Shortly after 10 a.m. March 4, Jake Lemonda, discussing the 14 Democratic primaries contested the day before that had propelled former Vice President Joe Biden to the front of the pack again, said, “I think the result on Super Tuesday was more reflective of the mainstream Democratic Party now that the field has narrowed.”
Asked about former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s disappointing showing and whether it might prompt him to drop out of the race, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association replied, “I was a little surprised with the performance. He’s assembled an enormous army, and he’s being advised by some of the best people in the business. But clearly his intent and purpose is to defeat President Trump. Maybe now he puts all his resources behind the [eventual] nominee.”
No Sooner Said…
Less than 10 minutes later, it was disclosed that Mr. Bloomberg had withdrawn from the race. A few minutes after that, Mr. Lemonda called back and began by saying, “That didn’t take long.”
He was one of several municipal-union leaders who expressed varying reactions to the former Mayor’s withdrawal, although none of them was shocked or particularly disappointed by the decision.
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, who is seeking to be a Biden delegate at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July, had made clear a week earlier that his distaste for the former Mayor due to both his bargaining tactics and education policies had not faded in the six-plus years since Mr. Bloomberg exited City Hall after 12 years.
“I thank him very much for his wise decision,” he said in a phone interview that afternoon. “I appreciate the fact that he understands there is a bigger picture.”
‘People Called Him Out’
Asked why he thought Mr. Bloomberg had failed to gain traction despite a $500-million advertising campaign that stressed his management experience, both in taking over the city after it was staggered psychically and financially by the World Trade Center’s destruction and in running his billion-dollar financial-data and communications firm, Mr. Mulgrew said, “It’s always gonna be tough to do it the way he tried to do it. People were gonna call him out on trying to buy the nomination and not go through the regular process,” referring to Mr. Bloomberg having skipped the caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries.
The UFT leader said he believed the dynamic of the battle for the Democratic nomination had changed with the withdrawal just prior to Super Tuesday of former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, followed by Mr. Bloomberg, leaving just Mr. Biden, former front-running Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who dropped out the following morning after finishing third in the primary in her home state of Massachusetts).
“It looks like it’s down to two candidates, realistically,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “Now everyone gets to choose. Let’s have a real primary, so the Democratic Party will know where it’s supposed to go.”
Teamsters Local 237 President Greg Floyd praised the Mayor for “realizing he doesn’t see a path for moving forward” and endorsing Mr. Biden, who “has the same agenda and values he does. He came in, he tried and he got out quickly once he saw it wasn’t working.”
Stumbled Over Stops
He said Mr. Bloomberg was hamstrung by his performance in the Feb. 18 debate in Las Vegas, “his first chance to make a first impression. Elizabeth Warren stripped the mask off him on stage and he was exposed. Then it was stop-and-frisk and other things.”
Shortly before entering the race last fall, the former Mayor went to the Christian Cultural Center, a Brooklyn megachurch with a largely black congregation, to apologize for the overuse of stop-and-frisk for most of his tenure, until it was pared back 17 months before U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in August 2013 that the NYPD frequently violated the Constitution with its use of the tactic.
Noting the gap between her ruling and the apology—as well as a recording of Mr. Bloomberg in 2015 that surfaced recently saying that the way to get guns off the street was to stop young black men and “put them up against the wall”—Mr. Floyd said, “He took too long to apologize for stop-and-frisk. If he had apologized when he wasn’t running for office, that would have gone a long way” in convincing voters of his sincerity. “It would have gone better if he had said that four years ago.”
Like most national unions, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has held off on making a presidential endorsement. (The International Association of Fire Fighters, which includes the UFOA among its affiliates, was a conspicuous exception, endorsing Mr. Biden right after he declared his candidacy last April.)
Could It Back Trump?
Mr. Floyd said he did not know whether the IBT would wait until after the primaries were concluded to endorse a candidate. Nor did he rule out, when asked, the possibility that the national union—which in the past has backed Republicans including Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan—might endorse Mr. Trump.
“Stranger things have happened,” the Local 237 leader said, “but Donald would probably have to do something now and make a commitment like with the [Teamster Central States] pension funds, which are under water.”
Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen, who represents faculty at the City University of New York, had a different perspective on the national race, although there were similarities in her reaction to Mr. Bloomberg’s withdrawal.
“I’m relieved that he’s out of the race,” she said. “His anti-worker policies and the deep racism of stop-and-frisk disqualify him.”
‘Deserve’ More Than Biden
But she also was concerned by what she called “the hasty anointing of Joe Biden as the front-runner. I think working people in this country are hungry for more than a return to the pre-Trump past. Stability and decency are very important, but I think there’s a chance for something more. We deserve a real progressive.”
Asked whether it wasn’t Democratic voters who “anointed” Mr. Biden, however much he was helped by fellow moderates like Mayor Buttigieg and Ms. Klobuchar withdrawing from the race and endorsing him just prior to Super Tuesday, Ms. Bowen acknowledged, “Voters voted, and that has to be taken with the utmost seriousness.”
But she said that the PSC, which like the UFT is an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, had heeded the counsel of National President Randi Weingarten two weeks earlier that it consider backing Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders or Ms. Warren. The union’s leadership has made a proposal to jointly endorse Senators Sanders and Warren for the April 28 New York primary that presumably will be amended to reflect Ms. Warren’s leaving the race. It will be voted on by its delegate assembly March 19.
The AFT at its national convention in late July is expected to endorse whoever emerges with the Democratic nomination, and Ms. Bowen indicated her union would follow its lead. She said interest in the PSC getting involved for the New York primary was high among her rank and file because “many of the Democrats have elevated the issue of higher education in a way that we haven’t seen before in a presidential election.”
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