ICYMI on last night’s CapTon or this morning’s memo: PEF President Susan Kent says her union is open to backing someone other than Gov. Andrew Cuomo next year – perhaps even a Republican, which would be only the second time in the union’s history that it has endorsed a non-Democrat for governor.

“We do have a democratic process in my union where we have regional PACs and then the executive board that will weigh in,” Kent told me in response to a question about whether PEF might consider endorsing a challenger to Cuomo in 2014.

“But I can tell you right now with the sentiment of my membership and what we’re seeing in terms of just further erosion of public sector jobs and services that people need, it seems to be a extremely distinct possibility. And we really are looking for – whether it’s Democrat or Republican, whether it’s a third party candidate – someone to step up that is going to really speak out for working people.”

PEF broke with several big public sector unions that remained neutral on Cuomo in 2010 and gave the then-state attorney general its endorsement. The thinking of union leaders at the time was that it would be better to be on the all-but-certain-to-win new governor’s good side, particularly with contract negotiations looming.

But when Cuomo actually took office, PEF didn’t fare any better than the state’s largest public employee union, CSEA, when it came to wrangling a new contract. In fact, the PEF talks lasted longer and were even more acrimonious, despite the union’s 2010 nod.

Disappointment among the PEF rank-and-file with the endorsement process and the subsequent contract contributed to the ouster of former union President Ken Brynien by Kent and her team in 2012. Kent, who pledged to take a harder line with the Cuomo administration, is clearly sensitive to that fact, and she is determined not to repeat Brynien’s mistakes.

The unions are unhappy with Cuomo on a number of fronts. There’s lingering resentment from the Tier IV battle, but more pressing is the slew of prison and mental health facility closures that the governor has undertaken without legislative input.

In 2002, PEF endorsed its first-ever Republican gubernatorial candidate, backing incumbent Gov. George Pataki against Democratic state Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who had beat back a quixotic (and short lived) primary challenge from Cuomo (then fresh off his stint as President Clinton’s HUD secretary). The union had also endorsed former GOP Sen. Alfonse D’Amato for re-election in 1986.

If CSEA and NYSUT again decide to take a pass on Cuomo in 2014, and PEF joins in, it could be more difficult for Cuomo to land the support of the AFL-CIO – an umbrella organization of labor unions that has a weighted endorsement process. Then again, it’s a safe bet Cuomo will have plenty of labor support, especially from the more conservative trades and his longtime ally, SEIU 1199.

Also, it would be difficult for the public sector unions to outright endorse a Republican challenger if that candidate is Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who has had his share of battles with CSEA over the years.

You can watch my entire interview with Kent here. She also discussed the recently pension-related bankruptcy ruling in Detroit and what that might mean for New York.

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