Is Mulgrew Really the One?

    No reporter tracks goings on in the UFT like the NY Sun's Elizabeth Green. Friday (July 18) she wrote, "Ms. Weingarten named [Mike] Mulgrew the union's new chief operating officer [COO] in a memo sent to union officers yesterday [July 17] evening." Mulgrew will run the UFT while Randi is out of town, but I do not think he will be the UFT president in the foreseeable future for reasons I have laid out in the past. (See the 2-part "Randi's Succession Obsession" in the sidebar on the right. Also read our June 16th post "Unity Tail Wags the AFT Dog.")

    Of course, if Elizabeth had been reading Ed Notes regularly, she would have learned of the staff changes in our July 3 posting, "UFT Staff Changes: Mulgrew is the Boss."

    She seems to think highly of Mulgrew as she gave him a premature promotion by titling the article, "An Apparent Heir to Weingarten Emerges at N.Y. Teachers Union."

    In the old Shanker days, we used to see the heir apparent of the month.

    Randi reorganizes as often as Joel Klein
    Just note how many staff directors (one of the most stable pre-Randi positions in the UFT with Feldman and then Tom Pappas occupying the job for decades) the flighty Weingarten has run through in the past 3 years since Pappas retired.

    I count 6, including the new tripartite Leroy Barr/Ellie Engler/Gary Sprung arrangement, which we also sprung on our readers in our July 3rd post. Sprung was often despised as Pappas' hit man and will play the role Pappas played for Sandy and Randi.

    Sprung has apparently survived the Unity critics carping at his talking and joking with me (I think I was the only one who liked him), but he has wised up and now makes sure to ignore me when passing. But Gary is in my age range and we can't expect him to be there forever, though they could embalm him and leave him standing as a statue to continue to scare the staff.

    One interesting aspect has been the down-grading of Michael Mendel (who last year was designated as Randi's 2nd in command) and recently resigned elementary school VP Michelle Bodden who for years was viewed as Randi's logical successor. (Ed Notes also broke this story on June 26 even before many people in the UFT knew.) Michelle will now run the UFT elementary charter school.

    That these were two of the most liked and respected people in the union hierarchy should not go unnoticed.

    Ed Notes has been predicting all along that Weingarten will be very reluctant to hand over the real power in the UFT/NYSUT/AFT.

    Once Randi gives up the UFT presidency, she becomes a head without a sure body of support. Shanker was able to do that after 11 years of doing both jobs because he became such a big player on the national scene. The NY Times column played a major role and Randi is trying to establish the same credentials. But she has along way to go until she reaches that status and her notorious paranoia and micromanaging will be a big factor.

    In a recent conversation I had with Green I repeated my thesis that with the real power in the AFT and UFT resting on the control of the UFT's Unity Caucus, Weingarten, like Shanker before her, would not let go easily. If she intended to have Mulgrew run for the presidency in March 2010, she should have moved much faster to declare Mulgrew as the heir. We would have to see her resign from the UFT and appoint Mulgrew within the next 6 months to give him an opportunity to function as UFT President. Both Shanker and Feldman resigned soon after they were elected. So the timetable for a 2010 candidacy for Mulgrew must be executed ASAP.

    "But didn't Sandy Feldman turn over power to Randi when she became AFT president," Green asked?

    "Yes she did," I replied. "But she groomed Randi for almost a decade. Everyone in the union, in the DOE and in the halls of power in the city treated Randi as the heir apparent, so she didn't just walk into the job after Sandy left. Despite that, there were some conflicts when Randi ignored her advice. Randi also moved quickly to replace some of Feldman's people with her own. That is not lost on Randi and with Mulgrew being an ambitious fellow, what would stop him from doing the same thing?"

    You can't compare the relationship between Al and Sandy with that of Randi and Mike. There would be no way the same level of trust. Clear signs will be whether Mulgrew gets to run UFT Executive Board and Delegate Assembly meetings, a role Mendel has filled very effectively.

    Green says a few interesting things about Mulgrew:
    Mr. Mulgrew is known in the union as a "fighter" who stands out for being bold enough to stand up to Ms. Weingarten when he disagrees with her.

    Sure. We've seen what happens to people who disagree with her.
    "I think he's extraordinarily talented and the right person," a union vice president, Leo Casey, said.

    Now there's a good source of independent thinking, Leo Casey, who could find justification for UFT policy even if it included devouring children for lunch. (Can't you just see, "I think Jeffrey Dahmer is extraordinarily talented and the right person," said Casey.)

    Green adds:
    Mr. Mulgrew seems already to have won the disdain of the union's internal opposition caucus, the Independent Community of Educators, or ICE. An ICE leader, Jeffrey Kaufman, said Mr. Mulgrew allowed the department to get its way in its overhaul of special education schools.

    I don't know enough about Mulgrew and have had limited personal contact to hold him in disdain, but give me a chance (see Randi, like I told you 7 years ago, it's not personal.)

    In the meantime, you can read more of Jeff Kaufman's take on Mulgrew at the ICE blog, "What Is a Chief Operating Officer Anyway?"

    Jeff, I think a COO is the guy who turns off the lights at night.

    Or the chief pigeon.

    Follow-up: Mulgrew: Effective leader or typical Unity hack?
    We'll explore this question in an upcoming post.

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