Heather James has led union campaigns for years. (photo credit: Dave Sanders)
Heather James has always been attracted to political action. Before and after college, she was involved in advocacy groups, and later the Manhattan Young Democrats.
But when she became an assistant professor of social science at Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2016, she decided to step away from “real world politics” and focus on “teaching American government and inspiring students.” CUNY and public higher education are a part of her life. She received a master’s degree in gender studies from the Graduate Center and then received her PhD from Rutgers University. Her dissertation surveyed the challenges women candidates face in 50 states.
Alas, her itch to get back into politics was too strong. “I started volunteering for the union, and it became clear that I was not going to be able to hold on to my personal ban on real-world politics,” she told Clarion.
James was chosen by the union’s delegates in September to become its new legislative representative, taking over for Luke Elliott-Negri. In this role she will continue doing much of the political work she’s already been doing. James will be leading member activists on the city and state budget campaigns as well as other political work to bolster the union’s power.
For James, a big task ahead is building up more focus on the city budget, which has been a major source of austerity for CUNY under Mayor Eric Adams.
“I have absolutely no plan to back off our state work,” she said. “Any city focus won’t come at the expense of the state. We have no choice but to fight more at the city level.”
James added that in the previous city budget campaign the PSC made major inroads with the City Council, inspiring lawmakers to advocate for a fully funded CUNY.
“The city folks are the ones we need to be advocating for us,” James said.
James believes that it is going to be a hard road ahead, but the challenges are worth it, and she said that she is looking forward to working closely with other member activists. “It’s a big, new role, it’s a lot of trust,” she said. “It’ll be a little bit of a learning process. I feel very well supported and I feel like this is going to be a sometimes hard, but very fulfilling journey.”
Published: November 15, 2023