speaker Christine Quinn of acquiescing to Bloomberg budgets that cut support for early education, child care and after-school programs.
Quinn accused de Blasio of "taking cheap shots" and said the council restored much of what the mayor tried to cut.
Later in the debate on NY1, as the contenders agreed the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy was excessive, Quinn added a caveat to her pledge to keep Ray Kelly as police commissioner: If he didn't follow her orders to "get stop-and-frisk down," she would fire him.
De Blasio said he was appalled Quinn would say with a "straight face" that Kelly would yield. "Don't insult our intelligence," de Blasio said, paraphrasing a line from "The Godfather." Kelly spokesman Paul Browne declined to comment.