The state teachers union has landed in the middle of a controversy regarding a political attack ad it sent out to sway voters in the race for the senate seat held by Mark J. Grisanti.
The subject of the ad, however, has nothing to do with charter schools, the Common Core or teacher evaluations, as many voters might expect.
Instead, the flier features the image of a woman with a black eye, bloodied lip and smudged mascara behind the words “Mark Grisanti Won’t Protect Her From Her Abuser.” The ad refers to a piece of the Women’s Equality Act, a proposed 10-point law that addresses a range of issues from equal pay and strengthening protections for domestic violence victims to ensuring a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. It was paid for by VOTE-COPE, the political arm of New York State United Teachers.
Grisanti, who lost the Republican primary in September to Kenmore attorney Kevin T. Stocker and is running in the general election on the Independence line, has supported nine of the 10 provisions – but not the one that would allow late-term abortion. Because the Senate must approve the act as a whole, opposition to the one piece has held up approval of the other provisions, NYSUT contends
The ad is just the latest in NYSUT’s effort to unseat Grisanti, with the union funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race in support of Democrat Marc C. Panepinto.
NYSUT spokesperson Carl Korn says the union considers Panepinto to be a “supporter of public education,” elaborating that he opposes charter schools and supports other pieces of NYSUT’s legislative agenda.
But the union isn’t limiting its mailings to those education issues on which it has the most expertise, and some now say the flier picturing a domestic violence victim crosses the line.
Along with the graphic image and misrepresentation of Grisanti’s position, critics say the union gets to hide behind the smear campaign since the average voter would not necessarily know what VOTE-COPE is.
Even Panepinto’s campaign called the ad a “shameful mailer,” and Grisanti called for the union to apologize to survivors of domestic violence.
“It appears that the NY State Teachers' Union is IN FACT, continuing to use women as victims when they have been brutally assaulted as shown in this advertisement,” Irene Majchrzak, advocacy chair of Zonta Club of Buffalo, wrote in a statement to The Buffalo News.
“The UNION has taken an abused woman's picture and victimized her even further by assuming that somehow the issues they are campaigning against (equal rights, and the woman's right to choose abortion or not) has something to do with why she is being abused.”
Korn defended the ad saying that if it gets people’s attention, it also draws attention to the issues.
“If it gets people’s attention, that’s good and they’ll understand why it’s important to approve the full Women’s Equality Act,” he said.