The Washington Post

Labor council won’t endorse in key D.C. races

No mayoral candidate can claim a monopoly on union support ahead of the April 1 primary. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Updated 6:30 p.m. to add mention of Paul Strauss endorsement

The preeminent gathering of labor unions in the city will make no endorsement in two closely watched D.C. primary races, for mayor and at-large council member.

No candidate in those two races garnered enough support from members of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO to warrant a formal nod. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and incumbent city council member Anita D. Bonds appeared to be in the best shape to claim the endorsement, thus allowing them to unequivocally claim the labor mantle as the campaign proceeds toward Election Day on April 1.

“It really came down to whether or not people thought that there was one person who stood out far above the rest,” said the council’s president, Joslyn N. Williams, after the council vote Monday night. (A reporter attended the meeting but was not permitted to watch the debate prior to the final vote.)

Gray has garnered support from several large unions — including those representing hotel workers, service employees and many city employees — but other segments of the labor community are not in his corner, Williams said, with unions representing firefighters, teachers and Metro employees either staying out of the race or looking to support other candidates.

Rivals Vincent Orange, Jack Evans and Andy Shallal have also made claims to union votes, highlighting their support of key labor priorities and, more generally, their worker-friendly politics.

One big impediment to endorsements for Gray and Bonds, who are generally seen as reliable labor allies: Their support, at various junctures, for Wal-Mart.

Gray has been a stalwart backer of the mega-retailer, paving the way for its entry into the city and vetoing a D.C. Council bill that would have required it to pay a super-minimum wage of at least $12.50 an hour. Bonds initially voted in favor of that bill, known as the Large Retailer Accountability Act, then switched sides for a decisive vote to override Gray’s veto.

The issue “played a significant role” in the endorsements, Williams said. “Not so much the act, but the importance of Wal-Mart, and the impact that Wal-Mart has upon the America labor movement. So this wasn’t just about the Large Retailer Accountability Act, it was about the role that Wal-Mart plays in the community that it goes into. … We say, so how are the employees going to be taxpayers? What kind of taxes are they going to pay into the community to fund the salaries for their own brothers and sisters who work for the mayor?”

Bonds, Williams added, “would have been sitting pretty” if she had voted to override Gray’s veto. And he noted that her vote ended up being immaterial — nine votes were needed to override, and only seven votes materialized. “The vote was insignificant to the ultimate result, so why did she feel compelled to turn her back on her supporters?” he said. “So she’s paying the price now.”

The candidates can find succor in knowing the labor council endorsement is largely symbolic. In terms of securing volunteers and money for their campaigns, what is much more important is getting the support of individual unions. Gray campaign manager Chuck Thies, reacting to the labor council’s decision, was happy to note Hizzoner’s success on that front and noted it would have been “nearly impossible” to win the endorsement given the crowded field and the high bar for recognition. Bonds also has won endorsements from several major unions.

The council did make endorsements in some downballot Democratic races, giving the thumbs up to Phil Mendelson for a full term as council chairman, to Jim Graham for a fifth term representing Ward 1, to Kenyan McDuffie for a full term representing Ward 5, to Darrel Thompson to fill the open seat in Ward 6 and to Paul Strauss for a third six-year term as “shadow” senator.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.



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