The Brief: Why the Philly Teachers Union’s Endorsement Matters

The PFT is backing mayoral candidate Jim Kenney.

On the way where? Photo Credit: City Council Flickr page.

Jim Kenney | Photo Credit: City Council Flickr page

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is, as expected, endorsing former City Councilman Jim Kenney for mayor. PFT president Jerry Jordan will make it official at a press conference Monday afternoon at Germantown’s John B. Kelly Elementary School.

“PFT members voted overwhelmingly for Jim Kenney in our citywide referendum,” said Jordan in a statement. “His years of consistent support for traditional public schools and educators, and his vision for a better Philadelphia for every child make him the clear choice to be the next mayor of Philadelphia.”

What is the PFT’s endorsement worth? A few thoughts:

  • On one hand, the PFT’s endorsement is probably more valuable this year than ever. Education is the dominant issue in the mayor’s race, and the union’s nod is a signal to supporters of traditional public schools that Kenney is their guy. On the other hand, the PFT typically has not been a major spender in elections. As Citified’s Patrick Kerkstra has pointed out, “Its PAC has spent, on average, less than $200,000 a year since 2010.” Also, the PFT’s political committee can only donate $11,500 to Kenney’s campaign by law.
  • What’s more, a large number of PFT members can’t be counted on to vote for Kenney. Why not? Teachers aren’t required to live in Philadelphia. According to The Next Mayor‘s Tom Ferrick, “At last count, nearly 50 percent of the 9,400 PFT members who are teachers live in the Pennsylvania or New Jersey suburbs. … Even if every teacher who lives in the city showed up and voted, it would amount to only 4,800 votes. At 50 percent turnout, it would be 2,400 votes. Which is nice, but not much.”
  • That’s not to say the PFT’s endorsement doesn’t matter, though. Quite the contrary. It matters because, should the national American Federation of Teachers choose to get involved in the Philly mayor’s race, it would follow the PFT’s lead. There’s good reason to think the AFT will enter the fray: It has shown a keen interest in Philadelphia before, and spent big in other city elections: The AFT, along with the local Chicago teachers union, donated more than $570,000 over the past few months to mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who forced incumbent Mayor Rahm Emanuel into a runoff election. It also doled out a lot of cash in the 2013 Boston mayor’s race. And the AFT has been known to utilize super PACs, which could spend unlimited sums of money on pro-Kenney (or, say, anti-state Sen. Anthony Williams) ads, as long as they didn’t coordinate with any campaign.
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