Clapping his hands in time with the gospel hit "Oh, Happy Day," Mayor Walter E. Washington delivered a strong attack at a Labor Day rally against the man he sees as his chief rival in the Sept. 12 primary, City COuncil Chairman Sterling Tucker.
"Now ask (Tucker) one day, "How many jobs have you produced in the last four years," said Washington to some 400 union members and their families gathered at Emery Heights Park at Georgia and Missouri avenues NW.
"Nothing," members of the crowd and the mayor should in union. "And how many has (Tucker) promised?" the mayor continued, ignoring the third major candidate, Marion Barry. "The world," he added in a hoarse voice.
Yesterday's rally, complete with picnic lunches, gospel singers and the 14-piece Ambassadors band, was organized labor's attempt to rev up union support for its candidate for mayor. Walter Washington. It was sponsored by the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, whose leaders had predicted a turnout of a least 1,500 people.
Despite what one organizer called the "disappointing" turnout, organized labor has pulled out all the stops to reelect the mayor.
For the past month, the central labor council's political arm has been conducting voter registration drives and phone bank canvassing among the city's union rank-and-file in what amounts to a separate campaign effort for Washington. Organized labor's campaign has cost almost $40,000 to date, said Ronald R. Richardson, secretary-treasurer of the 9,000-member Hotel and Restaurant Employes Local 25.
More than 21,000 union members have been reached by telephone, said labor organizer Minor Christian, "and in the last few days the average in favor of the mayor has been running at 78 percent." Undecideds among union members were 21 percent, Christian said.
Christian said that 720 volunteer door-to-door canvassers will be out in the streets today and an additional 30 canvassers will be specifically detaited to knock on the doors of undecideds. "We're going heavily after the undecideds," said Christian.
Last Saturday the council mailed 19,500 pieces of literature to union households, he said, and there will be 800 poll watchers and chauffeurs to drive-people to the polls on election day.
"We're going to make the difference for Walter Washington in this election," said Christian.
The mayor, from his beginnings in 1941, as a management trainee with the city's old slum clearing agency, the Alley Dwelling Authority, to his rise by 1961 to director of the National Capital Housing Authority (which replaced the other agency, has enjoyed and cultivated intimate ties with local and national labor leadership.
"I've always inclined to them," said Washington in recent 1 1/2-hour interview his District Building office. "I mean, I don't think there's anybody around that is not aware that I not only understand (but) appreciate the goals of unions."
During his five-year-stint as director of the city's public housing agency, "I think that practically all our housing developments were done with union Labor," he said.
The mayor's policy of inclining toward union labor for public housing construction was a boon to the area's building trade unions, led in the 1960s by J.C. Turner then head of Local 77 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. The engineers operate heavy-duty construction equipment at construction sites.
Turner was for 14 years, until 1972, president of the central labor council, the 200,000-member unbrella of 145 Washington-area unions. Among his union friends, Turner is known as "Mr. Labor" in Washington. He is now international president of the Operating Engineers.
Turner has been intricately involved in both of Washington's mayroal campaigns, but now leaves the day-to-day handling of local political affairs to his special assistant, Chris Gersten.
The mayor said his preference for labor leaders, such as Turner, stems from a years-long joint push for better housing for the poor from the 1940s up through the 1960s.
"We were working side-by-side to produce and promote better housing for people and I met a number of labor leaders and Jay (Turner), of course, was primary," Washington said."Our relationship developed beyond that over (35) years and its a strong, personal relationshop."
In his 1974 race against CLifford Alexander, Washington received the strong endorsement of the central labor council plus more than $27,000 from unions and their leaders out of almost $200,000 in report campaign contributions overall. In his present campaign, as of Aug. 28, the mayor had recived $24,300 from organized labor out of $190,000 raised. He can expect more from unions, according to Turner assistant Gersten.
Tucker has received no financial backing from the lone union that endorsed his candidacy, Teamsters Local 639, but the union's officials said they have done extensive phone bank canvassing for him and plan to provide chauffeurs on election day. Barry has received $5,000 from police, firemen and teachers unions but virtually no manpower help.
Apart from financial contributions, however, the unions did little for the mayor's first bid for election in 1974. "They figured the mayor was a shoo-in," said Richardson.
The impact of organized labor in local elections was still small two years later in the 1976 fight over control of the D.C. Democratic State Committee. Labor backed the mayor's Open Party slate to fill seats on the committee, but the slate lost disastrously to the Unity '76 coalition backed by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.), Tucker and Barry.
"The (labor-backed) Open Party slate was an amateurish and half-a - campign," said Ben D. Segal, the mayor's labor liaison for more than a decade until February. "Labor was not organized to make an impact."
In this election, organized labor has put together a smooth running separate campaign among the city's estimated 80,000 labor union members.
Union members have been asked to contribute $1.00 each to the campaign and the Maryland-D.C./AFL-CIO is sending out about 74,000 flyers to union households urging them to vote for the mayor and labor-backed City Council candidates. Their council candidates are Council member Douglas Moore (D-at large) for chairman, incumbents Hilda Mason (S-at large) and David Carke (D-Ward 1) and challengers Roland Rier and Patricia Rice Press, for the wards 5 and 6 seats, respectively.
"We want to win this campaign," said Christian. "We've got a lot at stake."
Henry Brock, president of the 4,000-member Building Laborers Local 74 and chairman of the central labor council's political action arm, said that they fervently want to beat Fauntroy-endorsed mayoral candidate Tucker who, according to a Washinton Post poll, is running neck-and-neck with the mayor. Barry trails both candidates.
"We're going to let mr. Fauntroy know he doesn't run this town," boasted Brock.
Tucker, in turn, has accused the mayor of not enforcing a five-year-old executive order to increase minority membership in the city's building trades unions.
"Walter Washington's administration has never put into effect the "Washington Plan," said Tucker to an audience of 80 at Shiloh Baptist Church Saturday morning. "The people running the unions are living in Maryland and Virginia." Tucker added, "and are supporting his candidacy."
Lavell Merritt, head of the Washington Area Industry Task Force, charged in an interview that the mayor has not aggressively enforced his own executive order because of a "cosy, long-term" relationship with a building trades union leaders, including J.C. Turner.
Merritt's task force filed out against the city a year ago demanding that the "Wasihington Plan" be immediately implemented. Last June, the task force won a similar suit against the U.S. Labor Department for non enforcement of an identical federal affirmative action plan.
By 1975, a year behind schedule, only five of 20 local building trades unions reached the employment goals, which range from 25 to 42 percent minority, participation, according to statistics prepared by the mayor's former labor liaision.
The mayor declined to comment at length on Merritt's charges, adding that the issue is "in litigation." Washington would only say he was "in disagreement" with the charges.
Union leadership gives the mayor credit for the city's $1.3 billion capital improvement public building program, his shift of highway funds into construction of the Metro subway system, support for the construction of both the University of the District of Columbia and a downtown convention center.
"The labor movement in this city considers itself a lobby for working people," said union leader Richardson, "and the mayor works on behalf of working people. It's that simple."
Richardson gave an example of how he said the mayor has helped the labor unions: Three years ago his hotel and restaurant employes union was picketing the swanky Rive Gauche restaurant in Georgetown in a union organizing dispute. A police canine officer kept walking his dog "too close" to the sign-carrying pickets, said Richardson.
Richardson called Ben Segal who called the police department and had the cannie officer reassigned. "We never saw that cop again," Richardson chuckled.