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Saturday, July 25, 2015

UFT President Asked AFT President Randi Weingarten To Donate To Mayor's Nonprofit Lobbying Arm While The UFT Negotiated a New Contract With City Hall

Bill de Blasio

But it's not a conflict of interest. Huh?

Betsy Combier

Mulgrew details union's gift to de Blasio effort

The teachers' union president says it was he, and not the mayor, who asked Randi Weingarten to make huge AFT donation to Mr. de Blasio's nonprofit lobbying arm while the UFT was negotiating a new contract with City Hall. Not a conflict, he insists.


United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew, whose parent union donated $350,000 to Mayor Bill de Blasio's nonprofit in the midst of contract talks in April, says the mayor never asked for the money—and that accepting it wasn't a conflict of interest.
UFT President Mike Mulgrew
"He keeps the two things separate," Mr. Mulgrew said in an interview Thursday. "We don't bring the two things up at the same time."
The donation, on April 9, came less than a month before Messrs. de Blasio and Mulgrew struck a nine-year, $9 billion contract, which included back pay and raises. The same day the $350,000 flowed in, Mr. de Blasio's nonprofit, Campaign For One New York, which was running low on money, spent exactly $350,000 on politically helpful television commercials that celebrated Albany's approval of pre-K funding for the city.
Mr. Mulgrew said the prospect of the AFT making a donation did not come up at a March 8 meeting. Mr. de Blasio's schedule shows that he met with Mr. Mulgrew and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten for a lunch that Saturday at Harlem's Red Rooster restaurant. They were accompanied by a top de Blasio aide, Emma Wolfe.
The meeting was a month before Ms. Weingarten's AFT made the $350,000 donation, and less than two months before the Mr. Mulgrew's UFT struck the $9 billion contract deal with the mayor. Mr. Mulgrew says the conversation focused on Mr. de Blasio's battle to win pre-K funding from the Legislature. "It was more about strategy," Mr. Mulgrew said.
Asked if Mr. de Blasio or his team had ever asked for a donation to the mayor's nonprofit, Mr. Mulgrew said, flatly, "No." A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, meanwhile, said there was no talk of a donation at the Harlem meal.
"Absolutely not," the spokesman said. "This was a substantive meeting that focused solely on legislative strategy."
Two days after the pow-wow, in a March 10 appearance on "Morning Joe," Mr. de Blasio said he would be open to accepting pre-K funding from the Legislature without an income tax hike—a major shift in strategy.
Mr. Mulgrew did say that he had asked Ms. Weingarten, herself a former UFT president, to help with making a donation to Campaign For One New York. "Of course I asked Randi to assist on that," Mr. Mulgrew said.
One oddity of the donation's timing is that the state budget containing the pre-K funding passed in late March—and the AFT donation was not made until afterwards, on April 9. Mr. Mulgrew said the donation was not intended for any specific purpose other than to promote pre-K. "We were just donating to the fund itself," Mr. Mulgrew said.
Chirlane McCray
The $350,000, however, was immediately spent by Campaign For One New York on television ads featuring first lady Chirlane McCray touting the funding of universal pre-K as a "landmark win for New York City." The New York Times reported that the nearly $1 million ad blitz, which was made possible by the AFT donation, was meant to help the mayor "regain command of his political message as he approaches his 100th day in office." (Mr. de Blasio's poll numbers had been hurt, in part, by a multimillion dollar charter school ad campaign targeting the mayor.)
Mr. Mulgrew said it had simply taken time for the AFT to line up the $350,000—the biggest donation given to Mr. de Blasio's nonprofit since its creation following his mayoral election in November. He added that the money would be helpful for a "second phase" of Mr. de Blasio's pre-k push—urging the public to sign up for the program—and that Mr. de Blasio's $950,000 ad blitz made New Yorkers aware of the program.
Mr. Mulgrew said it didn't make sense for the UFT to stop pursuing this part of its agenda just because it was simultaneously in contract talks with the mayor. "We're very involved with pre-K," Mr. Mulgrew said. "That's a natural thing for us."
A charter-school group has called for a city Conflicts of Interest Board investigation into the AFT donation, and the New York Post called on Mr. de Blasio to return it.