The Campaign Column: Correcting the record

The Campaign Column: Correcting the record

Michele Ellson

As part of our mayoral candidate profile a few weeks ago, we wrote that the Alameda Education Association was backing incumbent Marie Gilmore for mayor. The day the piece ran, a teacher who is a member of the union corrected us, saying it never formally endorsed any city candidate.

“We have officially endorsed Solana (Henneberry) and Gary Lym for school board. Also, we have officially endorsed Measure I,” wrote Sylvia Gibson, who also helpfully explained how the union’s endorsement process works. “All other ‘support’ of candidates was done in the summer while most teachers were on vacation … These were not endorsements.” (Disclosure: Gibson is a personal friend.)

The comment came as a surprise to us, particularly in light of a press release union chief Audrey Hyman sent in mid-August declaring its support for Gilmore, and the union’s sponsorship of a summer fundraiser for the mayor that it co-hosted with the firefighters union.

“The Alameda Education Association (AEA) reiterates its support for the re-election of Mayor Marie Gilmore, who has been a strong advocate for public education and teachers in Alameda,” read the first paragraph of the statement, which went on to express the union’s disappointment in schools trustee Trish Spencer for her decision to mount a mayoral run.

The teachers union has not issued a statement to the press – or at least, to The Alamedan – to announce is backing of Lym and Henneberry for school board seats.

Former union president Patricia Sanders confirmed that the union endorses candidates through a vote of its representative council, which includes teachers from each of Alameda’s public school sites. Sanders, who said she’s helping the union out with political affairs, also confirmed that the council never held a vote to endorse Gilmore or any other city candidate.

“The only candidates we have endorsed are school board candidates,” she said, adding that the mayoral candidate statement may have given the appearance the union had endorsed a candidate and that it shouldn’t have gone out.

Gilmore has not listed either the union or Hyman as supporters on her campaign website, though City Council candidate Jim Oddie lists the union as supporting his council candidacy. Oddie said Tuesday the union told him over the summer that he could cite it as a supporter but learned in September that he hadn’t been officially endorsed; he said he wasn’t aware it was still listed on his website until The Alamedan inquired about it.

“It should have been taken down, and now it will be,” Oddie said.

Hyman said the union’s representative council did vote at the end of the last school year to support “labor supported candidates” by co-hosting fundraisers with the firefighters union for Gilmore, Oddie and Councilman Stewart Chen, who’s running again this fall. She said that’s different than endorsing a candidate.

She said the council was slated to discuss potential endorsements in September but that during the course of the meeting, it lost the quorum needed to vote.

“It wasn’t a matter of choosing not to,” Hyman said.

Hyman declined to confirm what the $2,500 contribution records show the teachers union’s political action committee gave to the firefighters union’s political action committee was used for, allowing only that it was a “PAC to PAC contribution.” But Sanders, why Hyman said is in charge of the union’s political action committee, said the money was used for campaign materials featuring candidates each union had endorsed.

Sanders said the teachers union has traditionally steered clear of city politics, and indeed, we’ve talked to a number of schools staffers over the course of this election season who are cheering Spencer’s run for mayor, a sentiment Hyman and another schools union boss, Cindy Zecher, have said publicly they don’t share. (She said union members aren’t allowed to campaign for candidates their units didn’t endorse in union garb because that would imply the union’s endorsement.)

Still, Sanders said she didn’t think there was any ill intent behind the statement’s release.

“I don’t think anybody intended for things to be as messy as they have gotten,” she said.


Submitted by Sylvia Gibson on Wed, Oct 22, 2014

Gilmore did have the Alameda Education Association listed as one of her supporters, but she has taken it off her website, thankfully, since many teachers support Trish for mayor.

The question is, why has the teachers' union gotten in bed with the firefighters' union? And why are the teachers, who have historically not taken sides in the mayoral or city council races, doing the bidding of the firefighters?

Submitted by Karen (not verified) on Wed, Oct 22, 2014

It seems everyone is doing the bidding of the firefighters union. The City of Alameda Democratic club has Diego Gonzalez, ostensibly in charge of its South Shore headquarters, also working as a staffer for Rob Bonta as well as for the firefighters.

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Wed, Oct 22, 2014

Didn't Spencer vote to raise teachers' pay? That might explain why some or many like her.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Wed, Oct 22, 2014

Sylvia, if this is true, I'm not surprised. Unions usually support all unions whether it's a teacher's union or a firefighter's union - it's all union.

But you seem to suggest that we should support the teachers union and teacher issues and ignore the firefighters union.

I guess it was was okay for Trish's to vote yes for your pay raise, but there is a different standard set for firefighters and policemen. To me if you're union -you support all union.

Submitted by Janet C Gibson on Thu, Oct 23, 2014

As a retired AUSD teacher and former Alameda Education Association activist, I am sad to learn that the AEA leadership contributed $2,500 to the more than $48,000 Alameda Firefighters Association's PAC fund. Indirectly, Alameda teachers are contributing to the campaigns of city and state candidates who never received their endorsement.

To make matters worse, School Board candidate Gary Lym (who has received the teachers endorsement) has been omitted from the Firefighters mailers and is not receiving financial support from the AEA. The second AEA endorsed School Board Candidate, Solana Henneberry, has received campaign support from the AEA, Alameda Fighters, Bonta's campaign and several other labor groups.

A small teachers association such as the AEA has limited financial resources and should be strategic in directing discretionary funds toward building leadership strength and professional development among its educators. Perhaps some of the $2,500 could have been saved to help send AEA delegates to the NEA Regional Assembly next summer. It is my understanding that there were almost no funds to help send our delegates last summer. zdru