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AFT Delegates Back Obama Even If They’d Rather Vote for Clinton

August 26, 2008 2 min read
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Hillary Rodham Clinton said she supports Barack Obama for president—and so do the American Federation of Teacher delegates elected to vote for her at the Democratic National Convention.

The senator from New York urged the thousands of cheering delegates—who started out holding “Hillary” signs, but then switched to signs that said “Obama” and “unity"—to unite behind a “single party with a single purpose.”

The stakes are high, and on the issue of education, Clinton’s rhetoric was simple: “We want to create a world-class education system and make college affordable again.”

The more than 20-minute speech gave her delegates a chance to show their enthusiasm and for Clinton, who lost an extended primary fight to the Illinois senator. But the division in the Democratic Party that many say exists is overplayed, said Donna Stempniak, a retired teacher who taught bilingual Spanish in Buffalo’s schools and is a New York delegate here.

“I have mixed feelings because I am such a Hillary supporter,” said Stempniak, a member of the AFT, which endorsed Clinton early on. “But we have to look at the big picture and get a Democrat in the White House. We have to stop McCain. New York is behind Obama now, and if we’re behind him, most everyone else is or should be.”

Ted Kirsch, the president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Teachers, says that he switched his allegiances to Obama the day that Clinton suspended her campaign. “You win some; you lose some,” he said. “When it was over in June, I knew I was supporting Obama.”

Kirsch compared the primary fight to a lovers’ quarrel.

“Husbands and wives fight all the time,” he said. “People fight, and they make up.”

West Virginia delegate Shelby Leary said she’s “very disappointed” that Clinton won’t be the Democratic nominee for president—or vice president.

“Hillary got a lot of votes, more votes than any other woman,” said Leary, who worked in the West Virginia Federation of Teachers’ campaign on behalf of Clinton during that state’s primary. Clinton won the state handily.

“It bothered me really bad to hear some senators tell her to step down,” said the Blacksville, W.Va., retiree, who is a former state employee and a member of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. “If she was a man, they wouldn’t have done that.”

But Leary said would vote for Obama tomorrow and hopes to work for the AFT affiliate’s campaign staff in the fall.

“I’m a Democrat. We need a Democrat in the White House,” said Leary, a former member of the West Virginia legislature. “I will certainly work hard.”

--Michele McNeil & David J. Hoff

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