Teachers Union Defers Endorsement in Governor's Race

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 21, 2006

Maryland's largest teachers union deadlocked yesterday over endorsing a candidate for governor, denying both Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley a coveted prize in the Democratic primary.

Representatives of the 64,000-member Maryland State Teachers Association voted instead to back whichever Democrat prevails in September and faces off two months later against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), who did not seek the group's blessing.

"Both candidates had very strong supporters and did a great job reaching out to teachers across the state," said Daniel Kaufman, a union spokesman.

Convening yesterday in Columbia, the group reached agreement on Maryland's other marquee race this year, voting to back Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP leader, for U.S. Senate. Mfume faces a half-dozen other Democrats, including Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore, in the primary. The winner will likely face Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele (R).

After several hours of closed-door deliberations, the union also announced its backing of Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D) in the open race for attorney general and Del. Peter Franchot (D-Montgomery), who is seeking to upset Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D).

The group's endorsement for governor was the most closely watched, with both Duncan and O'Malley jockeying for a prize that promised to bring new volunteers and campaign contributors statewide. The blessing by the state's teachers is traditionally seen as one the most important of the campaign, rivaling that of the statewide AFL-CIO, which has backed O'Malley this year.

Aides to Duncan, who is campaigning on an "Education First" agenda, sought to put the best face on the outcome, noting that Duncan received more than 55 percent of the votes from the teachers union's assembly. However, Duncan's total fell short of the supermajority of 58 percent needed under union rules to secure an endorsement.

In a news release, the Duncan campaign referred to the outcome as a "major victory," and Duncan said he considered the vote "validation of my commitment to putting education first."

Aides to O'Malley, who has outpaced Duncan in polling, fundraising and other key endorsements, said they were satisfied with the outcome. Both sides acknowledged that Duncan entered the contest for the union's backing with an important advantage born of geography and familiarity.

The union represents teachers, administrators and support staff in every Maryland jurisdiction but one: Baltimore. Teachers and support staff in O'Malley's city are represented by the 8,000-member Baltimore Teachers Union, which will announce its own endorsement later. The largest bloc of teachers present yesterday hailed from Montgomery.

O'Malley boosters argued that the group should weigh the same factors that led the AFL-CIO to endorse the mayor: a demonstrated ability to raise money and a perception that he could match up better against Ehrlich in Baltimore County and other areas where Ehrlich ran better than expected in 2002.

"Today's vote proves that Maryland's teachers understand that Martin O'Malley will be a governor that works in partnership with them," said O'Malley spokesman Hari Sevugan.

The National Education Association, the state union's parent organization, will have to sign off next month on Mfume's endorsement for it to become official, because he is seeking a federal office.

Perez said the union's support should provide him some momentum as he prepares to formally announce his bid to replace retiring Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D). Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler is also seeking the Democratic nomination. The race has also drawn Frederick County State's Attorney Scott L. Rolle (R).

Franchot, who previously won the AFL-CIO's blessing, said the teachers union's endorsement would provide "another big boost" in his Democratic primary challenge to Schaefer, who did not seek the endorsement, and Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens.

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