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Union support helped score wins for endorsed candidates

By SHERRY HALBROOK

In spite of all the strong political crosswinds and pandemic pitfalls, PEF’s efforts to support its endorsed candidates and help people become informed and vote were successful again this year.

Many elections were very close and even now, in mid-December, weeks after the polls closed November 3, the congressional race in NY’s 22nd District in the Utica area is still being sorted out.  Only 12 votes separated candidates Anthony Brindisi and Claudia Tenney more than a month after Election Day.

When elections are so close, the support PEF members provide to a candidate can make a significant difference, something the candidate will likely remember.

PEF Political Director Leah Gonzalez, cited the example of Andrew Gounardes who won a tight race for re-election in the 22nd state Senate District.

“He is the chair of the Senate Civil Service Committee and PEF was the first one he called to thank for their support,” Gonzalez said.

“Charles Roland and our members in Region 11 deserve a lot of credit for their work on campaigns there,” Gonzales said.

PEF Vice President and Political Action Chair Randi DiAntonio coordinated efforts in central and western New York regions that also were very successful.  With three incumbent lawmakers choosing to retire, the battles were intense among the candidates vying to succeed them, and “PEF was all in” on those battles.

DiAntonio got strong efforts led by regional PAC chairs and activists including Joe McCann, Leisa Abraham and many others.

“Our success comes from the fact that our endorsement process begins at the grassroots and works its way to the top,” DiAntonio said. “PEF’s regional political action committees often spend a lot of time and effort researching the positions of candidates on issues and meeting with them, before the committee members vote to recommend an endorsement.  PEF endorses candidates based on their support of our members’ issues and our legislative priorities.  I would also emphasize that PAC efforts to get out the vote, and for voter protection are bipartisan.”

PEF Region 12 Coordinator Nora Higgins said the union’s efforts on Long Island and many were keyed to new technology.  First, the PAC members spent most of the summer researching and remotely screening candidates.

“It was a lot of work.  At some points we were meeting two or three times a week,” Higgins said.

After the PEF Executive Board voted in August on the endorsements for hundreds of candidates for state and national officees, Higgins said, “We used templates for Hustle texts that were created by PEF organizing staff to reach out to our members and ask if they were ready to vote and to answer any questions they had about candidates and the election.  I really liked using Hustle and I personally used it to support 61 candidates.  PEF activists who were not as comfortable using the texting app, phone banked.”

Higgins said Region 12 also hosted a “Meet the Senators Night” via Zoom that allowed three endorsed incumbent state senators in Long Island districts to speak to members and answer their questions.  Two of the three, Jim Gaughran in the 5th SD and Kevin Thomas in the 6th SD, were re-elected and that helped Democrats gain their first veto-proof majority in that house.  Since then, the senators have held a Zoom celebration of their victories and expressed their appreciation for PEF’s support.

Seeing what a challenging year 2020 has been, Region 12 has held another Zoom meeting to talk with members about their health and safety concerns.  “We really did it to just help members de-stress,” Higgins said.

When, this year’s very contentious national elections called for new and innovative campaign approaches, PEF members in many regions stepped up.  A prime example is Michelle Maldonado, assistant council leader of PEF Division 245 at the state Labor Department.  She led activists in the PEF Hispanic Committee to make phone calls to Spanish-speaking voters, informing and encouraging them to vote.

PEF members and staff who are attorneys volunteered to take calls on Election Day from people who encountered problems in being allowed to vote.

“I’m very proud of the way our members and staff showed up to make a difference and support our endorsed candidates in this extremely important election,” said PEF President Wayne Spence.  “The stress and the challenges this year were unprecedented, but we were up to the challenge, and we will all be better for it.”

“Building political power is vital to PEF, both regionally and statewide, as we continue our work advocating and building relationships to help deal with the COVID impact our members face,” DiAntonio said.