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Pointing at the teachers unions works for Fenty

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Make no mistake: The union had a vested interest in seeing Fenty removed from office, and spent a significant amount of money to make that happen. But so did a lot of other groups - the teachers union was only part of a broader labor effort to get Gray (D) elected.

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Chuck Thies, a consultant who has worked on local campaigns but also has ties to national labor organizations, said he approached a union contact in February, telling the contact that there was opportunity to be had in the District.

"I told them this exact expression: Adrian Fenty is eminently beatable," said Thies. "And Vince Gray is the guy to do it."

Two weeks before the election, the union launched radio ads in support of Gray on 10 area stations. The national teachers union also contributed to an independent interunion effort to oust Fenty.

But $1 million?

Thies said that was the figure sources inside the union shared with him; the union has repeatedly refused to comment on the value of its contributions to the District mayoral race. Meanwhile, insiders from the Fenty and Gray camps have expressed doubts about the million-dollar claim.

"I don't think it's credible," said Bill Lightfoot, who chaired Fenty's campaign. "I'm not sure you can measure what the unions did in terms of dollars. It's not money; it's manpower."

Joslyn N. Williams, who leads the Metro Labor Council AFL-CIO, agreed. "That is the figment of somebody's imagination," he said. "It's designed to try and taint Vince Gray as nothing but a tool of the AFT."

Said George Parker, whose Washington Teachers' Union is a federation affiliate, "I doubt if it was a million."

A recent filing with the city campaign finance office shows a $10,000 direct federation expenditure on the campaign. About $700,000 was spent by a variety of unions to influence the mayoral campaign. The remainder would have been spent reaching only their own members, and only about 2,000 live in the city.

Gray won by more than 13,000 votes.

If the federation indeed spent $1 million to oust Fenty, what it bought wasn't a new mayor so much as an unflattering story line about buying a new mayor.


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