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Another Term Awaits


Photo from NY1.com

The two term mayor, clad in his standard dark suit and red tie, and the affable turned go get 'em comptroller stood side by side last week beneath a fresco in the El Museo del Barrio's theater.

They were there for the first of two general election debates -- an hour-long glimpse for thousands of New Yorkers into a campaign that has been full speed ahead for months.

They covered term limits ("In the end, on Nov. 3 what really matters is a vote between two candidates," reasoned Mayor Michael Bloomberg). And they went over Comptroller Bill Thompson's alleged pay to play campaign contributions ("Mike," Thompson warned, "you know better than that.")

Politics was starring. Public policy was cast as this show's understudy.

Little discussion has centered on what these two candidates are pledging to do in the next four years. The Bloomberg campaign has put out 11 proposals -- an agenda that covers identify theft and tracking shoeprints to solve crimes. Thompson has released a few (far fewer) of his own -- proposing a moratorium on rezoning manufacturing areas, for one.

Fast-forward to January. What kind of agenda would our mayor implement to get New York City through a Grand Canyon-like recession, a damaged housing market and confront a climbing homeless population?

That all depends on whom you ask.

For a breakdown of where these candidates stand on the city's most important issues, see our chart here.

The Economy

A few days after the first mayoral debate, Thompson appeared in front of another crowd -- a far less friendly one.

Standing on stage at a Crain's breakfast at the Grand Hyatt, Thompson went over what he would do to close the city's looming $5 billion budget gap. He would conduct "a top to bottom review" of unnecessary spending, look at the Department of Education's contracts, take aim at capital spending by the Department of Environmental Protection and look to Washington for additional revenues.

"Looking at the city of New York and looking at all of our agencies and creating greater savings there, eliminating what doesn't work, I think those things start to close the budget gap," said Thompson to muted applause.

Thompson, who as comptroller is responsible for auditing all of the city's agencies, declined to go into greater detail. He said the city should start by eliminating waste and then turn to layoffs or buyouts.

He did say the mayor's sales tax increase earlier this year was a mistake. Instead, the comptroller wants to increase taxes on those that make more than $500,000 annually by .6 percent and by 1 percent for those bringing in more than $1 million. A similar proposal was approved by the state legislature earlier this year, and some advocates say an increase by the city would be overkill.

"Raising taxes is counter productive and counter stimulative," said Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a conservative fiscal watchdog. "It's not a panacea. Other things are going to have to be done. You can't deal with this by raising taxes."

Like Bloomberg, Thompson has been trying to court small businesses by pledging to coordinate the city's inspection process (a proposal that was first floated by Council Speaker Christine Quinn) and make health insurance more accessible to the smaller employer (He cites projects like Brooklyn HealthWorks -- an affordable health insurance plan for small businesses -- which also has been praised by the Bloomberg administration). He wants to create a database of available commercial space less than 5,000 square feet, restrict chain stores in certain neighborhoods and offer a tax credit for businesses under the S Corporation tax -- a form of double taxation for small corporate shareholders.

Thompson has also said he would deny public subsidies to developments that do not pay their workers a living wage, and wants to invigorate the city's manufacturing industry by placing a moratorium on new rezonings there. Bloomberg has not signed onto a similar pledge.

The mayor has, however, committed to pursue a fifth pension tier reducing benefits for new employees -- a proposal Thompson has refused to support.

"It's great to support manufacturing," said the Manhattan Institute's Nicole Gelinas of Thompson's plan. But, she added, "If you're maintaining unsustainable public sector benefits, it doesn’t really matter what kind of business it is."

Under the Bloomberg administration both spending and pension costs have skyrocketed. In 2002, the city's budget was $41 billion and its pension contributions were less than $2 billion. Now the budget is flirting with $60 billion, and pension costs have more than tripled. Absent from the mayor's re-election campaign (and from Thompson's) is what he would do to control these day-to-day costs.

"Where is it going to come from?" asked Kellermann. "The mayor isn’t saying either. He's saying what not to do. That means you have to do some cuts."

Bloomberg has pledged to not raise taxes in the next year. He made a similar pledge in his 2001 election campaign, but later raised property taxes.

The centerpiece of the mayor's economic proposal is his "Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan" -- a pledge to create or preserve 400,000 jobs. That plan compiles many of the proposals the Bloomberg administration has adopted throughout his second term -- touting job creation projections from rezonings in Harlem to Willets Point and from the city's capital projects.

Just last week the mayor's office announced it had placed New Yorkers in 6,802 jobs in the third quarter of 2009. They say they have secured 17,000 jobs in 2008.

Some advocates have questioned these calculations.

"Are you going to count Yankee stadium, if they were just moved across the street?" asked Bettina Damiani, project director at Good Jobs New York, an arm of the Fiscal Policy Institute. "The city's calculation of jobs gives me pause for concern."

As part of his recession-proof plan, Bloomberg has said he would work to diversify the economy, boost industries like biotechnology, film and tourism. Thompson too has signed onto this proposal.

Mayoral Control

For the most part, educators and experts say the city's Department of Education is in better shape than the city's fragmented former Board of Education.

Nonetheless, Thompson has made it part of his campaign to attack the mayor's school governance policies and commit to getting more oversight and parental involvement. In March, the comptroller released a proposal that would have replaced the Panel for Educational Policy with a nine-member school board. It also called for an independent body to audit test scores and graduation rates and ensure the department's contracts are fair and awarded competitively. As part of the renewal of mayoral control by the state legislature this summer, the comptroller and the Independent Budget Office won auditing and oversight power.

Since then, Thompson, who served as the president of the Board of Education from 1996 to 2001, has said as mayor he will promise to curtail no-bid contracts at the department, root out waste and stop teaching to the test -- which he compares to the George Bush era No Child Left Behind Act. Echoing education advocates, Thompson too has called for more parental involvement.

His first task as mayor, though, he has said would be to fire Schools Chancellor Joel Klein.

On the campaign trail, the mayor has defended his oversight of the school system, consolidating his control in one simple statement: "If you believe that the school system was better when Bill Thompson ran it, you should vote for him."

Throughout his tenure, Bloomberg has touted higher graduation rates, reduction in school crime and better state test scores. Just last week, Klein appeared before the city's business leaders to present data showing the city's scores are improving more rapidly than elsewhere in the state.

In a third term, the mayor wants to double the number of charter schools, which would mean nearly 10 percent of all students would attend one. He has also pledged to get an additional 120,000 New Yorkers to graduate from our community colleges in the next decade.

Advocates and Thompson have long questioned the accuracy of the schools' performance. For the most part, though, they do not deny there has been improvement in city schools under Bloomberg.

"What Bloomberg and Klein have done pretty successfully, they have increased public confidence in the school system," said Pedro Noguera, an education professor at New York University. "It's not a good idea for someone to run for mayor to undermine that and try to tear it down."

As for who's winning on education, Noguera said, "The edge goes to Bloomberg right now."

Housing and Development

In the past eight years, luxury condominiums have sprouted along the East River and the number of affordable apartments has declined by about 200,000.

Bloomberg defends his revision of the city skyline and streetscape, saying more than 100 rezonings have protected the current character of communities. The luxury high-rise development, he added, creates jobs and needed housing.

"Those rezonings give us a future," Bloomberg said at the first mayoral debate.

Thompson says they have made the city "uglier," crediting Bloomberg's development agenda -- and the towering condominium buildings that go with it -- with making New York more unaffordable and pushing out the middle class. As mayor, Thompson said he would review all of the city's rezonings, starting with Hudson Yards.

Throughout his tenure at City Hall, Bloomberg has touted his New Housing Marketplace Plan -- a commitment to create or preserve 165,000 affordable apartments. The administration says it is more than halfway there.

Thompson's housing agenda has been mostly sans specifics, except for his commitment to lobby the state legislature to repeal the Urstadt law, which would give the city home rule over rent control, and vacancy decontrol.

Bloomberg has not signed on to either of these proposals.

For their part, some housing advocates are in Thompson's corner for now, even if his plan to create affordable housing is short of details.

"His approach toward housing would be dramatically better than Bloomberg," said Mario Mazzoni, the Metropolitan Council on Housing's lead organizer. "Bloomberg doesn’t consider there to be a problem."

Health and Environment

Eight years ago you could light up in a bar and devour 2,000 calories in one sitting without guilt.

None of Bloomberg's policies have caught the nation's eye more than his pursuit of making New Yorkers and the environment around them more healthy. He banned trans fats and posted calories counts, cut out smoking and attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to make every taxi a hybrid. He failed at getting congestion pricing in Albany approved, but he has started rolling out scores of the other 127 initiatives in PlaNYC 2030 -- his environmental agenda released on Earth Day 2007.

Bloomberg has spearheaded initiatives to get fresh fruits and vegetables in local bodegas and overseen the city's new solid waste plan, which moves the city's garbage around on barges and trains instead of noxious diesel trucks.

And in a third term, the mayor will attempt to ban smoking in public parks.

"The role of government is to lengthen and improve peoples' lives," said Bloomberg. "Nobody makes you not buy the Big Mac... at least people have that information."

Thompson, on the other hand, has not put out any proposals on the environment or health issues. In debates, the comptroller has said his administration would focus on health disparities and try to make preventative medicine more accessible.

Social Services

Bloomberg has probably seen the most criticism on his management of the city's social services, especially its homeless population.

After committing to reducing the homeless population by two-thirds in five years, the city is now seeing the largest homeless population in modern history. The year Bloomberg took office approximately 80,000 individual New Yorkers were shuttled into and out of shelters annually. Now that number is 120,000, according to the Coalition for the Homeless.

"Simply put, under Mayor Bloomberg more New Yorkers have been homeless than under any mayor," said Patrick Markee, the senior policy analyst for the coalition. "There is no question that his policies have failed."

Despite these numbers, the mayor has not admitted defeat. At last week's debate, Bloomberg said, "Today nobody sleeps on benches. Today we don't bus kids around in the middle of the night... We've made the system better."

Under Bloomberg, the city has given homeless individuals one-way plane tickets to reunite with their families, and it has implemented harsher regulations at shelters, like curfew restrictions, which make it easier to evict homeless families. A staple of the Bloomberg policy was to no longer give homeless persons priority for emergency housing vouchers.

Once again, Thompson said he would give homeless individuals priority for Section 8 vouchers. He has said the city should focus on preventative measures and could use emergency vouchers to keep people in their homes.

As part of his campaign, Thompson has also said he would like to expand the number of senior centers and start to use these facilities for other programs, like for after school activities. The comptroller was a staunch opponent of the mayor's proposal to restructure the Department for the Aging, which would have consolidated the number of senior centers and Meals on Wheels programs. That proposal was eventually withdrawn.

While it did bring the ire of aging advocates, advocates say the administration is now more open to hearing their concerns and working with them.

Where They Stand


Forget about term limits or perfunctory personality quirks. Here is a brief breakdown of where Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Comptroller William Thompson stand on some of the city's most important issues.

BLOOMBERG THOMPSON
Crime
Has taken his crusade to get illegal guns off New York City streets nationwide, touts his record at reducing crime even in a recession. Wants to create a footwear recognition database. Proposes using GPS to fight crime in public housing. Expanding surveillance camera initiative currently around Lower Manhattan to Midtown. Has said he will fire Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to bring in a new team. Supports stop and frisks of suspects but says policy is overused. Promises to maintain police department staffing levels. Supports higher salaries for starting police officers. Would focus on "Wall Street" crime as well as crime in public housing projects.
Economy
Put forward a five-borough economic opportunity plan, full of proposals he's touted throughout his second term; includes tax breaks for businesses, expanded hours at workforce centers and potential job creation from the city's capital budget and federal stimulus dollars. Has promised to not raise taxes in the next year and has lobbied for reducing pension benefits for new public employees. (Like Bloomberg) wants to streamline the application process for new businesses and give tax breaks to small and independent business owners. Wants to raise taxes on those making more than $500,000 a year and restrict chain stores in certain neighborhoods. Has refused to support the new pension tier for new employees, saying that needs to be negotiated with unions behind closed doors.
Education
After winning mayoral control of schools in his first term, successfully spearheaded its extension in his second. Wants to double the number of charter schools in the next four years, which would make charter schools account for 10 percent of school seats. Has touted test scores and graduation rates as a measure of how much schools have improved. Wants an additional 120,000 New Yorkers to graduate from our community colleges by 2020. Vows to get the Department of Education back to basics, fire Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, stop teaching to the test and reduce class size instead of closing schools. Wants to expand the number of district family advocates and was successful in lobbying for fiscal oversight of the Department of Education by the comptroller's office.
Environment
Put forth the 127-initiative PlaNYC 2030 in 2007, which includes a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. Opposes drilling in or near New York City’s watershed, and has analyzed capacity limitations at landfills used by the city. Has not released any specific proposals related to environmental policy.
Health
Says role of government is to improve and lengthen lives. Under his tenure, has banned smoking in public places, implemented mandatory calorie counts on some restaurant menus and banned trans fats. Wants to ban smoking in public parks and beaches. Supports a national health plan with a public option. Touts his protest of hospital closings in Queens and his support of streamlining publicly funded health care programs, like Child Health Plus. Says his administration would focus on health disparities and preventative care as well as expanding access to health insurance, similar to Brooklyn HealthWorks, which was also supported by Bloomberg. Supports a health care plan with a public option.
Housing
Has rezoned over 100 communities during his tenure. Many have preserved neighborhoods, but waterfront communities have seen massive luxury development. Says development plan has been balanced. Has not voiced support for legislation to roll back vacancy decontrol or repeal the Urstadt Law. Has been very critical of the Bloomberg development agenda, and says his administration would reexamine those rezonings. Has lobbied for vacancy decontrol legislation and the repeal of Urstadt in Albany.
Social Services
Was unsuccessful in restructuring the Department for the Aging to consolidate services, has controversially paid for one-way plane tickets for homeless individuals to leave the city and reunite with families, did not meet his commitment to reduce homelessness by two-thirds. Says he has made the system for homeless individuals better. Was against the centralization of senior centers by the Bloomberg administration. Would allow senior centers to define core services, expand and would use these facilities for other community services, like after school programs. Wants to reopen the federal Section 8 voucher program, offer emergency housing vouchers to the homeless and work on preventative poverty programs.
Transportation
Wants to reopen shuttered LIRR lines in Queens, expand bus rapid transit, have light rail pilot project in Northern Brooklyn and Western Queens as well as install gateless toll plazas, expand ferry service, institute a transit "smart card" and give the police full authority over transit security -- much of this needs to be adopted by the MTA, which is in dire fiscal straits. Unsuccessfully lobbied for congestion pricing. Against tolls on the East River bridges and advocates for the reinstatement of the commuter tax. To solve the MTA's fiscal crisis, he lobbied for a weight based registration fee for new vehicles.

Unions Flex Their Political Muscles


Image by Ya-Hsuan Huang

Facing almost overwhelming odds in his quest to defeat Democrat John Liu and become New York City's next comptroller, Republican Joe Mendola tried a new tack last month.

"How in heaven's name is he supposed to be an independent auditor of unions and city agencies when he's so tight with them that he’s even having his victory celebration in a union hall?” Mendola said, alluding to Liu's victory celebration at the teachers union headquarters in downtown Manhattan. "There's a conflict of interest there that screams at voters."

Scream it may but New Yorkers have become accustomed to the roar. Labor has long helped boost politicians in New York. Union endorsements bring financial donations and members to staff phone banks and ring doorbells. And this year, labor has seemed particularly powerful as candidates backed by key unions and the Working Families Party, which includes many of the city's more progressive unions, managed to topple sitting City Council members -- an almost unheard of feat in New York City -- and win the Democratic nominations for public advocate and comptroller.

These victories, along with a campaign finance law that exempts unions from key restrictions, have sparked renewed debate about labor's role in city politics and government. While most candidates embrace union support, critics see organized workers -- particularly public employees -- as having too much influentce over public policy.

"Largely because of the union lock on pols, City Hall and Albany ignored Recession Economics 101 and raised taxes by a combined $13 billion this year," Michael Goodwin recently complained in the Daily News.

But Democratic public advocate candidate Bill de Blasio, who received more money from unions and their political action committees than any other citywide candidate this year, takes a different view. "A lot of what government is supposed to be doing is improving the lives of working people," he said.

Winning Efforts

The Working Families Party by no means has support of all unions, and it includes other groups such as ACORN as well. That said, the party has very strong ties to unions, and it had a particularly strong showing on Sept. 15 and 29.

De Blasio, the party's choice for public advocate, and Liu, its pick for comptroller, each best out three formidable opponents to win the Democratic nomination. Its mayoral choice, William Thompson Jr., won his primary. The party provided support to three challengers who ousted incumbent City Council members: Jumaane Williams, Daniel Dromm and Deborah Rose. It also backed but did not actively work for Fernando Cabrera, who kicked the Bronx's Maria Baez out of office. Its candidates also captured the Democratic nominations for two open seats in Brooklyn and one each in Queens and Manhattan.

Of course, the party lost some contests, notably the Manhattan district attorney's race, where its candidate, Richard Aborn, lost to Cyrus Vance Jr. Its effort to topple two more Brooklyn incumbents -- Diana Reyna and Albert Vann -- as did its choices for two other open seats in Queens.

Labor's success extended beyond the Working Families Party. In both citywide races, the candidates with the most union money -- de Blasio and Liu -- won. On the other end, David Yassky, who had virtually no union support, lost to Liu in the runoff by a wide margin.

Following the Money

New York is the nation's most unionized state with just shy of 25 percent of the workforce belonging to a union, far above the national rate of 12.4 percent, accordingto the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among public employees in the state, 69 percent are union members.

So far this election cycle, unions have given about $375,000 to candidates for office in New York City. Many unions that represent public employees -- such as the United Federation of Teachers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees -- gave thousands of dollars to their preferred candidates. The city's largest municipal workers union, DC37, donated at least $14,890.

Candidates collected a total of about $94,000 from 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, many of whose members rely directly on government programs, especially Medicaid, for their jobs. Unions representing private employees, such as the communication workers, the retail workers, the food and commercial workers and the hotel workers, also made campaign donations.

This year marked the onset of the city's new campaign finance law, passed in 2007, which restricts contributions by lobbyists and businesses that do business with the city but does not put any similar restriction on campaign donations from unions -- such as DC37.

"It was a piece of legislation that unions had crafted so they wouldn't be treated the way corporations would be treated," said Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Prior to the law, donations from groups doing business with the city far outpaced those from labor unions. In the 2001 and 2005 election cycles, for example, "doing business" firms gave about $25 million to citywide candidates, while unions gave a relatively paltry $4.1 million, according to an analysis by the New York Times.

Russianoff said it is not yet clear what impact the new law -- and its exemption for unions -- had on this year's election. He said the Campaign Finance Board will review that after the November election.

Whatever the board and other analysts find, though, Russianoff does not expect further restrictions on union money. Asked if a limit similar to the one on businesses was likely anytime soon, Russianoff said, "In a word, no."

Union help goes beyond the power of the purse, though. "The real strength unions have is the ability to mobilize members," said Russianoff. "Corporations don't have that."

The Working Families Party, for example, has said that leading up to the Sept. 15 primary, it knocked on 227,928 doors and talked to 62,112 voters -- not bad for an election in which only around 350,000 people voted.

Last Month's Results

In races that people know little about -- their district City Council's contest, for example -- an endorsement can serve as a quick signal of where a candidate stands. Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, said he hoped that last month's victories indicate "that people support our view that everyone deserves a chance at a decent, meaningful life."

Many of the contests hinged on individual circumstances. The "lingering effect of term limits" played a role, according to Cantor, contributing to defeats of City Council members who voted to extend them. And, he said, many of the winners were "good candidates with a good message and hard work behind that."

The low turnout probably helped the union-backed candidates since only the most motivated citizens -- many, no doubt, union members or their families -- turned out at the polls. By one estimate, DC37 may have 4,000 to 5,000 members in City Council District 45 in East Flatbush. The unions' preferred candidate, Jumaane Williams, won that race by about 1,100 votes.

Working Class History

Unions have long wielded influence in New York politics. "Mayor LaGuardia never could have been mayor without labor's support," said Joshua Freeman, a professor of history at Queens College. In his book, Working Class New York," Freeman describes the city in the 1940s as a place where union activists played a key role in creating a kind of "New York exceptionalism... a local polity that during coming decades came to symbolize the best or worse of urban liberalism, depending upon one's point of view."

During that time, unions helped to preserve rent regulation for most of the city's housing stock and worked successfully to maintain low transit fares, keep the City University tuition free and expand municipal services. By the 1960s and the mayoralty of Robert Wagner, "New York labor reached a zenith of power," Freeman wrote. "Organized labor wielded its influence in ways unrivaled in the city's history to make working-class life more pleasant and secure."

Gradually that began to change. That power became a victim of demographic changes in the city, the bitter divisions wrought by the 1968 teacher's strike, the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and New York's growth from a working class city to more of a global financial capital.

Even considering last month's victories, Freeman does not think labor has the power it once did. "It has less of decisive effect than it did in earlier years" when labor could sway bigger things, like the mayoral race, he said.

Steven Malanga, the senior editor of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, puts it more harshly. "What matters in defining New York is the mayor's office," he wrote recently in the New York Post. "By contrast, the comptroller is essentially an auditor with little policy-making clout, while the public advocate's job is so ill-defined it might as well be called 'the public appendix'" and City Council members "spend their days on constituent service or in committee meetings."

Voter, Supporter, Employee

Limited as labor's clout may be, last month's election has prompted alarm in some circles and a flurry of agitated newspaper opinion articles.

"The Real Estate Board has gone crazy," said Cantor. "They think the barbarians are at the gates."

Many of those expressing alarm cite a fundamental change between the union powerhouses of 50 years ago and those of today. Now, the strongest unions represent public employees. When their members go to the polls, they are, in essence, electing their bosses -- the people they will have to negotiate with at the bargaining table.

Public sector unions, Fred Seigel and Dan DiSalvo recently wrote in the Weekly Standard, "can achieve influence on both sides of the bargaining table by making campaign contributions and organizing get-out-the-vote drives to elect politicians who then control the negotiations over their pay, benefits, and work rules. The result is a nefarious cycle: Politicians agree to generous government worker contracts; those workers then pay higher union dues a portion of which are funneled back into those same politicians' campaign war chests. It is a cycle that has driven California and New York to the edge of bankruptcy."

In contrast with the unions of the mid 20th century, Freeman said, today's unions have a narrower priority: their collective bargaining position with the city. But, according to Freeman, public employee unions are hardly alone in using political activity to pursue parochial goals. "It's not a whole lot different from other politically active groups," he said. "Real estate interests don't tend to get involved in education."

Spheres of Influence

Photo by Courtney Gross
Union supporters for Bill Thompson

The power of these public employee unions -- whether good or bad -- is unmistakable. It is evident in the campaign finance bill's exemption of unions and in the debate over reducing pensions for public employees, cutting government programs and a myriad of other issues large and small.

Carol Kellermann, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a private watchdog group, said that union influence shows up most clearly in efforts to control spending.

"If you look at spending and what state and local government spend money on," she said, citing education, Medicare, public employee salaries, "in every one of those areas there are organized public employees."

On pension reductions, she said, the union's power makes it "very, very difficult to achieve change... and even to discuss it rationally."

"Everybody else would benefit from these changes," Kellermann said, "but they aren't organized."

The city and state's fiscal problems do pose a major challenge, Cantor said. "It is very difficult to sustain vibrant public sector when the private sector is under such stress," he said. But he said the Working Families Party and its union supporters reject the idea that the way out of our fiscal problems is "to make public sector lives as difficult as private sector lives."

The Fine Print

While the Working Families Party, with some 20 groups, may take that kind of broad view, individual unions can get down to very specific issues. Take the United Federation of Teachers whose contract has been widely assailed as a collection of minutiae about what teachers can and cannot do.

Currently the city and the union are behind closed doors hammering out a new agreement. One issue allegedly in play are rules for teachers considered unqualified to teach. But, even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have complained about the contract, many experts do not expectthem to do much to change it.

The teachers, considered one the most powerful unions in the city, have not endorsed in the mayor's race so far. And that could indicate a deal in the works.

Bloomberg persuaded the union to support mayoral control of schools and wants the union to "at the very least not endorse Bill Thompson" for mayor, according to Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute. In return for that, Stern said, Bloomberg has a powerful incentive to give the teachers a raise and keep the contract basically as is, and ignore work rules he complained about in the past. (Neither side is publicly discussing the negotiations.)

"There has been a grand compact, a grand accommodation," Stern said recently.

Disagreements Among Friends

Unions and the candidates they support deny that politicians who get union support are required to toe the labor line.

De Blasio said he has worked closely with unions over the years and understands their concerns. But, he said, "that does not mean I always agree with them by any stretch." For example he said, when he served on a community school board in Brooklyn, he disagreed with the teachers union on work rules. He said his support for a strong police Civilian Complaint Review Board was at odds with positions taken by various law enforcement unions and that the sanitation workers had concerns about his bill requiring recycling of electronic waste.

"All public servants represent a broad range of issues and try to determine what good public policy is," he said. "You can't go by who supported you in the last election."

Some detect a whiff of sour grapes among some politicians who now seem to be distancing themselves from unions and the Working Families Party.

Responding to criticism of his many union endorsements, Jumaane Williams said, "I don't know why unions are bad all of a sudden... Every candidate took hours out of their day to seek the same endorsements."

During a candidate debate, Yassky indicated his position on pension reform -- he has said he would be open to cutting pension benefits for newly hired city employees -- might have cost him union support. "What I haven't done is tell anyone what they wanted to hear," Yassky said. "I'm sure there have been political consequences."

Following his defeat, Yassky co-authored an op-ed piece with former Mayor Ed Koch deriding the influence of the Working Families Party. "The problem," they wrote, "is that the WFP is driven not simply by ideology, but also by the very specific interests of its component parts -- namely, the city's largest labor unions. These organizations have a very direct financial stake in the state and city budgets, an interest that is often at odds with the public interest."

Whatever the merits of their argument, the column elicited a cynical reaction among some political insiders who noted that Yassky had sought the Working Families Party and union endorsements himself at various times in his career.

On to November

With the primaries over in this overwhelmingly Democratic city, many unions have already accomplished their key political goals for the 2009 elections. The mayoral election still looms, though, with labor divided. Democrat Thompson has managed to pick up the Working Families Party and DC37 endorsement, along with backing from the Communication Workers, the Uniformed Firefighters and the Transport Workers, among others. Thompson has received almost $41,000 from unions and many thousands more from union political action committees. Despite that, questions remain as to how hard some of these groups will fight for Thompson.

Bloomberg also has some union backing, including from the Building and Construction Trades. And then there are groups, notably the teachers, who remain on the sidelines, at least publicly.

Like the candidates in last month's primary, Bloomberg and Thompson are courting labor votes -- and each campaign puts out a press release when it bags a thumbs up from one group or another. What the announcement does not include is what, if anything, the candidate promised in exchange for that support.



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