National teachers union debuts pro-Gray radio ads, as Rhee denounces anti-union campaign
A major national teachers union started running ads Tuesday supporting Vincent Gray's mayoral run. The American Federation of Teachers, parent of the local Washington Teachers' Union, has produced a 30-second radio spot scheduled to run on 10 stations, including ratings leader WTOP, in the coming weeks.
The AFT's spot features two D.C. public school teachers, Marni Barron and Jackie Hines, who trade off reading the script: "Vince Gray will be a full-time mayor who serves our entire city, who respects and listens to all of us. He knows our greatest potential will be realized when our kids are succeeding. ... There is no doubt in my mind that Vince Gray will make a great mayor for all of us," they say.
Debra DeShong Reed, a spokeswoman for the AFT, says the union's political arm is spending a "substantial amount" on the ads. Another national union, the American Federation of Government Employees, has also produced pro-Gray radio ads, targeting incumbent Adrian Fenty's firings of public employees.
The campaign comes days after the WTU officially endorsed Gray and one day after the start of early voting in the primary. "We follow the local, and clearly education has been a major issue in this campaign," Reed says.
No kidding. DCPS and both the local and national unions have battled bitterly over teacher firings and how teachers should be evaluated, among other issues. Note that AFT President Randi Weingarten played a primary role in negotiating the new contract ratified by DCPS teachers this year -- a role that put her in close contact with Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who is expected to depart should Gray win.
The union's ads also debut a day after an anti-labor group, the Center for Union Facts, began a TV, radio and print campaign taking aim at the AFT and WTU.
The D.C. Public Schools took steps to distance itself from that campaign Tuesday, releasing a letter [PDF] sent by DCPS General Counsel James Sandman to CUF founder Rick Berman. The letter accuses Berman of using Rhee's name without authorization to raise money for the campaign, which Sandman described as a "virulent anti-teachers' union media attack."
Sandman wrote: "Your solicitation gives the false and misleading impression that there is a connection between your activities and supporting Chancellor Rhee's work for the District of Columbia Public Schools. Chancellor Rhee has not authorized -- and in fact strongly opposes -- your activities. She is informing donors and grantors that what you are doing will not help a single student in the District of Columbia Public Schools, that she does not support your efforts, and that they should not contribute to your 'campaign.' "
Sandman asked Berman to "cease and desist" using Rhee's name in the solicitations and to inform donors that Rhee is not a supporter.
Sarah Longwell, a spokeswoman for the Center for Union Facts, says the fundraising had already ended by the time the letter was sent. She says that some of the group's pitches for support did mention Rhee. "There's no two ways about it, Michelle Rhee is the face of reform in D.C.," she said.
Longwell downplayed the school system's concerns. "It would not surprise us at all that Michelle Rhee would want to distance herself from our campaign. She's got a political battle on her hands where she has to deal with the union day in and day out," she said. "We don't."
August 31, 2010; 5:55 PM ET
Categories: DCision 2010 , Michelle Rhee , The District , Vincent Gray
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