Members’ efforts in tough political campaigns produce lots of winners
WALKING FOR GILLIBRAND — PEF Region 8 Coordinator Tom
Comanzo greets a group of members in October preparing to visit union
members and retirees in Saratoga County on behalf of the congressional
campaign of Kirsten Gillibrand and NYS Assembly campaign of Robert Reilly.
By SHERRY HALBROOK
The long months of political campaigning have ended
and, as the dust settles, PEF activists are feeling a strong sense of
“It was like New Year’s Eve. It was amazing,” said PEF
Region 11 Coordinator Jemma Marie-Hanson, of the euphoria that spread through
the neighborhoods of New York City November 4 when the news of Barack Obama’s
election was announced.
“We were exhausted,” she said, “but we were very
Margaret Messer, PEF’s director of member
mobilization, said at least 170 PEF activists, along with their family members
and friends worked on the elections in 2008.
“I don’t have the numbers from some PEF regions yet,
so the total will be higher than that, and many of the volunteers turned out
over and over again,” Messer said.
Busloads of members from PEF Regions 8, 9, 10, 11 and
12 on Long Island made forays into Pennsylvania to campaign for Obama in
In addition to filling the PEF buses, many of the
union’s activists boarded vans and buses sent by other unions and the Obama
campaign to stump for him in New Hampshire and Ohio, as well.
The presidential race may have been a big priority for
every PEF region, but so were 235 congressional and state legislative races in
which the union had endorsed candidates.
“We did very well, ” said PEF Vice President Joe Fox,
who heads the union’s political action efforts. “We had a success rate of 97
Final election results are still hanging fire in a few
races that are very close, such as the 29th Congressional District which sprawls
over nine counties in southwestern New York state. PEF endorsed the challenger,
Democrat Eric Massa, who appears to be the winner.
PEF Region 1 activists also helped push Republican
Dale Volker to re-election in a close race in the state’s 59th Senate District
in northwestern New York.
In State Senate District 11 in Queens, PEF’s endorsed
candidate, incumbent Republican Frank Padavan, appears to have won a narrow
victory with PEF’s help.
“We cannot be certain of the outcomes in those races
and possibly also in the 24th CD until the results are certified,” said Brian
Curran, PEF’s director of legislation and counsel. Incumbent Democrat Michael
Arcuri was endorsed by PEF and appears to have won re-election in that 11-county
district in central New York.
PEF’s favorite son
One of the most satisfying victories for PEF activists
was the election of Democrat Paul Tonko in the 21st Congressional District which
has been represented by the extremely popular Mike McNulty for decades.
“We’ve had a great congressman in Mike McNulty to
represent Albany and a large part of the Capital District,” said PEF Region 8
Coordinator Tom Comanzo. “After Mike announced he was retiring, we were very
excited when Paul Tonko decided to run. He was an engineer with the state
Department of Transportation, then moved to the Department of Public Service
until 1983, when Paul became the first PEF member elected to the state
“Paul served in the Assembly for more than 24 years.
Now, he is the first former PEF member to become a member of Congress. Our
members got out early to campaign for him and stayed with him all the way to the
Region 8 activists also volunteered enthusiastically
for Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand in her bid for a second term in the 20th CD,
campaigning door-to-door and phoning union households.
Her opponent, the former chair of the state Republican
Party, spent millions of dollars on a TV advertising campaign that ran
incessantly for many months. Nevertheless, the mother of two young children won
Hanson said her Region 11 volunteers had their hands
full supporting several candidates, such as Padavan, in very tight races. Not
every battle could be won. Republican incumbent Serphin Maltese of Queens went
down to defeat in the 15th SD.
Another Republican state senator of many years, Caesar
Trunzo, lost his battle for re-election in the 3rd SD, in Suffolk County and PEF
PEF may need its friends
“I’m very proud of the skill, the passion and the
determination our members brought to all of these races,” said PEF President Ken
Brynien. “Every year, they become more effective, and they don’t stop when they
retire from state service. They get active in PEF Retirees and go right on
fighting for the issues and the candidates. It’s no wonder we truly are getting
stronger every day.
“We are going to need all of that strength, that unity
and that skill to protect the jobs, the services, the pay and the benefits we
have fought and sacrificed to achieve for decades. These are very challenging
times and we know we have done our best to support state and national
policymakers who will hear our issues and concerns. Those relationships may be
PEF CALLING — PEF retirees Marje DeVoe and Jane Wicat
call Region 8 retirees.
— Photos by Sherry Halbrook
READY TO RALLY — PEF Region 12 Coordinator Dee Dodson
is flanked by PEF Retirees Ruth Gaines and Mary Reid on the left and Sarah
Billups on the right at an Obama rally near Hofstra University when the
October presidential debate was held there. — Photo by Bill Bennett