The looters liberals ignore: Part II

Michelle Malkin

8/27/2003 12:00:00 AM - Michelle Malkin

Three months ago, this column wondered if the New York Times would ever cover the abominable Democrat teachers' union scandal in Florida. Investigators from the FBI and Miami-Dade's Public Corruption Task Force raided the powerful United Teachers of Dade headquarters at the end of April. In July, they raided the Tallahassee home of union President Pat Tornillo.

This week, Tornillo -- the Ken Lay of the Left -- finally confessed to massive looting of teachers' union dues.

Here, in its 69-word entirety, is what the nation's paper of selective record found fit to print on Aug. 26: "Pat Tornillo, the longtime leader of the Miami-Dade County teachers union who had been accused of billing the union for $650,000 of luxuries, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return and mail fraud in exchange for a two-year prison sentence. Court records showed he billed the union for four Caribbean vacations, several cruises, a trip to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney and other first-class travel expenses."

The Times' news brief, recycled from an Associated Press dispatch, was buried on page A16.

The national significance of this public education corruption should have been screamingly obvious to the scribes at the Times. With a new school year opening and renewed cries of chronic public school underfunding, the Miami-Dade fiasco belongs on the front page. The cash-strapped Miami-Dade public school district is the fourth largest in the nation. The implications of Tornillo's pending imprisonment -- and the indelible taint the scandal has left on the Democrats' campaign cash flow -- are even more newsworthy.

The four-decade imperial reign of Tornillo has had a profound influence on Florida politics. He led the nation's first statewide teachers' strike, built the largest labor union in the South, amassed a $4 million annual payroll for his organization, lavished Democrat Party coffers with those union funds, and wielded his clout in dozens of Democrat elections from school board to governor. In last year's Democratic gubernatorial race alone, Tornillo's union and its local affiliates donated nearly $300,000 to the state Democrat Party, plus more than $50,000 in in-kind donations and more than $15,000 in direct contributions to its favored (and ultimately losing) candidate, Bill McBride. Tornillo lent the McBride campaign two top union officials and secretly spent more than $2 million on McBride political ads.

When he wasn't bullying union members into sending students home with notes endorsing Democrat candidates and causes, Tornillo oversaw a disastrous spending binge on real estate and used the union's political and economic clout to secure lucrative construction and insurance contracts for cronies. Miami Herald reporters unearthed records showing "how Tornillo lived the life of royalty on the union's dime, expensing everything from round-the-world vacations, $20,000 hotel bills and antique furniture. The union also paid for his phone, cable and power bills, his housekeeper and his home insurance."

While teachers pleaded for pay increases and fought layoff measures, Tornillo used their union dues (at $843 per year, they're the highest in the nation) to buy tailored suits from Hong Kong and python-print pajamas from Neiman-Marcus. The Herald also reported that after Tornillo returned in 1995 from an extravagant African safari junket with executives of a troubled health maintenance organization, Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York, he awarded the company a $195 million insurance contract against the recommendation of union staff.

Rank-and-file educators and parents have demanded federal disclosure rules to stop future teachers' union plundering. Damaris Daugherty, founder of the Teacher Rights Advocacy Coalition in Miami, testified before a Senate committee in June:

"We need federal legislation that will wrest from (the United Teachers of Dade) and similar corrupt unions the power they have inappropriately usurped from the workers. We need you to come to the aid of workers in this country so that workers can reclaim their organizations and return them to their lofty goals. Without federal intervention, corrupt union executives will continue to manage dues monies as their personal expense accounts."

Will the New York Times editorial writers -- never ones to miss drum-beating about disclosure when it comes to corporate looters -- support the workers? Or will they stand aloof with the union thugs in snakes' pajamas?