Yang: You know why we can't get the schools open, right?

In case you hadn’t heard, failed presidential candidate Andrew Yang is running to be the mayor of New York City. He’s been doing pretty well for himself thus far, holding a lead in the few polls that have been taken. (The primary isn’t until June 22nd.) But he may have just made a powerful enemy of some people who are generally viewed as beyond criticism in Democratic circles. This week, Yang decided to tackle the issue of how slow the city has been to reopen the schools and he has a pretty good idea who is to blame. He identified the United Federation of Teachers as one of the primary culprits. Yes, you read that correctly. A Democrat said the forbidden words and blamed one of the teacher’s unions for keeping the kids out of the classrooms. Somebody isn’t going to be happy about that at all. (Politico)

Andrew Yang is fed up with New York City’s school closures, and he’s not mincing words about it.

The leading mayoral candidate, who has a 5-year-old son in a Manhattan public school, took aim at the city’s 190,000-member United Federation of Teachers for its perceived role in delaying school openings during an interview with POLITICO this week.

“I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open,” Yang said.

I assume that by this point, Yang has been able to hire a team of political consultants even if he’s still fairly new to politics, so it’s difficult to believe that this was just a case of blindly taking a shot at one of the most powerful pillars of the Democratic base and regretting it later. So was this a deliberate choice? The teacher’s unions own a very large share of the stock in the Democratic Party and fund most Democrats in their election efforts. Perhaps Yang is simply trying to demonstrate his “independent” streak by calling them out. Still, while it should be obvious to everyone by now that Yang is completely correct and the unions have been the biggest impediment to reopening the schools, if you’re a Democrat you’re not supposed to just come out and say it.

The obligatory response came almost immediately from UFT President Michael Mulgrew. He treated Yang with kid gloves compared to the attacks his union launches against Republicans, but he still tore into him. Mulgrew made the usual unsupportable claims that the union has been a leading advocate for “safely reopening” the schools and told Yang that he needed to “do his homework.”

Does Yang perhaps believe that his frontrunner status in the mayoral race has made him bulletproof to the point where he can simply tick off a union like that? It seems unlikely. As I mentioned above, Yang has been leading in the polls, but those polls were taken a month or more ago. Also, he’s not that far ahead and there are a lot of people running. One PPP poll had him leading with 17%, but Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams is only one point behind with 16%. More than 40% of respondents either picked someone else or were undecided. As more people drop out, support could easily coalesce around someone else, particularly if the union is spending a ton of money running ads against Yang.

A second poll from Emerson had Yang doing considerably better, receiving 32% support, more than ten points ahead of Adams. But again, there are many names on the list and enough people in the “someone else/undecided” camp to easily swamp that lead. Yang really shouldn’t feel all that comfortable.

Then again, he showed some of these same, nontraditional tendencies during the presidential primary race. He frequently described himself as a supporter of charter schools and criticized the teachers’ tenure system. He was something of a maverick among Democrats in that regard, so perhaps he’s just sticking to his previously stated positions. The other possibility is that he realizes how angry parents are about the schools being closed and the fact that the unions have been a big factor in that. It could be that he’s hoping to ride a wave of resentment toward the teacher’s unions to a victory in the primary. We’ll know how well his plan works in just about three months. If the schools are fully reopened before then, however, this strategy could backfire. People sometimes have short memories after a problem is solved.

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