The 60th district primary will test Rumore’s leadership

Phil Rumore, the longtime president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, brings a wisdom and gravitas to politics that his operatives lack. Rumore understands the importance of the 60th State Senate district, which holds the Republican majority in that chamber in the balance and is at the crux of power in Albany.

Former Senator Al Coppola secured large increases of state aid for the Buffalo Public Schools before retiring in 2000. That funding helped resolve several long standing disputes between the BTF and the school board.

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), which Rumore’s members fund as their political arm, spent over $1.4 million to elect Marc Panepinto two years ago. Mike Deely, the political operative responsible for recruiting the one term Senator, has been widely criticized for what observers kindly refer to as “a massive miscalculation.”

Seeing County Clerk Chris Jacobs on the horizon as the potential Republican nominee has Rumore worried. Jacobs is a moderate Republican with strong name recognition and is likely to perform strongly among centrist Democrats. Rumore knows that he must act quickly if he is to prevent a candidate hostile to teachers from being elected to the most pivotal Senate district in the state.

Former Senator Al Coppola is coming out of retirement in an effort to retake the seat, in large part due to what he calls his “disgust with the way politicians use teachers as political punching bags.”

Amber Small, a political neophyte who is supportive of charter schools, is challenging Coppola in a primary effort that many observers see as an unwitting ploy to protect Jacobs’ ambitions on the seat.

But Deely has refused to act on behalf of Coppola, causing many education activists to raise questions about his judgment. Observers speculate that Rumore may have to step in to manage the teachers’ political interests in the district himself — which would be a remarkable vote of no-confidence for Deely and NYSUT more broadly.

Many are begging Rumore to salvage what looks like a disastrous general election prospect: Jacobs versus Small, two candidates seen as hostile to teachers. Without a mobilized labor movement, Jacobs would be almost guaranteed a win. The teachers will have lost the seat on primary day.

Rumore’s supporters say that he still has time to act. The primary will be held on Tuesday, September 13th. He has been known to mobilize his members — who are among the most politically active residents of the city — in considerably less time.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore is known for his intellectual heft and the gravitas with which he manages teachers’ political interests. Observers say that the 60th district will test his leadership at a critical moment. Rumore is in the process of negotiating a new contract for Buffalo teachers. 

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