NYSUT Bucks Félix Ortiz to Endorse Upstart Rival

Ceasar Zuniga. (Photo: Zuniga Campaign)

Ceasar Zuniga. (Photo: Zuniga Campaign)

In a rare move, the New York State United Teachers turned their back on a veteran assemblyman in Brooklyn to endorse a relatively unknown rival this week.

The 600,000 member NYSUT announced yesterday they had endorsed Ceasar Zuniga, a director of the Parent-Child Home Network, over Assemblyman Félix Ortiz, a lawmaker who has represented Sunset Park and Red Hook for two decades. The teachers union did not immediately reveal why they decided to buck Mr. Ortiz–the assemblyman himself was perplexed by the decision.

“I have no idea why they didn’t endorse me because I have been doing a lot of work on education,” Mr. Ortiz told the Observer. “I’m not disappointed. Whatever relations they have, they have.”

Other major unions are still with Mr. Ortiz, who holds a significant fund-raising and name recognition advantage over Mr. Zuniga. 1199 SEIU, 32BJ SEIU and the Hotel Trades Council all endorsed Mr. Ortiz.

Mr. Zuniga’s challenge represents the first serious threat Mr. Ortiz has faced in years. The lawmaker, known for his more low-key presence in the district, typically cruises to re-election.

Mr. Zungia said that he believed his background as an educator with the Parent-Child Home Program, an early childhood literacy and parenting initiative, set him apart from Mr. Ortiz.

“I think when you look at his record, there isn’t anything outstanding in his record in terms of his focus on education. When you look at my history, my career, even some of my early experiences in my life, education made a huge difference,” Mr. Zuniga said. “That was persuasive to the union.”

Serving on a school board when he lived in New Jersey, Mr. Zuniga said, may have also helped make his case to the powerful union. He said he would be in discussions about what type of resources NYSUT would lend his campaign.

Mr. Oriz defended his educational record, pointing to his children being UFT members and his introduction of a universal prekindergarten bill years before Mayor Bill de Blasio brought attention to pre-K expansion.

This story has been updated to reflect that Mr. Ortiz was not endorsed by the Working Families Party.