Labor giants stay on the sidelines in NY-10 democratic demolition derby ‘filled with friends’

DC 37 and other unions are steering clear of that jam-packed and wide-open race, THE CITY has learned, as well as the Nadler-Maloney showdown in Manhattan.

July 22, 2022 Claudia Irizarry Aponte, THE CITY
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One of the city’s largest unions has decided to remain on the sidelines and not issue endorsements in two of New York’s most competitive congressional primaries, THE CITY has learned, and several other major unions appear likely to follow suit.

District Council 37 will stay neutral in the 10th Congressional District, where more than a dozen Democrats are competing for a rare open seat representing Lower Manhattan and much of brownstone Brooklyn that emerged when incumbent Rep. Jerrold Nadler decided to instead run in the 12th district against Rep. Carolyn Maloney. Redistricting drew new political maps that put the two powerhouses’ voter bases, and their homes, in the same district now covering Manhattan’s Upper East and West Sides.

The union, which represents about 150,000 municipal workers and 50,000 retirees, informed the NY-10 candidates of its decision to withhold its coveted endorsement on Wednesday and Thursday.

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“The races for Congressional Districts 10 and 12 are filled with friends of DC 37 — elected officials who keep our members and working families at the top of their priority list,” Henry Garrido, president of DC 37, said. “While we aren’t issuing endorsements in those primaries, we will fully support the Democratic candidates in the general election.”

DC 37 is just one of labor giants staying out of the fray in both districts because they have a “good” problem: too many potential allies running in competitive races against each other so that the rewards for backing one candidate aren’t worth the risk of alienating a different winner.

Also a factor: A strange political calendar in which voters went to the polls in June for primaries in statewide and state Assembly races with a second election on Aug. 23 for congressional and State Senate races. That left limited time and a higher cost for putting together resources like volunteers and phone banking capabilities.

Asked on Thursday about the primaries in the 10th and 12th districts, United Federation of Teachers spokesperson Dick Riley told THE CITY that the union “does not endorse in every race.”

The clock is running out

Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou has yet to pick up labor support, while Lower Manhattan Council member Carlina Rivera has picked up — along with the coveted endorsement of SEIU 1199, the city’s largest union — support from the New York State Iron Workers District Council, Uniformed EMS Officers Union Local 3621 and Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Fire Inspectors Local 2507.

Councilmember Carlina Rivera (D-Manhattan) celebrates the opening of swim season at the Hamilton Fish Pool in the Lower East Side, June 28, 2022.
Councilmember and Congressional candidate Carlina Rivera. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

But many of labor’s biggest players have quietly remained neutral. Along with DC 37 and the UFT, THE CITY reached out to officials from nearly a dozen of the largest unions and federations in the city who have yet to endorse in the 10th district.

With early voting beginning in about three weeks, on August 13, the time left to pick a side is running short.

Almost all of the union officials, some of whom were not authorized to speak publicly, said their organizations would rather not choose among the candidates in the field — particularly between Rivera and Niou, the two leading candidates in recent polls by the Working Families Party (which has endorsed Niou) and the firm Data for Progress.

Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, a federation made up of over 3,000 affiliate unions across the state, also said the organization would sit out the primary in the 10th district, citing a lack of consensus among its members about the many candidates on the ballot.

“A two-thirds vote is required for endorsement of a candidate. With more than a dozen candidates running in this race, we don’t anticipate any candidate will be able to meet that threshold of support amongst our affiliates,” Cilento said in a statement to THE CITY on Wednesday. “Therefore, we don’t plan to make an endorsement at this time.”

‘A tough decision to make’

Union support is coveted by candidates as it generally comes with volunteers who knock on doors, text, call and phone bank to support candidates, as well as advertisement spending and campaign literature targeted to potential voters.

Among the unions that have not yet endorsed in NY-10 is the Hotel Trades Council, which was widely credited with helping Eric Adams achieve his narrow primary victory last June.

After former Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped out of the race on Tuesday, several union officials repeatedly brought up Rivera and Niou as frontrunners, citing the WFP poll — even as the same poll that showed those two in a dead heat also showed that 40% of voters remain undecided.

Stuart Applebaum, president of Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union, cast doubts on the poll, noting that the WFP has endorsed Niou. The RWDSU has endorsed Rep. Mondaire Jones, the Westchester County Democrat who left his current district, NY-17, after the new political maps were redrawn to run in the new NY-10 after Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, decided to run in Jones’ district, which now includes many of Maloney’s current constituents.

“When you have a self-serving poll from an entity that has endorsed a candidate, I don’t know how seriously you can take the results,” Applebaum said about the WFP poll. (Jones was similarly situated in the Data for Progress poll.)

Other unions are still sorting through their options. De Blasio had nabbed the endorsement of UNITE HERE Local 100, whose president, Jose Maldonado, said the union was “not ready” to comment on whether or not it would endorse another candidate.

Meanwhile, at least one union has not ruled out making an endorsement as the field continues to narrow and time runs out.

Candis Tall, the vice president and political director of SEIU 32BJ, which represents many of the city’s building workers, said the union intends to focus on the November general election, noting that it has endorsed Rivera, Niou, Jones and Brooklyn Assembly member Jo-Anne Simon in the past.

But if 32BJ’s nearly 150,000 members “feel strongly about one candidate, or the union prioritizing this race, then that could definitely change our mind,” said Tall.

“It’s just really a tough decision to make,” she said. “I do think the former mayor dropping out clears the field a little bit.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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