Now more than ever, teachers deserve a friendlier public face on a “pro-public education agenda” that has been badly disparaged by real estate developers and policy reformers.
New York State’s teachers’ unions have a deplorable reputation — the result of a decades long scapegoating of teachers in a regional public discourse that has, until late, ignored the impact of structural poverty and socio-spatial segregation patterns that have led to a staggering lack of economic opportunities based on both race and class.
That has changed considerably since January of this year, when a cadre of committed career educators — who happen to also be parents of public school students — began an aggressive organizing campaign to halt a privatization agenda led locally by real estate mogul and charter school landlord Carl Paladino.
Most remarkable is that this group has emerged spontaneously — outside of the organized political apparatus that their union dues fund. In fact, several of the most committed activist-educators even fielded a slate of candidates for the Buffalo Teacher’s Federation’s Executive Board, in an effort to oust the current union leadership, the public face of which is President Phil Rumore and NYSUT regional staff director Mike Deely.
Rumore has been one of the city’s most controversial and publicly despised figures for nearly two decades. Critics say that his hardened style and cut throat tactics have become increasingly irrelevant in a political landscape that has been remade with the advent of social media and with the emergence of a new asymmetrical politics practiced by a generation of activists who refuse to defer to the institutions that have long controlled the city’s politics.
Likability matters in both politics and public affairs. Observers say that teachers have been badly hurt by Rumore’s public perception. While Rumore has a gracious, studious, and reflective posture in person, his public image is much to the contrary. Simultaneously, his chief political operative has been criticized for his gruff demeanor and a general lack of tact.
Sources close to Rumore say that he is considering an aggressive effort to elect career educators to public office in the 2016 election cycle when state assembly and state senate contests will be held. But those around him are concerned that his longstanding image — however unfair — will stand in the way and undermine the entire effort.
At a time when the state legislature is brimming with lawyers, a staggering lack of educators in the body has allowed an aggressively anti-teacher discourse to emerge in Albany, where teachers’ unions were once politically dominant.
Rumore knows that in order to be successful he needs to couple solid candidates, bold political spending, and an astute public affairs strategy that puts him in the background and elevates more likable figures as the public face of a profession badly in need of likability.
Operatives who are familiar with Rumore’s thinking say that he is “strongly considering” putting those activist-educators who sought to oust him from leadership in positions that drive a public school agenda while transforming the public face and image of the teachers’ union.