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DC 37 union leaders endorse Peter Vallone

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Although leaders of the city’s largest municipal labor union have voted to endorse City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) in his bid for mayor, union insiders say the endorsement will not likely give him the full support of union membership.

The executive board of District Council 37, the city’s largest public employees union, recommended last week that union delegates endorse Vallone when they vote Thursday, a decision many are touting as a major coup for the Vallone campaign.

“As Peter has said, this is arguably the biggest event that has happened in this mayoral campaign yet,” Vallone campaign spokesman Mattis Goldman said of the endorsement. “We believe the executive board recommended Vallone because he’s the candidate with the best track record of getting results.”

City Comptroller Alan Hevesi, the other Democratic mayoral contender from Queens, received the endorsement of Queens Borough President Claire Shulman at Borough Hall Tuesday. Although Shulman said her choice between two Queens political allies was not an easy decision, she thought Hevesi’s background would make him an effective mayor.

DC 37 spokesman Chris Policano said union leaders endorsed Vallone because he has historically supported issues of importance to them by restoring money in the budget to parks and cultural institutions and blocking the sale of public hospitals.

“If you support DC 37, DC 37 will support you,” Policano said. “This was a statement that the leaders wanted to make.”

The endorsement is coveted by political candidates because the union employs an extensive grass-roots efforts to draw support for its candidates among its membership, which includes 125,000 municipal employees and 40,000 active retirees.

“That kind of mobilization effort is much sought after by folks who want to hold elected office,” Policano said. “It’s a very valuable structure that we have in terms of reaching our members and getting out the vote.”

The union, which has 56 local units, formed a screening committee made up of presidents from 15 locals to consider which candidates to endorse. The committee recommends candidates to an executive board made up of 21 local presidents, which in turn issues recommendations to 325 delegates who vote on the final endorsement.

Vallone was endorsed by the screening committee and executive board, and is expected to therefore receive the support of union delegates when they vote Thursday — although the Vallone camp said it realizes the delegates may not necessarily follow the recommendation of their leadership.

The decision to issue an endorsement this early in the campaign came as a surprise to many, who expected the union to hold off until the field had been whittled down by the primary. With four major candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor — including Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, Public Advocate Mark Green and Hevesi — no one is expected to earn the 40 percent of votes required to get on the final ballot, meaning a run-off will likely be held between the top two vote-getters.

Despite the hype the endorsement recommendation has received, people close to the union — both outside observers and those within the ranks — consider the endorsement to have much less significance in that it masks extensive dissent within the organization.

One union insider who chose not to be named said the process itself was flawed because both the search committee and the executive board were missing members at the time of their votes and a number of abstentions were cast in both cases. He and outside observers of the union said the endorsement decision was actually made by union trustee Lee Saunders and it simply trickled down from him to local presidents.

“It’s not at all clear how much weight that endorsement carries with the rank-and-file members,” said Sumner Rosen, a professor emeritus at Columbia University who has studied much of the union’s history.

Bob Fitch, an adjunct professor of politics at Long Island University, said many of the individual locals will likely pursue their own endorsements in the campaign, which will diminish the influence of the larger organization’s decision.

“Given that DC 37 is a pretty decentralized union, it’s not going to have that much effect on how different union presidents carry out their election plans,” he said.

Matt Rosenthal, the president of DC 37’s Local 983 for motor vehicle operators, has thrown his support to Hevesi, whom he believes was best qualified to deal with the city economy.

“A healthy economy is the best insurance that there won’t be any layoffs of municipal employees who I represent, and that there’ll be money and contract time,” Rosenthal said. “I made my decision based on that.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 7:15 pm, October 10, 2011
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