Editor's note: This is the first in a series of occasional stories for The Next Mayor that will raise a Pander Alert whenever the mayoral candidates engage in what could be construed as, ahem, pandering to a particular voter base.
On Wednesday night, the Democratic candidates for mayor appeared before a closed-door meeting of the teachers union to make their pitch for support.
It was a natural for a Pander Alert -- my name for the propensity of candidates to carefully craft their messages before important groups to convince them they are on their side and worthy of their support (read: votes and money).
Pandering is a part of politics and all six candidates made a stab at wooing the assembled members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, even state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who is not at all popular with the PFT because of his support of charter schools.
The PFT had mailed questionnaires to each of the candidates in advance, with a checklist of issues near and dear to the union's heart. You can read their responses here.
Union members will vote later in the campaign on which candidate wins their backing. As of now, Jim Kenney seems favored.
The PFT is an expensive date. The union has an agenda which includes abolishing the School Reform Commission and replacing it with an elected board; a freeze for an undetermined time on new charters; and the opening of 25 community-based public schools with a unionized work force.
What does the union bring to the table in return?
Surprisingly, not many votes. Teachers tend to be politically active and are reliable voters, but a lot of PFT members live outside the city and cannot vote in the primary.
At last count, nearly 50 percent of the 9,400 PFT members who are teachers live in the Pennsylvania or New Jersey suburbs. (The district does not have a residency requirement.)
Even if every teacher who lives in the city showed up and voted, it would amount to only 4,800 votes. At 50 percent turnout, it would be 2,400 votes. Which is nice, but not much.
What the PFT does have is deep pockets. The local branch has a PAC that had $697,000 in it as of the end of last year. It gave big to its favored candidates: including Gov. Tom Wolf, writing him a contribution check for $100,000. An affiliate PAC of the PFT gave Wolf another $27,500.
Alas, with a city law that limits campaign contributions, the union cannot play the same big money game in the mayor's race. Its PAC is limited to giving the candidate of its choice $11,500 and individual givers are limited to $2,900.
The real money is in Washington, D.C. headquarters of the American Federation of Teachers, the parent union, which has 1.5 million members nationwide and a PAC that raises and spends $10.3 million a year.
In addition to direct contributions to candidates, the AFT has made use of SuperPACs as well, making independent expenditures for favored candidates -- to the tune of $3.4 million last year.
If the AFT wants to get involved in the mayor's race in Philadelphia, it most likely will use a SuperPAC that could spend hundreds of thousands, probably on TV ads, for a preferred candidate (or against a candidate they don't want elected).
The parent union has signaled time and again that it considers Philadelphia an important battleground against what it sees as anti-union forces. It has been generous in underwriting PFT activities from its $104 million general fund, which is separate from its PAC.
For instance, it gave the PFT a grant of $1.3 million in August 2013 to support its efforts to counter the School Reforms Commission's demands for contract concessions.
It also has sprinkled money to advocacy groups that usually take front and center at anti-SRC rallies. Over the last two years, the Philadelphia Student Union has received $40,000 from the AFT; Action United has gotten $74,000 and Youth United For Change has received $81,736. (Is there any wonder why they yell and clap so enthusiastically at school-related rallies?)