Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association May Back Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Campain

NY Daily News - September 30, 2009

by Lisa Colangelo

By the time you read this, Mayor Bloomberg may have already received the endorsement of Local 831 - the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association.

The union, which represents rank-and-file sanitation workers, is the latest in a string of city uniformed service endorsements for Bloomberg.

Those include four NYPD unions: the Detectives' Endowment Association, Lieutenants Benevolent Association, Captains Endowment Association and the Sergeants Benevolent Association.

Don't worry if you missed any of these. Team Bloomberg will blog, Twitter and e-mail the news. I think the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association will be the 402nd endorsement of the campaign - but I haven't refreshed the Web site in the last 15 minutes.

Bloomberg is set to pick up the endorsement today during a visit to the Local 831 offices in lower Manhattan.

Harry Nespoli, president of the union, said it is supporting the Bloomberg administration, in part, because of its success and flexibility at the bargaining table.

"We have structured our contracts within the economic parameters of other unions but we have also been allowed to try something a little different," Nespoli said. "That's something other mayors never did for us. They said, 'This is what you get and that's the end of it.'"

For example, the union was able to find other savings so that its members would have Martin Luther King Day as a paid holiday.

But Nespoli said there were other factors that favored Bloomberg, including an important show of respect.

"He's the first mayor who has ever attended all the funerals of our members who were killed in the line of duty," Nespoli said. "We also feel he's the best candidate to lead us through these tough financial times and into recovery."

Nespoli, who also heads the Municipal Labor Committee, has maintained a good relationship with Bloomberg. His endorsement is not surprising.

On the other hand, there is the Sergeants Benevolent Association. That union, which once committed to spending $2 million on an anti-Bloomberg ad campaign, endorsed the mayor's reelection bid several months ago.

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy and his members went against the tide when they decided to back city Controller William Thompson, the Democratic candidate for mayor.

It wasn't a big surprise. The relationship between the UFA and the Bloomberg administration has been prickly - to put it mildly.

The city's plan to save money by closing firehouses infuriated the union. And the problems swirling around the former Deutsche Bank building fire, which claimed the lives of two firefighters, only made the situation worse.

Cassidy said the union's endorsement of Thompson is "significant."

"It says to the general public that firefighters, who have a track record of caring about public safety, have decided we need to go in a different direction," Cassidy said. "The mayor is on record saying he wants to close firehouses."

Cassidy was reluctant to say why he thought so many other union leaders - even those who had clashed with the mayor in the past - were backing Bloomberg.

"It's easy to go with the incumbent and the favorite who is spending $200 million of his own money on a campaign," Cassidy said. "You don't have to do anything but pose with him for pictures."

There are a few wild cards out there. The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association - the largest of the police unions - has yet to weigh in the mayoral race.

Don't even try to read the tea leaves on that one. The union has gone from having an acrimonious relationship with the city (remember the guy with the bullhorn who followed Bloomberg everywhere several years ago?) to becoming downright chummy during the last round of contract negotiations.

The PBA , however, is still unhappy with Bloomberg's push for pension reform.

How much of an impact do these endorsements really have? Cops, firefighters, sanitation workers and correction officers are allowed to live outside the city. So how many of these union members will even be able to vote for the next mayor?

Most of the city sanitation workers live in the city. People may be surprised to hear that Cassidy said about half his members live in the five boroughs. (I'm guessing mostly in Staten Island and Breezy Point, Queens).

"We'll also be asking our members to reach out to their friends and family," he said.

Political scientist Doug Muzzio said it's hard to tell if these endorsements turn into a large number of votes.

"These are more symbolic than substantive in terms of getting out the vote," said Muzzio, a public affairs professor at Baruch College.

He said Bloomberg's aggressive touting of endorsements is part of of his "no-risk campaign."

"This is part of their strategy to win every news cycle," said Muzzio. "There are weaknesses and dissatisfaction out there. They are trying to contain it."