Major teachers union endorses for 2021 race? Not so fast

Eric Dinowitz claims UFT union backing, then walks it back

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As far as anyone is concerned, the race to replace Councilman Andrew Cohen won’t take place until 2021. Yet, there are already two candidates actively campaigning for the seat, and one nursing a bit of a black eye.

He’s a special education teacher at Bronx Theatre High School in Kingsbridge, and has been an educator for more than a decade. Yet, Eric Dinowitz can’t escape what seems to be a legacy draw to politics — his father is Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, and Eric not only serves on Community Board 8, he’s also the male Democratic leader for his father’s district.

Expecting Cohen may vacate his council seat sooner rather than later, Dinowitz hopes to tackle issues that could help schools like his — and the teachers inside. But what he doesn’t have, at least not yet, is an endorsement from the city’s powerful educator’s union, the United Federation of Teachers.

But anyone visiting Dinowitz’s campaign website until just before 6 p.m., on May 9, would have thought otherwise, after reading that “Eric is endorsed by UFT because of his commitment to strong public schools and a great education for all our children.”

The statement was removed soon after The Riverdale Press asked Dinowitz about it. And while UFT has donated $2,800 to his campaign, there has been no endorsement quite yet, at least according to union spokesman Dick Riley.

“An overzealous supporter added that line to the website,” Dinowitz said. “I think it’s because I’ve been so involved in the union, I’ve been a teacher for 12 years. So that was a little bit of an oversight, but I addressed it.”

Dinowitz wouldn’t say who the supporter was or how that person had access to his official campaign site. In fact, Dinowitz wouldn’t share how many people he has working on his campaign at this point, especially with more than two years before having to worry about a primary. At this point, the only competition Dinowitz has is former Community Board 8 chair and third-generation Kingsbridge resident Dan Padernacht.

In fact, Padernacht announced his candidacy first last July, with Dinowitz following soon after. It came after Cohen rather openly pursued a judgeship. If the Bronx County Democrats had followed through with that last year, a special election would have been called to fill out the rest of Cohen’s final term.

Some blame the lack of a judgeship nomination on former state Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who also was rumored to be pursuing a spot on the bench after his September primary loss to Alessandra Biaggi. But after news reports exposed those alleged efforts, Democratic officials backed off on not only putting Klein in a black robe, but Cohen too.

But that hasn’t stopped Cohen to look beyond his life on the city council. He told the Norwood News last month he was considering a run for borough president, which some whisper could simply be Cohen angling for a judgeship this year.

For now, Dinowitz and Padernacht are in a holding pattern. Both are soliciting donations and appearing at events across the district, but active campaigning has yet to really begin.

“It’s important for a candidate to present truthful information because the public is relying on their statements to make fact-based opinions and decisions.” Padernacht said. “If Mr. Dinowitz didn’t pay attention to the falsehood by his campaign consultant, he should now get in front of the issue, explain what happened, and apologize for the misrepresentation.”

Dinowitz is unconcerned and plans to pursue UFT’s actual endorsement when the time comes.

“As a UFT member and leader, Eric is looking forward to discussing the race with his colleagues and is very hopeful that he will receive the endorsement,” campaign spokeswoman Daniele de Groot said. The teacher’s union usually endorses in the weeks leading up to an election, which means he — and any candidate for the seat — has some time to secure the endorsement.

But it does seem Dinowitz is on the right track to securing the union’s support. UFT’s donation last November was just short of the legal maximum. Self-indentified city teachers donated an additional $986 through Jan. 11, the most recent campaign finance disclosure deadline.

Padernacht has received $150 from city teachers so far, according to campaign finance disclosures.

Dinowitz has the clear financial advantage over Padernacht, as well as the implicit support of the Bronx Democratic establishment. Supporters donated $60,000 by Jan. 11, as compared to Padernacht’s $20,000. And Dinowitz can count his father, Councilman Fernando Cabrera, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel as donors — each giving $500 or more.

Even the man Dinowitz is running to succeed, Andrew Cohen, donated $175 on Jan. 11, the final day of the filing period, according to the city’s campaign finance board. Cohen’s chief of staff, Ariana Collado donated $50 that same day.

Cohen did not respond to requests for comment.

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