Teachers Back Lamont

by Melissa Bailey | June 15, 2006 6:39 PM | | Comments (3)

After struggling to garner union support in his bid to oust U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in an Aug. 8 Democratic primary, Ned Lamont accepted his first two union endorsements Thursday morning. Or his campaign did; Lamont wasn’t there. The state’s two major teachers’ unions threw their endorsement to the Greenwich-based challenger in a press event outside a Hartford middle school.

The two unions, the AFT-Connecticut and the Connecticut Education Association, have never endorsed Lieberman in his three previous Senate campaigns. They thought about staying neutral this year.

The Lamont campaign was glad they didn’t: “There is a great amount of pressure being applied by Sen. Lieberman on unions,” said Lamont’s campaign manager, Tom Swan. “These two unions having the courage to come forward and make the case for significant change is one of the most important things for our campaign.”

Lamont himself, however, wasn’t at the press conference to share the excitement. In a strange twist of legal complications, the CEA asked him not to come, according to Swan and an AFT spokesman.

While AFT’s political and legal department did not see a legal problem in having Lamont show up to accept an endorsement — candidates do it all the time — the NEA legal team deemed it a violation of Federal Election Commission laws, according to AFT Spokesman Eric Bailey.

Bailey said the NEA (the CEA’s national umbrella group) ruled appearing with a candidate at a press conference would be considered “advocacy,” i.e. telling people to vote for a certain candidate. CEA Spokeswoman Kathy Frega confirmed: “That’s our understanding; It would be a violation.”

The AFT didn’t think so: “It’s not considered advocacy, it’s just news,” said Bailey. He called Lamont’s absence “unfortunate,” but “what can you do?”

Union reps still gathered for riling speeches. Absent the rising political star, they ended by hugging each other.

Public teachers statewide criticize Lieberman for his support of vouchers for private schools and his vote for the No Child Left Behind Act.

Rosemary Coyle (pictured above, at left), president of the CEA, said at the event that the union interviewed Lamont, but didn’t bother to interview Lieberman because of his support of vouchers for public schools. “That’s not an acceptable position for us.” The CEA, which represents about 36,000 teachers statewide, endorsed Lamont two weeks ago by a unaminous executive board vote.

Lamont is “strongly opposed to vouchers,” said Swan.

Coyle said she was impressed with Lamont’s experience as a volunteer at an inner-city public school in Bridgeport, where he teaches a class on entrepreneurship. “He understands the issues firsthand.”

AFT-Connecticut President Sharon Palmer (pictured at left) said for her union, the choice was tough. An AFT PAC recommended not to endorse anyone, but the board of directors voted 10-6 for Lamont, with three abstentions. The choice, she said, was between endorsing no one, and endorsing Lamont.

“There is too much at stake to take a safe position,” said Palmer. “There was a time when a moderate consensus-builder might have been” the best candidate to represent us in Congress. But not now, she said, in a time of a “health care crisis.” The 26,000 members in her union represent not only teachers, but health care professionals, paraprofessionals and educating personnel.

Lieberman has won endorsements from nearly 20 unions, including the Teamsters who struck at Sikorsky and Locals 34 and 35 of UNITE HERE, the Yale union.

Lieberman’s campaign spokeswoman, Marion Steinfels, dismissed the portrayal of Lieberman as anti-education. Though the senator voted for the NCLB Act, Steinfels said Lieberman “has stood with other Democratic senators in being critical of this administration for failing to properly fund No Child Left Behind.”

Steinfels repeated claims made in an attack ad against Lamont: That as a local official in Greenwich, Lamont voted to make municipal employees pay more for their health benefits. The Lamont campaign portrayed the ad as a gross distortion; unlike other TV ads, this one doesn’t appear on the Lieberman campaign website.

Swan referred to a written rebuttal: “The resolution applied to a small portion of town employees in upper management. It said that management should be required to accept any increase in out-of-pocket expenses that are agreed to at the bargaining table with the town’s unionized employees. The 11-0 vote shows that this was not a controversial issue at all.”

Steinfels also said Lamont voted to cut health department funding in Greenwich.

Replied Swan: “The vote cited by Senator Lieberman was regarding a budget proposal. The health department asked for a 12 percent increase and the the finance board ultimately approved an increase of more than 6 percent.”

Steinfels also claimed Lamont voted against cleaning up asbestos in a public high school.

Swan said Lamont just wanted a second bid: “Ned voted against a $35 million school renovation project, which contained an estimated $6 million for asbestos cleanup, after requesting an independent analysis of the overall plan, including the asbestos situation.”

“These are some of the most desperate and scurrilous charges that I’ve ever heard,” especially from a candidate who has condemned truth-twisting attack ads in the past, said Swan.

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Posted by: spazeboy | June 15, 2006 10:05 PM

Excellent article! I've got a brief write-up and some video from the event up on my weblog at www.spazeboy.net

Posted by: THREEFIFTHS | June 17, 2006 9:14 PM

Can you please tell me why is it that the AFT is supporting ned lamont and Also supporting Diane Farrell who is supporting Bush puppet joe lieberman.

Posted by: Rudy | July 24, 2006 2:19 AM

Lieberman don't need no stinkin' teachers!


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