Cavanagh Defends Her Record and Asks Mulgrew to Debate His

March 25, 2013 — 17 Comments

By Julie Cavanagh

Wow. While having breakfast with my husband and almost nine month old son (who is finally on the mend after more than a week of a fever ranging 102-104 every day, during the same time my best friend’s 18 month old daughter was in the hospital, who by the way, is also a teacher and a single mother of two young children), I picked up my phone to see a mention on Twitter from Arthur Goldstein (teacher and chapter leader in Queens). I frankly couldn’t believe what I was reading. Usually a mention from Arthur has me in stitches. Not this time.

Now instead of relaxing while my baby takes a nap, I am writing this in response to comments on the ICE and MORE blogs attacking my commitment as a unionist and chapter leader and questioning my worthiness as a candidate for UFT President. All of this because I, and the caucus I represent, had the nerve to insist that Michael Mulgrew engage in a forum or debate with me so that our members can be fully informed and engaged when it comes to their voting choices in the upcoming election.

First let me say that I do not feel I need to defend my role as a chapter leader. Nearly every UFT member in our school, signed my petition for UFT President, and many of my colleagues are actually running in this election with MORE.

Second, I certainly do not need to defend my attendance at Delegate Assemblies. While I do attend, often, DAs are not a democratic forum. As I am sure the commenters on the ICE and MORE blogs know, and as all Unity folks know, the room is not even large enough for all of the CLs and delegates to be seated and when you do go and sit, you listen to Mulgrew practice his stand up routine for an hour or so, after which you *might* have the chance to ask a question or bring a resolution to the floor if Mulgrew recognizes you. Regardless, it is an effort in futility because it really doesn’t matter what you say, ask or bring to the floor; the ruling Unity caucus will disagree with it or vote it down, since they control the DA. If the UFT leadership actually held Delegate Assemblies each month that were informative and provided fair and ample time for discourse and discussion, I would be there in a New York Minute. As this is not the case, I attend as many Delegate Assemblies as I can, but sometimes other events such as a childcare issue, my son being ill or an important meeting in my community to bring a new partner into Red Hook to service children and families with disabilities will take precedence. I do not need to go to the delegate assembly to prove who I am or that I am committed to my union; I act every day in a way that highlights why I should be president of the UFT.

I am a mother and a teacher. I have been a teacher for thirteen years, and have been working with children with special needs and their families for even longer. I have stayed in the same community and school since moving to NYC in 2001, because I am committed to the process of leading school change and improvement from the school level. I became chapter leader at the request of my colleagues a few years ago and have worked hard with them, our parents, and our principal to make sure our children and our teachers have the best learning and working conditions possible. I fought for my school during the dictatorship that my union handed to the mayor, during a co-location of a charter school in my building that my union didn’t adequately help fight (which is difficult since the UFT leadership chose to co-locate its own charter), while our class sizes rise steadily and our budgets are slashed, while teacher’s choice was eliminated and insultingly reinstated to cover no more than a few boxes of pencils, while ATR’s rotate in and out of my building- some of whom  have approached me on the brink of tears desperate for someone to listen to their struggle, during a time of a tidal wave of assaults on our children, our schools, and our profession.

Throughout this time, I not only worked in my own school community, I worked with parents and union members across the city and the country to fight back. You can find links to some of my work here, but I will list a few highlights: I co-wrote/edited/produced/and narrated a film that stood up to corporate education reform, a film that has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people in every state and on every continent (except Antarctica); I have appeared on several TV and radio programs and written several articles where I have spoken out forcefully against corporate education reform and for the schools our children deserve – and I was invited or asked in every single case to participate, so while those in Unity caucus pretend to not know who I am or what I have done (but yet “know”, falsely, that I am not at DAs) apparently the national media does; I have also worked with other union members in the city and nationally  I helped organize a conference, and attended and facilitated, in Chicago in the summer of 2011 with other teacher union members; I helped lead the solidarity efforts with Verizon workers at the end of that same summer. I have sued, with a parent and a student, Mayor Bloomberg for the right to protest school closings and co-locations on his block and successfully organized and co-led that protest. I was the only teacher petitioner in the effort to stop and overturn the appointment of Cathy Black and also recently the only teacher on record to join with parents in sounding the alarm of student and teacher data privacy issues regarding SLC/inBloom data systems (Randi Weingarten, by the way, sits on inBloom’s advisory board). I say all of this not because I think anything that I am or that I do is so special, I share this information to highlight the outlandishness of the attacks from people whose usual line is there should be no attacks on union folks because we are under attack from outside forces and therefore need ‘unity’. I also share this because these are the things the president of a union should do.

Beyond of all of this, if Unity caucus can attack me for the number of times I went to the DA (this year I believe I have been to four DAs), the number of grievances I have filed (none), the number of UFT trainings or committees I have attended (none), then I wonder why they nominated Randi Weingarten as their presidential candidate, since she never attended a DA as a chapter leader, was never a chapter leader, and therefore never filed a grievance, attended the trainings, etc.

I personally do not think any of those things are what makes someone qualified to run our union. What matters is leadership. What matters is vision. What matters is the philosophy by which one will govern and represent the membership. I believe in a union that is member led and member driven. When I, or a candidate from MORE caucus, become president of the union, you will not have to attend a DA and sit idly and listen. The DA will be yours. When we take over leadership of our union, we will organize, support and build fighting chapters at the school level with elected district representatives who are trained organizers.  When we run the union, leadership and staffers will make salaries equivalent to the teachers we represent — there will be no extra perks, no double pensions.  When we lead our union, you will not go more than three years without a contract, at least not without organized job actions and a fight.

When Unity’s stranglehold of the leadership of our union ends, the members will have representation that believes in solidarity with other unions and in the power of our collective action. You will have a union that educates, mobilizes, and organizes our members and the public and who organically partners with parents and young people. You will have a leadership that truly understands that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions, that a harm to one is a harm to us all, and that we must stand side by side with deep roots in the communities we serve to fight for social, racial and economic justice in our schools, in our city and across the country.

I am more than ready to share who I am with the members of the UFT and I am happy to answer their questions. In fact, that is precisely the reason I sent the email below to Michael Mulgrew. I believe a union membership with a less than 30% voter turnout needs to be engaged and exposed to open discourse and conversation between the two people who seek to represent them.

Mr. Mulgrew, I am still waiting for a response.


Sent: Mar 14, 2013 8:01 PM


I hope this email finds you well.

While we have differences and disagreements concerning education policy and union democracy, we both are committed to our union and the children we serve. In that spirit, we should be able to engage in an open conversation during election season so we can ensure our fellow members are informed and engaged.

To this point you have ignored outreach regarding your participation in a debate or question and answer town hall with me. I would like to directly and formally ask you to participate in such an event.

I believe that our members deserve the opportunity to ask questions of their presidential candidates and I strongly believe this kind of open and honest discourse strengthens our union: an educated and engaged membership that is listened to and participates makes us stronger.

There is precedent for an event such as this between presidential candidates during election season.  As you know, Randi has participated in presidential debates in the past: one in 1999 and again in 2001.

I am open to a debate format with a third party moderator or a town hall question and answer event with the membership. My only specific asks are that the event be filmed and/or livestreamed so that we can maximize member participation, that the date, which I am open to any, be agreed to a few days in advance, so that I can secure child care and that the date be as close to April 3rd as possible, so that we provide a fair amount of time for members during the election timeframe.

I look forward to your response.

In solidarity,
Julie Cavanagh

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17 responses to Cavanagh Defends Her Record and Asks Mulgrew to Debate His


    It would be quite a commentary if he doesn’t even respond. A sort of reaffirmation of the contemptuous treatment that a lot of us have experienced from the union leadership over the last few years. “The Mother of all Unreturned Emails,” one might say.

    I don’t think that will happen. He will respond and there will be a debate. Mr. Mulgrew understands that the membership deserves at least that much.


    Great letter Julie, but Michael won’t respond. That’s his MO. He takes the ostrich approach. It works for him. He’s walked away from me and hides in other rooms when I spoke about teachers attacks.


    I just posted this on Ed Notes:
    In the midst of dealing with a sick child and getting ready for a few days of breathing room from working as a full-time teacher, mother, chapter leader, presidential candidate, school and neighborhood organizer, best friend and supporter to too many people to count, Julie Cavanagh found the time to respond to the Unity hack/slug attacks while Mulgrew hides under the table.

    Listen, I actually happen to like Mulgrew from what I see of him, but if he had to face a debate with Julie and answer tough questions about UFT policy he just wouldn’t hold up. So I don’t blame him for ducking. That doesn’t make him a bad person and maybe it means he is smart to not want to debate Julie, knowing full well her capabilities.

    But then the Unity attacks on her qualifications in such a coordinated manner means he must bear responsibility for them and that means he is condoning them while the anonymity of the commenters provide cover for people who are clearly amongst the leadership, allowing Mulgrew to say, “who me?” It happened to Kit Wainer in the 2007 campaign when thousands of teachers received an mailing at home attacking Kit. Randi claimed she didn’t know. Sure. Can we expect a similar mailing with the same type of attack on Julie this time?

    You can read her response at the MORE blog and at ICE where James Eterno, the ICE-TJC 2010 Presidential candidate and an avid Julie supporter along with his wife Camille (which given their long activism should mean something — would they be willing to turn the UFT over to someone unqualified?) added this comment:

    As John Kerry found out in the 2004 presidential campaign, mud sticks so you better fight back fast and that is what MORE Presidential candidate Julie Cavanagh is doing. She will not be “swift-boated” by Unity. Here is her response on the ICEUFT blog to the viscous Unity attacks on her fitness to lead the UFT . It will also be on the MORE blog.
    Please read and comment but don’t forget we still need to work hard on the ground game to get out the vote as ballots will be mailed as soon as we come back to school.


    Thank you Julie for standing up for education and not the status quo bobble head ideology that is promoted now in so-called democratic organizations. It’s a shame that Unity Caucus has such a stronghold on our children’s education. Retired members should not have the ability to vote for or against the teachers that are presently working in the system. I’m not sure if they should have the ability to vote for the officers either. Maybe the retirees could have an advisory council to the membership that represents their concerns. I wish parents of NYC could have a straw vote in this process as we are the highest stakeholders in education and should be in full alliance with teachers. Mulgrew has become such a bobble head himself that its time someone really challenge his ability to lead without the influence of the Governor and whoever is funding the UFT.

    Julie my vote is for you and your cabinet of educators, UFT needs a strong mom at the helm now. Yes, I’m being sexist. Now that your a mom you have new killer instincts that the children of NYC need combined with your educational expertise.

    If I can help you in any way, I will. Keep up the fight.


    I agree with you wholeheartedly about DA. When I was first elected as CL I attended all DA’s but as soon as I realized what was going on I stopped going. No one is allowed to make a motion and our DR’s what us to sit with them. God forbid anyone should have an opposing view! I don’t need to rush to DA and waste money on parking to hear the same information I can read. Good luck Julie !


    I am going to be the gorilla in the room and ask the question that nobody seems to be mentioning.


    The presidential debates the bill is not footed by the US government. And as such when MORE proposed having the UFT pay for it I voted it down. If the caucuses want to pay for it that would be one thing. But it should be in a place not owned by the UFT. The question is can both caucuses afford to foot their half of the bill? A cost that with the online streaming would amount to at least (and I am guessing here) a few thousand dollars. A cost that I do not believe should be passed onto the membership through their dues.

    On another note, I also want to address the fact that you proudly say you have been to four DA’s this year. I question, if scheduling child care, and your duties as a mother make it impossible for you to make it to union functions once a month how will you be able to balance your duties traveling to Albany, and the many union functions you will be responsible for weekly. I am not dismissing your commitment to your child, nor your leadership as a chapter leader with this at all. In fact, I applaud your commitment to your young child. I however, want a leader who is able to attend ALL union functions. I want a leader, who even if she is not called on, is waiting at the microphone ready to go.

    I am slightly aghast that members of your caucus, who get called on every month. Who I see at rallies, and who demonstrate with their actions that the union is part of their life blood were overlooked.

    I do not agree with some of MORE’s positions. And others feel to me like just saying what you want with very little change in course of action. But as a chapter leader, I look for some one who stands in front of us and leads us at the DA. I can’t question your commitment to education, or the fact that you have stood up outside of union functions. But I do question if you are truly capable of leading this union, especially if your personal childcare situation prevents you from attending the meetings to which your chapter elected you to be their voice. I bring this to the forefront because I think expecting a candidate for the office of PRESIDENT of the UFT to attend ALL delegate assemblies to which they were elected, and participate in UFT committees is not outlandish at all. In fact, I think that it is imperative that we have that expectation for all of the candidates.

    I hope that in the future you will find the time to join in the process by participating in committees and speaking out at the DA as many of our brothers and sisters from the MORE caucus have. I respect the members of the caucus and assume (hopefully correctly) that they have great respect for you by giving you their nomination for the office. With that in mind I hope that you understand that this is not an attack on you because I know that come May 1, We are still one union, and I look forward to the work that we must be able to come together to do over the next 3 years.

    Fraternally yours,
    Bill Woodruff


      As a union due payer I say the UFT should fit the bill! They spend our dues on inane activities ! I woul love to attend a debate and I’m sure many members would shoul up!

        Woodruffw1980 April 4, 2013 at 6:11 pm

        Well if you were at the DA you could have voted the resolution up when it was made. But since you chose not to attend you chose not to have the ability to voice your opinion. As you pointed out up above however, you “don’t need to rush to DA and waste money on parking to hear the same information I can read.” Well you read that there was a motion for a debate, and you read that it was voted down. Was this one of the times you did not attend?


      Ohh Noez, dats a perzonal attak! How darez u! Dats anti-womyn, anti-parent, anti-babiez! U must b a racist, sexizt, ignant, unity slugg!


      So…. the only thing standing in the way of a debate is the question of how it can be paid for? Are you saying that if we can resolve that question satisfactorily then Mr. Mulgrew will accept the invitation?

      Will he go on record in this regard?


        hey julie whats the COPE percentage in your school>


        You MOREsys need to stop thinking that everybody that disagrees with your opinions are direct emissaries of Michael Mulgrew and speak and can answer on his behalf. It’s not Unity vs. MORE. Regardless of how you desire to paint it, why isn’t it feasible that Mr. Woodruff is just speaking his opinion? I get it, it’s because everyone that thinks Mulgrew has done a good job must be a “Unity slug”.


    Conserning an article in an popular newspaper. Defeat has many faces, but none more profound than an alliance with an enemy. Your posting is shameful especially when the ” Struggle” is for all in these times. To be railroaded is naive, but not acceptable. you lose and you should.

    Woodruffw1980 April 4, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    As it was explained to me a debate was agreed upon for this Friday. But since Union officers are on the clock until 6:00 pm they can not engage in electioneering during that time. It was More’s camp that said if the debate could not be at 3:00 they would not do it. I thought any time any place…. I guess any time any place as long as it is during a time when the current union officials are working to run the union.

    I noticed that this got a lot quieter when it was MORE not wanting the debate. Just an observation.


    If Julie Cavanagh can not come to the DA and make her policy known for free, why should my dues pay for her to get a close-up?


    Woodruff ruff
    Why should unity debate while theyre being paid by my union dues
    and as your “esteemed leader” admitted he was not going to show up
    Mulgrew Unity New Action to scared to debate because you have sold out our children

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