Barrett: Recalling When Mr. Tough-Guy Bloomberg Wasn't Too Tough to Purchase DC 37's Endorsement

Kissing union butt in 2005
Mike Bloomberg is now boldly declaring that he "will not make irresponsible promises to win an endorsement," the tough-guy-standing-up-for-taxpayers stance he's using to explain why the largest municipal union, 125,000-member District Council 37, endorsed his opponent, Democrat Bill Thompson.

Maybe there's even a whiff of truth in the Bloomberg boast. But only in 2009. The last time around, he sold out the taxpayers to win DC 37's endorsement.

In fact, Bloomberg tried to get the endorsement on Wednesday night by reminding the union's leaders of his crass collapse in 2005 (see "Billionaire Buys Union"). The problem in 2005 was that the mayor wasn't using his own money to buy a key endorsement; he was using the public's. "I got the endorsement of this union four years and I didn't promise you anything I didn't deliver," he told the union this week, a pitch he should have been too embarrassed to make.

Back on July 14, 2005, the union was in such a rush to thank Bloomberg for a gift-wrapped and unprecedented 1 percent raise for all its members that it bypassed its own constitution and endorsed him without even calling a meeting of its delegate assembly. The union's president then and now, Lillian Roberts, conceded that it had never done that before. (In fact, the only other time it had endorsed a Republican was in 1997, and almost all of its top leadership at the time was subsequently hauled off to jail because of the union's corrupt relationship with the administration of the man they endorsed, Rudy Giuliani.)

The endorsement came two weeks after the mayor gave the union the 1 percent hike. What was so unusual was that Bloomberg had signed a new contract with DC 37 in 2004, delaying it for two years in a bitter struggle with the union. The contract covered 2002 through 2005 and provided retroactive raises, not unusual in city labor deals. What was unprecedented was that it also provided for a possible future raise, which the city could grant or not grant by June 30, 2005, depending upon whether or not the union satisfied the city's demands for productivity improvements.

The leading Democratic candidate against Bloomberg, Fernando Ferrer, was told by Roberts that he had the endorsement. He was not confident of winning it, and he went to Washington with Roberts to meet with the national president of the union in hopes of winning theirs' too. DC 37 can put thousands of campaign workers in the streets for a candidate and is one of the few effective street operations in New York politics. Bloomberg was determined to deny that operation to Ferrer as much as he was hopeful of winning it for himself. So, without the union's conceding any real productivity improvements at that time, the city suddenly announced a settlement and granted the increase.

Roberts boasted that she'd kept her promise to the members that they "would get the 1 percent and we would not have to give anything back," and the so-called concessions revealed at that time increased union civilian jobs at the NYPD.

This time around, Bloomberg was actually trying to get the leaders to give him a second endorsement based on the memory of those good old days. Bloomberg campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson told the Voice that the "economic circumstances have changed," so the mayor is not "able to do now what he did four years ago." He did not address the question of whether the mayor's quid pro quo dealings with DC 37 in 2005 were kosher.

A Voice reading of Kevin Sheekey's appointment logs — provided by Azi Paybarah, who posted them early this year after obtaining them under a freedom of information request — reveals that the deputy mayor for politics did not list a single meeting in 2008 with any DC 37 leader, a suggestion of how much City Hall has been taking the union for granted. Sheekey did have meetings with teacher union president Randi Weingarten, usually at the Gee Whiz Diner, and he did list contacts with Corrections union boss Norman Seabrook and firefighter chief Steve Cassidy, as well as meetings with union leaders Mike Fishman and Stu Appelbaum. Sheekey even went to lunch with Michael Mulgrew on December 3, many months before Mulgrew became the new head of the United Federation of Teachers.

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