With Thompson Done, Union People Consider Their Options


Photo (cc) eliotwb.

By Steve Patrick Ercolani.

As a crowded elevator car ascended to the third floor of the Hilton on Sixth Avenue Tuesday night, a campaign aide informed former Democratic mayoral nominee Fernando Ferrer that WCBS wanted an interview. “It seems like just yesterday I was at the Waldorf,” he whispered to his aide. “But it’s Bill’s night tonight.”

That it was. The Hilton’s third-floor ballroom was packed with depot lights and television crews. Members of the press and cocktail-toting supporters leaned against Heineken-laden gueridons.

On stage, a cadre of assemblymen and women, city council members, Reverend Al Sharpton and newly-elected Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio spit Foggy Bottom platitudes at the host of citywide contingents in attendance.

Councilman Robert Jackson tore up a dollar bill amid the
Election Night fury. Reverend Sharpton implored the crowd to take back New York. Bill DeBlasio insisted that democracy had won a mandate.

It’s generally conceded that, if there was a mandate on Tuesday, Mayor Bloomberg’s election to an unprecedented third term wasn’t it. In 2005, Mayor Bloomberg won by an effortless 20-percent margin against Ferrer; Tuesday, his margin was five points. “What this tells us,” said Councilman Jackson, “is that without money, he would have lost.”

As 11 p.m. came and went, expectations seemed high. Congressman Anthony Weiner took to the microphone, insisting that the pollsters were asking themselves, “who did we pick, who did we pick?”

Though Bloomberg did eventually win, after overturning the term limit law and injecting more than $100 million into what was an unexpectedly close race, union men and women insisted that not all of New York City could be bought.

The votes of Social Service Employees Union Local 371 of District Council 37, present in large numbers, certainly weren’t. Exit polls put union membership at nearly one-quarter of the voting population. These voters split for Thompson 58-38. And unions contributed heavily to the Thompson campaign.

Ronald Moore, an organizer of Social Service Employees Union Local 371 of District Council 37, lamented the expected layoffs to come under Mayor Bloomberg.

“They projected to lay off 500 school aides,” he said.

Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, the largest municipal union in the city (who later received a
shout-out from a conceding Bill Thompson) told the Voice, “We feel like we lost a friend and a sensitive ear to the problems of the city.”

Public employees can’t strike, so Lillian Roberts and DC37 will continue to use mechanisms like the White Papers to put pressure on the Administration.

The White Papers, the latest of which were issued in February of 2009, are a follow-up to a series of earlier reports which detailed the city’s custom of lending out large contracts to out-of-city workers. The February report shows that more than $9 billion of the city’s $60 billion budget that was allocated to what the union calls an unelected “shadow government” of private contractors and outside consultants. Their authors conclude that the city could save itself about $130 million by simply reducing the number of outsourced city contracts — which, of course, also represent lost income to city union workers.

The most recent issue of the White Papers reviews 10 city contracts — out of 18,000. That represents at least 18,000 issues that DC 37 fears, in the wake of the election, won’t be heard.

“Thompson understood that resources were being wasted, the community suppressed,” reiterated Roberts.

Later, as Thompson’s and the unions’ loss was cemented, a game of whisper-down-the-lane started
somewhere off towards the far left end of the stage. One by one, the expressions of DeBlasio, councilmember Viverito, former councilman Bill Perkins, and others darkened. “My buddy is at the Bloomberg rally,” said someone in the press area. “Thompson conceded.”

Minutes later, to the tune of Stevie Wonder’s
“Higher Ground,” Thompson, his daughter Jennifer, and his teary-eyed wife Elsie McCabe approached the podium to an onslaught of cheers, momentarily stopping by a stony-faced Al Sharpton.

“Minutes ago I called Mayor Bloomberg…” Thompson began. The crowd booed. Thompson gently shushed the crowd. “…and I congratulated him on his victory.” More boos followed.

Hundreds of grey, laminated, billion-dollar bills adorned with the Mayor’s face, which had been circulating around the room, fell to the ground.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Joe Campbell of TWU Local 100, one of the largest contingents in attendance. He was wearing a union jacket emblazoned with the legend “Organize or Die,” “But I think we showed Bloomberg that not every vote is for sale.”

This is admittedly a small victory, but at a time of double-digit
unemployment, there will be other fights for the unions to wake and perhaps win, with or without Thompson.

Asked about her expectations for Mayor Bloomberg, Roberts replied simply, “I expect him to manage the city. I expect him to hear our complaints in a responsible manner.” If he doesn’t do so to her union’s satisfaction, Roberts continued, “we have our avenues, our grievance, our courts, and we will pursue them.”