Our Op-Ed: https://qns.com/2021/02/rtu-op-ed/
Help us take action and email UFT & NYC CLC leadership:
UFT’s Michael Mulgrew and Dermot Smyth
NYC CLC’s Vincent Alvarez and Lucia Gomez
An Open Letter to President Michael Mulgrew of United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and President Vincent Alvarez of New York City Central Labor Council (NYC CLC): Withdraw Your Endorsements of Councilmember Robert Holden
We write this letter to UFT, the Central Labor Council and all labor organizations and unions that have endorsed or are considering endorsing Councilmember Robert Holden to tell you how harmful he is to our most vulnerable neighbors. Your endorsements are damaging to our community and to the working class people and people of color throughout our city. Rather than leading to empower all of us, Holden does the opposite.
Holden garnered support to win on the Republican line by only 137 votes in 2017 after years of campaigning in opposition to homeless shelters and his years of peddling in Trump-style politics. His long history of contributions to conservative and Republican campaigns shows he’s a Republican in both words and actions. In 2002, in his role as President of the Juniper Park Civic Association, Holden honored Serf Maltese, then a Republican State Senator, as “man of the year.” Holden likely learned a trick or two about dog-whistle politics from Maltese, who once proudly campaigned against low-income housing projects, against busing kids of color into the district, and against LGBTQ rights legislation while complaining of “welfare cheats taking from the real needy” and “illegal aliens taking our jobs and housing.” Our section of Queens is conservative but leaning more and more Democrat; yet it seems that we still can’t move forward from our segregationist history because elected officials like Holden keep us in the past and still mirror these sentiments.
Holden has publicly vilified the homeless as far back as 1995, when he was quoted in an article about homeless individuals who collect recyclable cans to survive: “It’s documented that these people have a history of alcohol and drug problems. They’re dangerous.” At a town hall on the opening of a single adult shelter in Glendale organized by his office in September of 2019, Holden stated to the crowd, “The homeless in there will never assimilate into the neighborhood, they’ll never blend in.” In October 2019 at a hearing that was live streamed by Community Board 5, a community member from Glendale said she wanted to bomb the shelter while cheers in support of her statement erupted in the auditorium. Members of our group were there to speak up on behalf of our homeless neighbors and to encourage everyone to work together to demand building housing for all, but Holden supporters yelled, “GO HOME!” Holden could have been the voice of reason at this hearing; instead he remained silent in the face of these threats against the homeless. We see Holden’s actions as dangerous–he has stoked prejudice and deepened the stigma against the homeless in his years of organizing against shelter openings and in all his years as a civic leader.
Data from 2018 shows that more than 114,000 students in NYC public schools are homeless. We know UFT members teach these children. Is endorsing a man driven by such hatred for their misfortune the political example we want to show them?
A quick search through his city council voting record shows he has no regard for large parts of his district’s safety or wellbeing. Holden has a weak voting record on education and has opposed our children’s best interests. Holden has aligned himself with conservative civic groups, such as the Glendale Property Owners Association. This group, previously named the Glendale Taxpayers Association, once initiated a frivolous lawsuit against the city to fight a school integration plan in 1959. Holden has revived white resistance to school integration in part by employing Charles Vavruska as his Constituent Services & Education Director. Vavruska has been relentless in fighting the DOE’s efforts at integration and a culturally responsive curriculum, much like in 1959. Holden has chosen to use his office to defend gifted and talented programs which serve only 1% of the city’s public school students and to villainize the homeless when 10% of the city’s students don’t have a home. To see the UFT endorsing Bob Holden and calling him “a staunch advocate for children” when he has so clearly identified himself as a defender of the privileged is disappointing to say the least.
Furthermore, Holden’s years in City Council have shown him to be downright hateful towards our immigrant neighbors and he shows no regard for the lives of people of color. Holden has publicly supported Trump’s policies and has advocated for ICE to remain in NYS courthouses. He’s gone as far as saying NYC should not be a sanctuary city for immigrants and in 2019 he quit the City Council’s immigration committee over its boycott of ICE. Last year, he and two other Republican councilmembers voted against a bill that would replace the word “alien” with the word “noncitizen” in official city documents and bar the use of the words “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant.” Last summer, Holden criticized Black Lives Matter protesters as “anarchists” who show up to “stifle free speech.” It comes as no surprise, then, that he’s introduced legislation to repeal the chokehold ban.
At a rally we organized last year, our group was met with a counter protest of Holden supporters who were waving Trump flags and shouted, “four more years!” As Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol on January 6, Holden unsurprisingly failed to denounce this violence. And when one of his own constituents was arrested in January for their association to a white supremacist group he said nothing of the matter. A local paper reported the man was found with 1,000 rounds of rifle and shotgun ammunition and wanted to send “an armed caravan to the Capital.” Holden said nothing. His own deputy chief of staff, Alicia Vaichunas, recently posted online of her support of Trump and his election conspiracy theories. In one post she decries the treatment of the insurrectionists during the Capital riots and the unfair treatment she claims they received. This is what Holden’s office stands for. We hope that you do not stand for these values.
The unions and labor groups that have endorsed Holden, and anyone who is considering an endorsement of him, should know that he has failed to represent a large number of people in his district. We are writing to you as his immigrant and working class constituents, seeking to ensure this district is livable for everyone. This is not Holden’s mission. Endorsing him is an affront to our most vulnerable neighbors and to all working class people, immigrant families, and homeless students in New York City. We strongly urge you to withdraw your endorsements.
Ridgewood Tenants Union
February 24, 2021