by Félix Pérez; image from Christine Pellegrino Facebook page
As an elementary school reading teacher for 25 years and a mother of two daughters in middle school, Christine Pellegrino was not supposed to win the special election for New York’s Ninth District in the state’s Assembly of Delegates. But win she did, and the world took notice, including as far away as Great Britain.
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Pellegrino won the Long Island district 58 percent-42 percent late last month. Because the district is heavily Republican and President Trump won it with 60 percent of the vote, the commonly held observation was that the win by Pellegrino, who had not run for office before, was a harbinger of voter discontent with Trump politics. Not so much, said Pellegrino.
Instead, she credits her win to local issues that are not affiliated with any political party or Trump. “It doesn’t matter what party you belong to. You still want clean drinking water. You still want great public schools,” she said in an interview with Nomiki Konst of The Young Turks. She said she spoke with voters “not as a politician, not as someone who’s been involved in politics, but as someone really wanting to make a difference and a change, and that really resonated.”
Pellegrino, who became an activist through her leadership in the standardized test opt-out movement, recognizes the important role played by the 6,000 members of her local teacher-led union and her state teachers’ union, New York State United Teachers, in the surprising election outcome. “My teacher support is what really crossed the line,” she said. “My involvement in opt out over the years made it much easier to get out to speak to people.” Pellegrino’s campaign relied on almost 400 volunteers. “The teachers in my district feel so thrilled that I am their representative.”
While not attributing her victory to an anti-Trump wave, Pellegrino, a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders in last year’s presidential election, does view her election as an outgrowth of a nationwide resistance movement. “It’s an exciting time for us as activists. It’s a thunderbolt from the resistance. It really proves that when you have a great message, when you have community organizing support, and you have a really good candidate, you can win.”
In order to win the historically Republican district, Pellegrino had to reach out not only to Democrats and Independents but Republicans as well, particularly GOP women who are concerned about public education. “We delivered a strong progressive message,” said Pellegrino, a self-described member of the “Berniecrat” network who made a focal point of her campaign to meet voters and hear their concerns. “Our schools are chronically underfunded and over-mandated, and that is a problem for our communities.”
— Christine Pellegrino (@ChristineNY09) May 28, 2017