Robert Stewart, who spent more than 30 years as the top staffer at the union that represents the county’s non-uniformed employees, has signed on as the campaign manager for former County Councilmember Duchy Trachtenberg’s bid to oust incumbent Roger Berliner in Bethesda/Potomac-based District 1.
The appointment of Stewart, who retired just 10 days ago as the long-time executive director of the 8,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 MCGEO, comes as Trachtenberg seeks to mend fences with organized labor. Opposition from several local unions, including MCGEO, contributed to Trachtenberg’s defeat four years ago when she sought a second term as an at-large council member.
MCGEO at times criticized Trachtenberg in very sharp terms in the run-up to the 2010 election. But Stewart today sought to emphasize his long relationship and shared values with Trachtenberg.
“Duchy and I have known each other since we worked together on the Progressive Montgomery executive board before it was Progressive Maryland,” said Stewart, referring to the labor-allied advocacy group. “I knew right then that Duchy and I have a lot in common in terms of shared progressive values.”
“We’ve even celebrated Passover together,” he added.
The naming of Stewart was announced at a Trachtenberg fundraiser Thursday night that was sponsored by several prominent members of the county’s development community, although Stewart noted that “both labor and business were in the house” at the event at the Congressional Country Club. “I see this candidacy as a great opportunity to bring folks together from all walks of Montgomery County,” he declared.
Thursday’s fundraiser came two weeks after Trachtenberg, in formally kicking off her campaign, issued a public apology to labor. At that event, she criticized the County Council vote in 2011 — the year after she had left office – to repeal so-called effects bargaining for the county’s police union.
“…I sincerely regret the breakdown of our working relationship a few years back. It should never have happened, given my union roots, and I really feel badly that it did,” Trachtenberg was quoted as saying by BethesdaNow during the kickoff announcement. Trachtenberg had union support in her successful 2006 bid for an at-large seat on the County Council before running afoul of organized labor during her four-year tenure.
Berliner’s relationship with labor has been rocky at best in recent years. The county’s employee unions clashed sharply with then-Councilmember Valerie Ervin over benefits issues in 2011 when Ervin was the council’s president; Berliner, as the council’s vice president at the time, was seen by labor as strongly in line with Ervin’s stances.
The council’s repeal of effects bargaining, which gave the police union the right to bargain over certain non-financial management decisions, was upheld by a nearly 3-2 margin in a referendum on the 2012 ballot. The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 35 subsequently filed a lawsuit in the matter.
A state circuit court judge last month ruled that county officials – including County Executive Ike Leggett – had violated state election laws in their efforts to support the referendum, but declined to hold Leggett and the county’s public information director, Patrick Lacefield, liable for damages sought by the union. Both the union and the county have indicated they plan to appeal the ruling.
Meanwhile, Stewart said the Trachtenberg campaign will be ramping up further in the near future with the appointment of communications director and a field director.
He said he is “personally tremendously excited” to be working with several well-known political consultants – pollster Celinda Lake, veteran campaign operative Joe Trippi, and direct mail specialist Jim Crounse – who have been retained by Trachtenberg. Crounse is joining the Trachtenberg effort after recently working for last fall’s successful campaign by now-New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio.
On the endorsement front…The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club, which had been poised to weigh in sometime this week in the Democratic primary for county executive, has postponed any endorsement in the race indefinitely, sources said.
An endorsement in that contest is determined by a combination of the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s Montgomery County group and the political committee of the organization’s Maryland chapter.
Sources said the two panels were unable to make up their minds over who to endorse, while declining to discuss whether it represented a split among the three contenders for the job – County Executive Ike Leggett, former County Executive Doug Duncan, and County Councilmember Phil Andrews – or a division between two of the candidates.
But it now remains unclear if and when the Sierra Club will make an endorsement in the county executive race.
The Sierra Club has previously issued endorsements in this year’s County Council races and for most of the state legislative contests. Sierra Club endorsements in two remaining races – District 17 Senate, where Delegate Luiz Simmons and former Delegate Cheryl Kagan are facing off for the seat of retiring Sen. Jennie Forehand, and District 15 House, where appointed Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo is being challenged by attorney Bennett Rushkoff – are expected within the next couple of weeks.