Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Path Clear for Weingarten In Washington

February 13, 2008 Edition > Section: New York > Printer-Friendly Version

Path Clear for Weingarten In Washington

BY ELIZABETH GREEN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 13, 2008

A long-anticipated move from New York to her national union in Washington, D.C., could be imminent for the president of the city teachers union, Randi Weingarten.

Ms. Weingarten has long been expected to follow in the steps of her two predecessors at the United Federation of Teachers by moving from the New York City union to the national one, the American Federation of Teachers.

For years, Ms. Weingarten ruled out the possibility, but last year for the first time she said she was open to it on one condition: first the current president, Edward McElroy, would have to retire.

Yesterday, speaking at a meeting of the union's executive council in San Diego, Calif., Mr. McElroy said he plans to do just that. He announced that not only he but also his no. 2 aide, Secretary-Treasurer Nat LaCour, plan to retire this July. Clearing a wide open path for Ms. Weingarten to step into his shoes, Mr. McElroy also said that another top AFT leader, Executive Vice President Antonia Cortese, plans to seek re-election to her current position — not the presidency.

Speaking on the telephone from San Diego yesterday, Ms. Weingarten said she urged Mr. McElroy not to leave as recently as last Friday, in a lengthy private conversation. But she said that, having failed to persuade him, she will consider replacing him.

Observers of the union and people close to Ms. Weingarten yesterday said they expect her to run and to win the position, probably unopposed.

"Right now Randi is the only one that I know has said that she would give it some thought," the president of the New York State teachers union, Richard Iannuzzi, said.

He said his sense is that Ms. Weingarten feels a responsibility to consider a run, but he said it is not a foregone conclusion.

Saying there is not a single union leader in the country who could or would contest her, the director of the research group on teachers unions at the Education Intelligence Agency, Michael Antonucci, scoffed at the idea that there is any question what will happen next. "Clearly this is to set the stage for Randi Weingarten taking over the presidency. I don't think there's any question about that," he said. The community organizer Bertha Lewis, who has worked closely with Ms. Weingarten, said she is not sure what Ms. Weingarten will do, but spoke of a departure as if it were imminent.

"I'm trying not to think about it. I'm in denial," Ms. Lewis said. "I'm devastated that she won't be here in New York."

At the United Federation of Teachers, speculation on who could replace Ms. Weingarten at the helm of the union has been running for months, and the announcement yesterday will probably intensify the talk.

A likely possibility is that Ms. Weingarten will not relinquish the UFT presidency immediately while seeking the national one. She has said she intends to fulfill her full term as UFT president, a three-year-long commitment that will not expire for another year and a half.

Both her predecessors, Albert Shanker and Sandra Feldman, held both positions at once when they first led the AFT.

Yesterday Ms. Weingarten named one consideration that will drive her next steps: ensuring the continuing strength of the UFT. She listed several emerging leaders at the union who give her confidence in its future, including UFT vice presidents Michelle Bodden, Michael Mulgrew, and Richard Farkas, and three others: staff director Leroy Barr, New York State United Teachers Vice President Maria Neira, and a Manhattan representative, Evelyn DeJesus.

Ms. Weingarten ruled out another possibility, that she would seek a position in a presidential cabinet were her favored candidate, Senator Clinton, to win the election.

She said she was deeply offended by the idea that she would only endorse Mrs. Clinton for the presidency in hopes of winning a cabinet seat, and she said she telephoned Mrs. Clinton to assure her that was not her intention when the speculation first arose.


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