Chavous Wins Union Backing
By Michael Powell
The Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO, with 175 member unions, has not endorsed a mayoral candidate since 1986, when it was an influential supporter of Mayor Marion Barry (D). The coalition vowed to contribute money and to lobby the city's 41,000 union households to support Chavous's candidacy.
Union leaders said their endorsement speaks less to Chavous's strength than to the need of organized labor to reassert itself after years of layoffs and wage freezes during the city's fiscal crisis.
"We are by no means saying we have the perfect candidate . . . this was not a unanimous love fest," said Joslyn N. Williams, the coalition's president. "But Kevin Chavous came the closest to what we were seeking."
In something of a surprise move, the coalition voted not to endorse the reelection effort of D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1). And it fell a few votes short of endorsing Democratic candidate Jim Graham, who heads the Whitman-Walker Clinic, for that seat.
The coalition did endorse three council incumbents: Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Harry Thomas Sr. (D-Ward 5) and Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6).
As for the at-large council race, the coalition will consider endorsements next month.
Smith, a longtime ally of Barry and organized labor, had cast some votes that angered unions. Perhaps more pointedly, some union delegates insisted that Smith's time has simply passed and that it is time for a more energetic presence on the council.
Chavous (D-Ward 7) lobbied hard for a labor endorsement. He pledged to establish a labor desk within his campaign office and to "lock arms" with labor if he is elected. His populist-tinged message about being a mayor for the neighborhoods has fired up some union members, and he has strong support among many public employee unions.
"This endorsement clearly demonstrates that our message of putting people first, restoring our neighborhoods, our schools and our democracy is resonating," Chavous said in a prepared statement. "That labor has taken this opportunity to move back into its rightful place of influence is personally gratifying to me and a sign of better days."
Chavous, however, had to overcome opposition from teacher union leaders, who said he is a lackluster chairman of the council's Education Committee, and from the building trades and Hotel and Restaurant Workers, who favored Anthony Williams.
However, once it became clear that two-thirds of the coalition members would support Chavous, the holdout unions agreed to make it unanimous.
Williams had lobbied hard for the union vote, even shaking hands with members as they arrived to vote yesterday. And he had significant support. But, union leaders said, a majority of the public unions could not forgive his decision to abruptly fire 230 employees in his finance and tax departments two years ago.
He took that action after his own audits found evidence of mismanagement and possible corruption in those units. "That action could not be discounted," Joslyn Williams said of the firings. "It was fatal. We cannot forget that actions by public leaders send broad messages."
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