Anti-incumbent push by Montgomery labor unions comes up short

Angry about recession-era cuts and legislative setbacks, the unions representing Montgomery police, fire and non-uniformed employees tried to exact some payback from the County Council and County Executive Isiah Leggett on Primary Day.

It didn’t go so well.

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 1664, and the Municipal & County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO) went all in to put some fresh and friendlier faces in office. They spent money and put boots on the ground.

But Duchy Trachtenberg, backed by the 8,000-member MCGEO and the police — and whose campaign was helmed by former MCGEO executive director Bob Stewart — was crushed 4-to-1 in District 1 by incumbent Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda).

Ryan Spiegel, the choice of all three unions for the District 3 seat vacated by their nemesis, Council member Phil Andrews, (D-Rockville Gaithersburg), finished third behind Sidney Katz and Tom Moore. Spiegel also carried the seal of the influential 12,000-member Montgomery Education Association (MCEA)

At-Large candidate Beth Daly, endorsed by MCGEO and the police, finished fifth in the race for four at-large seats.

That leaves Del. Tom Hucker in District 5 — hanging on by a slender but probably sufficient 217 votes pending absentee and provisional ballot counts — as the unions’ only new winning horse. (At-Large incumbent Marc Elrich, who won on Tuesday, had MCGEO backing).

Police and firefighters both endorsed Doug Duncan for county executive. MCGEO, disdaining Leggett but convinced that Duncan couldn’t win, sat out the executive’s race.

The union case against Leggett and the council begins with their decision to eliminate a law that allowed police to bargain over matters that went beyond wages, benefits and working conditions. Voters supported the measure when it became a ballot proposition in 2012, after an aggressive campaign by Leggett and other officials using county resources. In April, a Circuit Court judge ruled that Leggett violated Maryland election law by campaigning for the passage of the ballot measure, known as Question B.

The unions were also frustrated over passage of a bill that requires arbitrators — neutral third parties used to resolve contract negotiations that have reached impasse — to consider the county’s financial condition before ruling.

Other public employee unions not as directly impacted by council actions were more incumbent-friendly. Service Employees International Union Local 500, which represents 10,000 school support personnel and Montgomery College adjunct faculty--endorsed Leggett, Berliner, Elrich, Council President Craig Rice (D-Upcounty), Nancy Floreen (D-At-Large) and Hans Riemer (D-At-Large) and Nancy Navarro (D-Midcounty). SEIU went with Daly over the fourth at-large member, George Leventhal. The teachers also dropped Leventhal, 2010 endorsee, but backed Leggett, Berliner, Rice, Elrich, Navarro and Riemer.

What does it all mean? Payback has never been a big part of Leggett’s politics. He would be unlikely to making rank-and-file pay at the bargaining table and in the pocket book for the political decisions of their leaders.

Same for the council. Although if unions have other legislative priorities on their agenda, they might find the next four years even tougher than the last.

None of the three county union leaders, Gino Renne of MCGEO, Jeff Buddle of IAFF or the FOP’s Torrie Cooke, returned phone messages Thursday.

Bill Turque, who covers Montgomery County government and politics, has spent more than thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Dallas Times Herald and The Kansas City Star.
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