Chastened officials with the United Federation of Teachers yesterday promised never again to put words in the mouths of City Council members after the union's cheap stunt -- giving scripted questions to lawmakers at a hearing -- caused a furor.Translation: We're puppets, but I'm outraged that you would call me a puppet.
"We certainly don't plan on it happening again," said a contrite Ron Davis, a spokesman for UFT president Randi Weingarten. "This is the first time, at least in our staff's memory, that this type of communication occurred during a hearing."
UFT reps were caught red-handed passing out the cue cards with leading questions for council members to ask Department of Education officials at a hearing on charter schools Tuesday.
Mayor Bloomberg decried the tactic yesterday, saying council members should have been clear about the origins of their queries.
"They probably should have disclosed that those questions were written for them by a party that has a vested interest," said Bloomberg, who is battling the union over mayoral control of the school system and an expanded charter-school program.
"The real issue here is supporting the schools that parents want to send their kids to," he added. "And we have a waiting list of 30 or 40 thousand kids who want to go to charter schools."
Although the union made the council look like puppets, council Speaker Christine Quinn defended her members' independence.
"Clearly what happened at the hearing was regrettable," she said. "Obviously, pre-printed questions are something that shouldn't have happened, but any belief that council members are puppets and not informed are as outrageous as those cards were."
More reaction here.
The questions for the Department of Education were sharp and confrontational.Instapundit links. Thanks!
The questions for the union were softballs.
UFT officials sat in the front row of the ornate council hearing room to insure their script was being followed.
If that wasn't outrageous enough, legislators were told which question to direct to which official.
It's not uncommon for lobbyists, advocates and even reporters to request that a specific question be posed at a City Hall hearing.
But no one had ever seen what the UFT pulled off.
"It crosses the line," said Felder. "It's not the actual questions. It's the directing. It's the atmosphere that was created."
The union's ploy, observers said, went far beyond typical lobbying tactics of briefing council members before a hearing or providing position papers.
"I've had people suggest to me ask the commissioner this or ask this witness that. I've never had anybody type up cue cards for me," said Councilman James Oddo (R-SI).
A former council member, who's been in politics for decades, couldn't recall a similar incident in his career. "I've never heard of it being done on a mass basis," said the veteran pol.