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Unions and the mayoral seat

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 2/7/2013, 3:01 p.m.

With the election for New York City mayor taking place this year, unions are looking at the menu and deciding which candidate best fits their palate. One union has already chosen its main course.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) endorsed City Council Speaker Christine Quinn for mayor last week. "The biggest challenge our city faces is the growing number of people struggling to survive," said RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum in a statement. "Chris Quinn's progressive record of results and leadership shows that she is best prepared to address this challenge as mayor, and that's why we are endorsing her."

Despite not getting on the union's good side when she held up paid sick leave legislation, Appelbaum sounded like he wanted to let bygones be bygones in his endorsement statement.

"We are a progressive, activist union that represents and organizes the most vulnerable and marginalized workers in our city today," said Appelbaum. "We believe Chris Quinn will be a progressive, activist mayor for those workers and their families, a strong, determined mayor who will help make the American dream a reality for many New Yorkers struggling to survive."

But while some unions have made their choices, others are still looking. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, spoke to the AmNews about the process his union goes through to pick a candidate--a process he called "rigorous."

"Because this year's mayoral race will likely set the city on a new course, it carries a special importance," said Figueroa. "We will be hosting a mayoral forum in Harlem on Feb. 28, and, for the first time ever, we will conduct a joint screening process of the mayoral candidates with the Real Estate Board of New York. In addition, we will be doing our own screenings in early March for the mayoral race, as well as others."

George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers East, talked to the AmNews about his union's process as well. "The nurses and caregivers of 1199 SEIU have a participatory process for endorsements, which includes interviews and questionnaires for candidates," Gresham said. "Among other questions, candidates are asked about their commitment to protecting patients' rights, defending health care funding, standing up for quality jobs and addressing income inequality."

Both Figueroa and Gresham told the AmNews that everything after the initial selection is about organization and mobilization.

"In the process, we will educate and mobilize thousands of our members about the candidates and the crucial issues facing our city," Figueroa said. "This past fall, we turned out huge numbers of voters in the presidential race, helping President Barack Obama get re-elected and laying the foundation for our election work this year."

"Once we endorse a candidate, we then mobilize all the resources of our union, including hundreds of member volunteers, door-to-door neighborhood canvassing, ads and direct mail," Gresham added. "Currently we are in the process of determining which mayoral candidate would be the strongest advocate for patients and working people."