Billionaire Buys Union

But big bucks Mike gives the tab to taxpayers

It wasn't just Roberts who flip-flopped. Bloomberg has been the toughest negotiator with city unions ever, refusing to cut contracts with the police, fire, and teacher unions and forcing the first two to arbitration. He is still demanding real work rule concessions from the teachers, just as he did with the uniformed services. His contract with DC 37 was no giveaway; it agreed to raises rejected by the other unions. But the productivity collapse contradicts the core of his bargaining position and was a crass political deal.

Not only is Ferrer facing the primary and the general without DC 37 and the so-far neutral health care workers at 1199 that were keys in 2001, he can't expect much from other Democratic field operations like the community group ACORN and Local 32 B-J, which represents building maintenance workers. ACORN's John Kest, who ran Mark Green's 2001 field operation, says that the group plans a "series of meetings over the next two weeks" and that there is "at least a 50-50 chance that an endorsement will come out of that." Kest and other ACORN leaders have been meeting with Ferrer and his associates, but Kest made it clear the group is too busy with "a multitude of issue-oriented campaigns to do what we did in 2001" for any candidate. Ferrer ran his affordable-housing plan by ACORN before announcing it recently.

The prospective, half-hearted-at-best ACORN support of Ferrer is another measure of Bloomberg's tactical skill. Though the administration and the group once warred over everything from predatory lending to the living wage bill, Bloomberg backed their 4,500-unit Bruce Ratner housing plan in Brooklyn, and ACORN leader Bertha Lewis famously kissed him at the announcement. ("No tongue and no booty," she told the Voice, while Bloomberg spokesman Bill Cunningham contended she grabbed the mayor by the head, calling it "illegal use of the hands.") The other convert, 32 B-J, was a field linchpin for Green and recently endorsed the mayor at no cost to taxpayers.

Bloomberg at the endorsement with DC 37 president Lillian Roberts
photo: Richard B. Levine
Bloomberg at the endorsement with DC 37 president Lillian Roberts

It's not just field forces that have come full circle in four years. A couple of days before the general election in 2001, Ferrer called Green, who had just beaten him in the runoff, and demanded that he fire Kest, holding the organizer responsible for Green-tied leaflets that the Ferrer camp called racist. Green refused, and an outraged Ferrer failed to appear at a unity dinner that night, a decisive snub that contributed to Bloomberg's triumph. Nonetheless, early this year, Ferrer and his firebrand consultant, Roberto Ramirez, sat down with their former devil and talked deal. It may even happen soon. Such are the ever changing currents of New York City politics.


Research assistance: Nicole D'Andrea, Bryan Farrell, Alex Gecan, Leslie Kaufmann, Ian Kriegish, and Stephen Stirling

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