Insider: Why the Teacher’s Union Didn’t Endorse the Teacher Candidate

Saltz: The PFT wants to run with the winners, even if the winners aren't good for teachers.
Kristin Combs, a PFT member and City Council candidate, did not get the PFTs endorsement.

Kristin Combs, a PFT member and City Council candidate, did not get the PFT’s endorsement.

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from a Citified insider.)

Maybe you’re having a rough fall. At least you’re not Chris Christie.

Voters don’t like Christie. They don’t like him in New Hampshire, they don’t like him Iowa. That’s a problem when your goal is to win a national election. But it’s worse across the river in New Jersey, where more than two-thirds think he should quit running for President because he’s been a lousy governor.

What went wrong? Here’s my take: Christie’s campaign was over the minute he was caught in a joyous, 4-year-old-who-just-unwrapped-a-pony moment with Jerry Jones, President of the Dallas Cowboys.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with rooting for the Cowboys, or sitting in a box seat, or being excited about sports. Christie’s problem is that he became the guy we all hated in High School — the Teamhopper.

If you grew up in the late 80s or 90s, this is the guy who rooted for the Lakers, the Yankees, and “The U” until Florida State came along. He loves Mayweather. His Dad got him sweet tickets to game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference semi-finals, but you haven’t seen him in Flyers gear since.

We hate guys like Christie because they believe one can experience the thrill of 2010 without the wretched agony of 1993.

Christie thought rolling with winners made him a winner. He was wrong.

Now meet Kristin Combs. She’s an at-large candidate for City Council, running on a Green Party platform for better schools, higher minimum wage, and fewer exploding fuel trains. Mostly, she’s running as a union teacher, currently at Penn Treaty School, against the current “reform” – such as Superintendent Hite’s newest proposal to turn over more schools to charter operators.

Is Combs is a long shot? Sure, but teachers have every reason to bet on Combs. After years of wheel spinning that would make Ruben Amaro blush, The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has developed a political appetite. Helen Gym and Jim Kenney actively sought their support on the way to victory. In an off year election, in a city that doesn’t really do voting, the PFT’s potential 5,000 voters could be enough.

Remember when Bill Green nearly popped a vein screeching about Gym and Kenney being beholden to unions? Here’s a candidate who is literally on their payroll. And the PFT wouldn’t have to root against Gym or any of the other Democrats. Due to Philadelphia’s odd system, Combs is only competing against Republicans and other Independents. What’s not to love?

But here’s where things get crazy, Raja Bell’s 2001 layup type crazy: The PFT is not endorsing Combs. The teacher-candidate will not be the teacher’s candidate.

The PFT endorsed the five winners of the Democratic Primary. They also endorsed Republicans Dennis O’Brien and Al Taubenberger. They also endorsed Independent Andrew Stober.

Let’s start with Taubenberger. His position on education is exactly 138 words: He supports money from Harrisburg. He opposes the SRC. He supports Charter schools, and their cardboard-flavored “quality” regardless of whether they do things like expelling nearly all their boys. He also has a burger named after him, so there’s that.

Independent Andrew Stober seems like a great guy. He emphasizes controlling charter costs, along with more tangible things like music and art. He can articulate ideas on funding the schools through the city.

But Taubenberger and Stober are running for the same slot as Combs, hoping to place in the top two spots behind the Democrats. PFT President Jerry Jordan not only refused to support one of his members, he’s actively supporting that member’s opponents.

The PFT has not endorsed Republican David Oh for November. That could be due to Oh’s weak positions on public education. But many of the other endorsees are equally uninspiring: Blondell Reynolds Brown cares more about cursive than class size, and real-estate megalodon Allan Domb really advocated turning schools over to Comcast. The PFT opposes Oh not because of his policies, but because of his shaky political prospects..

Here’s the kicker: You may have noticed the PFT endorsed eight candidates. There are seven At-Large spots. Thanks, Common Core.

This plan is the electoral equivalent of buying a Manchester United jersey, or rooting against the Washington Generals. It’s Christie in the owner’s box, or the dude who shows up to your Superbowl party in a fresh-out-the-box Tom Brady jersey; a 98-yard drive that ends in a field goal on second down.

Combs is a member of the Caucus of Working Educators (I am also a member), a group challenging Jordan’s leadership. It’s plausible this rift led to the non-endorsement. It’s also insane: does the PFT really believe an at-large City Council member could turn a local union election?

Progressive groups can do better than running with the winners, especially, when thousands of jobs are on the line. Look at the Working Families Party in New York, who endured a string of losses before they helped elect Mayor Bill DeBlasio last fall. Rahm Emmanuel’s machine won in Chicago, but the energy from Chuy Garcia upstart campaign continues to resonate.

In September, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed Hillary Clinton for President. This despite Clinton’s close ties to the anti-union Broad family. Clinton has said next to nothing on education. But since she’s nearly assured to win the nomination, the logical step is to support her. Why support some socialist from Vermont just because he agrees with you on every issue?

It’s one thing to hold one’s nose and support the Democratic machine. But when that machine starts eating your members — thousands of jobs lost in the last decade — it’s time for change.

Andrew Saltz has been teaching children reading and composition for 8 years at the Paul Robeson High School for Human Services. Follow him on Twitter at @mr_saltz.