Unions Offer Bounty Of Votes, Foot Soldiers

Mark Faber, right, talks to Benjamin L. Cardin at an AFL-CIO rally. Faber and other union members have contacted voters and erected signs for Cardin, whom they endorsed for the Democratic nomination for a Senate seat.
Mark Faber, right, talks to Benjamin L. Cardin at an AFL-CIO rally. Faber and other union members have contacted voters and erected signs for Cardin, whom they endorsed for the Democratic nomination for a Senate seat. (Robert A. Reeder - Twp)
By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 4, 2006

Mark Faber, a plumber from Anne Arundel County, waited eagerly for his U.S. Senate candidate to arrive at the Baltimore union hall.

"You don't know it, but I've worked the polls for years for you," Faber told Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D), shaking his hand vigorously before pulling on a white Cardin T-shirt over his black Local 486 T-shirt.

"I don't know where yet," Faber said later, "but I'll be at one of the polls, working" for the Sept. 12 primary.

Along the side of a busy Columbia road, Ann DeLacy waved a white campaign sign for her Senate candidate, Kweisi Mfume, and chanted "Woo, woo!" when drivers honked their approval.

"We're doing literally everything we can to try to get him elected," said DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association. Her efforts including asking friends to contribute to the Democrat's cash-strapped campaign in lieu of gifts for her recent wedding.

In the final stretch before the primary, unions across Maryland are kicking their efforts into high gear -- sending mailers, posting yard signs, staffing phone banks and knocking on doors to promote their favored candidates.

Although the ranks of organized labor have thinned and splintered across the nation in recent years, their members remain some of the most loyal and sought-after foot soldiers in local politics.

"People often talk about labor losing influence because of declining numbers," said Michele Lewis, political director for the Maryland chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "But politicians still clamor to get labor's support because it comes with such great ground-troop resources."

Labor has never packed the same punch in Maryland as in some states with far greater blue-collar populations. But given the state's heavily Democratic population and embrace of collective bargaining rights, the backing of a union can provide certain candidates with a real boost among its ranks and beyond.

And because they overwhelmingly support Democrats, labor's influence, analysts say, is often greatest in contested primaries. This year, Democrats expect no more than 700,000 voters to decide who advances to November's general election.

The state's two most prized endorsements come from the statewide AFL-CIO, an umbrella group that claims about 292,000 Maryland members, and from the Maryland State Teachers Association, which represents roughly 65,000 educators in every Maryland jurisdiction except Baltimore. In Maryland's contest for an open Senate seat, the two factions are pitted against one another: The AFL-CIO has backed Cardin, while the teachers are supporting Mfume, a former congressman and NAACP leader.

Union backing can be particularly helpful for statewide candidates, including Mfume and attorney general hopeful Stuart O. Simms (D), who are running against opponents with far more campaign cash.


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