It is fitting that New York's presidential primary comes just 10 days after NYSUT's annual Representative Assembly concludes. Both the primary, on April 19, and the RA, April 8–9, represent democracy at its best, where important decisions — for our nation and our union — are made through grassroots activism.
I'm a Democrat — no surprise there, I'm sure — and I've made no secret of my support of Hillary Clinton for president. While NYSUT does not endorse in national elections, our affiliates — the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — do, and they have put their full political weight behind the Clinton candidacy.
Considering what we do — as unionists, educators, health care and human service professionals — the endorsements of Clinton make a lot of sense.
A former U.S. Senator from our state and a product of public schools, Clinton has a strong record championing the issues about which our members care. She has fought to expand access to early childhood education, for the right to affordable, quality health care, for education funding and workers' rights, and she defended public sector workers who bravely responded after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
As secretary of state, she promoted democracy throughout the world, lifting up the worth and dignity of all people — men and women, gay and straight.
In other words, she is one of us.
I know Clinton's challenger in the primary, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has support among some NYSUT members, and I, too, respect the campaign he has waged. Having him in the race has helped make Clinton a better candidate, and the Democratic Party a stronger, more progressive party. On April 19, I will proudly vote for Hillary Clinton who, I am confident, will be the outstanding leader this nation needs at this particular time in history.
Of course, New York Democrats aren't the only ones faced with a choice on primary day. Our Republican brothers and sisters will also have an opportunity to choose their party's nominee. While I strongly disagree with much of what those candidates stand for, it is still important that, in a free and democratic society, voters have a choice — and the final say in who leads our country.
I encourage all NYSUT members who are eligible to vote on April 19 to do so, regardless of party affiliation. And when the nominees are finally chosen this summer, my hope is that the general election campaign will be one centered on a civil debate of the issues before us. The challenges we face are too serious for anything less.
As President Obama said in 2009: "The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose."
Finally, I want to thank the NYSUT leaders and RA delegates gathering in Rochester for being a part of our union's democratic process. For more than 40 years, the democracy we embrace has kept us strong and responsive to the needs of our members and the New Yorkers we serve.