Into the Fray: Union Begins Training for Future Leaders

Christopher Birch, right, with Angela Guyton-Cyril, a member of SSEU Local 371 participated in the Emerging Leaders Candidate Academy, an innovative program organized by the union’s Political Action Department to train future leaders in electoral politics. Photo: Mike Lee

By MIKE LEE

Dozens of DC 37 members with aspirations to become part of a new generation of progressive, elected officials recently attended the first Emerging Leaders Candidate Academy.

The introductory session, held at union headquarters on Oct. 8, was the first of three meetings with members who stepped forward to run in future local, state, and federal elections. The Academy concluded on Nov. 2.

With DC 37’s guidance, their dreams may very well come true. The participants came from a variety of backgrounds but with a single goal in mind: to make a difference by entering the political arena.

Angela Guyton-Cyril, a member of Social Service Employees Union Local 371, spoke about her motives for attending: “I was asked to sit on a council in the Department of Education. Also, my office is very politically inclined and I want to know more about the policy side of government,” she said. “I don’t want to be loud and wrong. I want to come with the facts and know how to present them and know who I need to back me up.”

Christopher Birch from Washington Heights spoke about the need of being part of the political process. “I need to be at the table,” he said. “I don’t want to be knocking at the door and asking for a little, when I can be part of the decision process for my district.”

Speakers in the first session included Local 768 President Fitz Reid who gave participants a lesson in union history; Local 372 Vice President Donald Nesbit, who is also chair of the

DC 37 Political Action Committee; DC 37 Political Action Director Jeremy John; and New York City Council member Alicka Ampry-Samuel.

New York State Sen. Diane Savino, along with speakers from DC 37’s national union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, various political  consultants, and election experts, walked the participants through the nuts and bolts of running a political campaign. Sessions included deep dives on messaging, voter outreach  and fundraising, and how to negotiate traditional and digital communications.

By the third session, future leaders responded with well-informed, detailed questions that kept the proceedings lively. Participants went beyond the basics of political campaigns and came away with a sophisticated, learned view that will prepare them for the upcoming election season.

Awareness of the details, as well as knowledge of the basics, is vital. During a discussion on campaign finance, John warned, “The rules for compliance for first-time candidates are punitive,” he said. “Compliance with finance laws is imperative to running a successful campaign.”

The union program is the latest example of DC 37’s commitment to building political power for workers in local elections and in Albany. The training also is part of a national trend as unions across the country seek and support rank-and-file members as candidates for elected office.

The AFL-CIO has been stepping up its efforts to recruit union members to run for office, recently launching a website,, to expand awareness and push recruitment efforts.

 

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