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Friday, October 9, 2015

Smoke and Mirrors: UFT Secret Spending on the Campaign of Robert Jackson in 2013

Undisclosed UFT robocalls raise new campaign questions
 by Geoff Decker, Gotham Schools,  at 5:30 pm

Robert Jackson, Christine Quinn, Michael Mulgrew

City Councilman Robert Jackson pictured with Speaker Christine Quinn and UFT President Michael Mulgrew in 2011 on the first day of school.

The super PAC for the city teachers union may have violated campaign finance rules by not disclosing spending details for a robocall sent to voters during the 2013 primary elections, GothamSchools has found.

A Sept. 8 phone message touting Robert Jackson’s education credentials was paid for by the union’s independent expenditure group, called United for the Future, according to a recording of the call obtained by GothamSchools from a Manhattan voter who received the message. Jackson, who at the time was enmeshed in a tight primary for Manhattan Borough President, had received the United Federation of Teachers’ endorsement.

But the union failed to disclose the call to the city’s Campaign Finance Board, a requirement designed to improve transparency around spending by outside interest groups. The union reported spending only $12,234 on Jackson for a mailer sent on Sept. 6, filings show.

“I think it raises serious questions,” said Alex Camarda, director of public policy at Citizens Union, a good government organization.

“What about all the other candidates that the UFT endorsed?” Camarda added. “This might not be limited to just Robert Jackson.”

A Campaign Finance Board spokesman said the board would include the robocalls in its review of whether outside interest groups such as the UFT conformed to finance rules in the primary election. The rules are in place to limit the influence that groups are able to exert over elected officials.

Earlier today, the board fined one such group for failing to use a “paid for by” disclaimer on phone recordings that the group had funded.

The UFT’s spending landed under scrutiny this week when Crain’s New York Business reported about the union’s relationship with an embattled political consulting firm. The firm, the Advance Group, kept both the UFT and candidates who were endorsed by the union on its client list at the same time.

The union paid the Advance Group at least $370,000 for work on the 2013 elections, but reported that spending under the guise of a fake firm called “Strategic Consultants, Inc.,” Crain’s revealed. The firm was listed for the Sept. 6 mailer for Jackson, as well as other candidates who received the union’s endorsement.

These candidates had also hired the Advance Group to work directly for their campaigns. Of$1.2 million that Jackson’s campaign reported spending during the election, Advance Group collected more than $871,000 of those payments.

Groups can spend unlimited amounts as long as they do not coordinate their spending with individual candidates and their campaigns. But Camarda said the union’s phony reporting made it “hard to imagine that there’s not coordination going on.” Unless, Camarda added, “the Advance Group has created some kind of firewall to prevent that.”

A spokeswoman for the Advance Group did not return emails and phone calls requesting comment. Jackson did not respond to a call and an email seeking comment.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said that the union was in full compliance with campaign finance rules.

“We happily comply with all campaign finance board rules and regulations and we have written assurances from anyone who we were working with that they were complying with the same rules and regulations,” Mulgrew told reporters yesterday.

Mulgrew added that he was prohibited from communicating about political activities with United for the Future. Paul Egan, the UFT’s political director who is listed as the PAC’s representative did not respond to emails about the robocalls.

United for the Future spent over $3.3 million on 37 elections, including $2.7 million on Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign.

UFT PAC Releases First Pro-Thompson
The teachers’ union’s political action committee, United for the Future, has released its first television ad touting the union’s chosen mayoral candidate: Bill Thompson.
The ad, entitled “Forgotten,” is clearly meant to appeal to black and Latino voters, touting the
former comptroller as the only candidate who will stand up for the sea of diverse faces featured in
the slickly-produced 30-second spot.
“For the past 20 years, we’ve been forgotten. We’re working hard, but not making it very far,”
begins the narrator, as images of the city’s working class flash by.
The ad goes on to tout Mr. Thompson as “the only one tough enough to take on Mike Bloomberg” and “the only one strong enough to end racial profiling.
“After 12 years of a billionaire and eight years of bullying,” it asks, “isn’t it time for a mayor for
The ad is the first from United for the Future, which was launched by the United Federation of Teachers to fund independent expenditures on behalf of Mr. Thompson and other candidates.
According to city campaign finance records, the group paid $340,000 for an English version of the ad, including $330,000 in airtime. and another $121,000 for a Spanish  version, including a $114,000 buy,
A source said the ads are already up and running on cable outlets, including NY1, as well as Spanish language stations.
The PAC has declined to comment on all questions about its activity.

Appellate Division Affirms the Termination of Teacher Damian Estaban

The decision to go back to the termination decision at 3020-a rather than affirm the vacating of the termination by Judge Mendez in the New York State Supreme Court is a huge error in our opinion.

I believe it to be very scary when the Courts decide not to rehabilitate, and that once a mistake, always a mistake.

This is a mistake.

Damian Estaban

Matter of Esteban v Department of Educ. of the City School Dist. of the City of N.Y.
2015 NY Slip Op 06965
Decided on September 29, 2015
Appellate Division, First Department
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.

Decided on September 29, 2015 
Friedman, J.P., Andrias, Saxe, Gische, Kapnick, JJ.

15711 651904/13 

[*1] In re Damian Esteban, Petitioner-Respondent, 


The Department of Education of the City School District of the City of New York, Respondent-Appellant.

Zachary W. Carter, Corporation Counsel, New York (Deborah A. Brenner of counsel), for appellant.
Eisner & Associates, P.C., New York (Benjamin N. Dictor of counsel), for respondent.

Order and judgment (one paper), Supreme Court, New York County (Manuel J. Mendez, J.), entered September 20, 2013, granting the petition to vacate the portion of the arbitrator's determination that imposed the penalty of termination of petitioner's employment as a public school teacher, and remanding for imposition of an appropriate lesser penalty, unanimously reversed, on the law, without costs, the petition denied, and the proceeding dismissed.
Petitioner, a school teacher employed by respondent Department of Education (DOE), entered a courthouse in possession of a quantity of heroin, which led to his arrest and widespread negative publicity. DOE brought disciplinary charges against petitioner, which were submitted for determination to an arbitrator pursuant to Education Law § 3020-a. The arbitrator sustained certain of the specifications and determined that the appropriate penalty for petitioner's misconduct was dismissal. Supreme Court granted the petition to vacate the arbitrator's penalty determination. Upon DOE's appeal, we reverse.
An arbitration award determining an employment dispute in public education may not be vacated unless "it violates a strong public policy, is irrational, or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power" (Matter of United Fedn. of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO v Board of Educ. of City School Dist. of City of N.Y., 1 NY3d 72, 79 [2003], quotingMatter of Board of Educ. of Arlington Cent. School Dist. v Arlington Teachers Assn., 78 NY2d 33, 37 [1991]). Here, it cannot be said that it was irrational, against public policy, or ultra vires for the arbitrator to determine that petitioner's public possession of heroin warranted the penalty of dismissal. Nor is the termination of employment as a penalty for such misconduct "so disproportionate to the offense[] as to be shocking to the court's sense of fairness" (Lackow v Department of Educ. [or "Board"] of City of N.Y., 51 AD3d 563, 569 [1st Dept 2008]). Petitioner's reliance on City School Dist. of City of
N.Y. v Lorber (50 AD3d 301 [1st Dept 2008]) is unavailing, as the order we affirmed in that case confirmed the arbitrator's penalty determination.