The pre-Primary Day homestretch has yielded an almost daily round of endorsement announcements from professional associations, labor groups, and issue advocacy organizations, each hoping to influence the outcome of the many state and local contests on the June 24 ballot.
While the influence of such endorsements varies widely from group to group, many hopefuls devote large blocks of time to filling out questionnaires and submitting to interviews from the involved organizations. Candidates who receive the endorsements promote them heavily via e-mail blasts and printed fliers; those who aren’t endorsed often resort to stoic silence, while redoubling their efforts on other fronts.
But a recent round of endorsements from the Maryland/D.C. AFL-CIO has run into significant static from several of the five Montgomery County legislators passed over by the labor group.
With a number of the snubbed legislators arguing their voting records are similar to or better than some colleagues who did receive the AFL-CIO’s blessing, several possible rationales – including one relating to the 2013 labor boycott of the county Democratic Central Committee’s “Spring Ball” – have entered the realm of speculation. But the affected legislators said they have yet to receive a clear explanation from the AFL-CIO for being passed over.
“We are both truly befuddled, given that we consider ourselves progressives and we both certainly vote with working families,” Del. Kathleen Dumais – speaking on behalf of herself and fellow Del. Aruna Miller — wrote in a memo last week to Rick Powell, political coordinator of the AFL-CIO’s Metro Washington Council.
The memo, distributed to other members of the county’s 32-member all-Democratic legislative delegation, followed a phone conference that Dumais and Miller – both of whom represent District 15, which extends north from Potomac to the Frederick County line — held with Powell. Two other affected incumbents, Dels. Ariana Kelly from Bethesda-based District 16 and Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez from neighboring District 18 also have questioned AFL-CIO officials about the reasons for their exclusion. “I’ve been an incredibly strong supporter of labor,” declared Gutierrez, noting she has had AFL-CIO backing in five previous election contests.
Underlying the controversy is a frequent frustration among candidates that the endorsements of many organizations turn on subjective factors as compared to more defined criteria, such as voting records or stated policy positions. “It was kind of hard to peel back the onion to determine what other factors were considered, which is a little frustrating,” Dumais, endorsed by the AFL-CIO in two prior re-election bids, said in an interview. “But, at the same time, this is politics.”
In an interview, Powell acknowledged several of the passed-over Montgomery County delegates “probably” would have received an endorsement “if you only looked at the voting record.” But, during the endorsement process, “there were other factors that people considered, and some of it was discussed and some of it wasn’t,” he said, adding that “a lot of it has to do with relationships” between candidates and the AFL-CIO’s affiliate unions.
In this instance, race and gender have played into the discussion: Of the five incumbents passed over by the AFL-CIO, four are women and three are minority group members. Besides Miller, who is Indian-American, and Gutierrez, one of only two Hispanic-Americans in the county’s legislative delegation, the group includes Del. Al Carr, currently the county’s only African-American state legislator. Like Gutierrez, Carr represents District 18, which extends from east Bethesda through Chevy Chase, Kensington and Wheaton to Silver Spring. (The other Hispanic-American in the delegation, District 15 Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, did receive the AFL-CIO endorsement.)
Dumais said she doesn’t believe there was “anything insidious” in endorsement process in terms of race and gender, but added, “From an optics standpoint, it’s not good.”
Powell said the situation had prompted him and other local AFL-CIO officials to “[go] back and talk to folks who were part of the endorsement vote committee.” He added, “We took a very hard look at this thing, and although some votes were surprising, we didn’t see a flaw in the process.”
As for the role in the process played by the 2013 spring fundraising ball — at which UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO and other local labor groups set up a picket line to protest the county Democratic committee’s support of a 2012 referendum overturning so-called effects bargaining for county police officers – Powell said: “I do know there was a lengthy discussion about who crossed the picket line at the spring ball, and who didn’t. And there were a lot of opinions on how that should be dealt with.”
Both Dumais and Miller attended the 2013 spring ball, with Dumais beforehand writing a sharply worded letter to her state legislative colleagues decrying labor’s picketing and boycott tactics as “a clear case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.” Gutierrez said she also attended to present an award to a long-time friend. The role of the spring ball in the current endorsement controversy nonetheless remains unclear: Both Carr and Kelly said they were not at the event, and therefore did not cross the picket line set up by labor.
Notwithstanding controversy about past votes or actions by incumbents, Powell said that a strong field of non-incumbent challengers also played a major role in this year’s endorsement decisions.
Moving this year’s primary ahead to June allowed many challengers to get a running start on making their case to officials of member unions, while incumbent legislators were busy in Annapolis this spring, he noted. “[Our] people were just very impressed with these young challengers, and a lot of it was ‘Let’s give somebody else a shot’,” Powell said.
In District 15, where Dumais and Miller were passed over, the AFL-CIO did endorse the one challenger, attorney Bennett Rushkoff, as well as Fraser-Hidalgo, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last fall. Powell emphasized that Carr and Kelly, along with Dumais and Miller, are technically labeled as “no recommendation” as opposed to “no endorsement.” This means the four failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed for an endorsement, but are free to pursue the backing of affiliate unions within the D.C. area AFL-CIO.
The situation with Gutierrez is somewhat more complicated: The AFL-CIO chose to endorse one of the District 18 challengers, Natali Fani-Gonzalez, over her. “A number of people believed that [Del. Gutierrez] was not going to run again, and that she had endorsed Natali – who had been working with the affiliates, and which already had indicated they would support [Natali],” Powell said.
But Gutierrez, who filed for re-election late last year after several months of conflicting signals, denied ever having endorsed Fani-Gonzalez, while noting the AFL-CIO had made only two endorsements in District 18 – leaving a third slot available if they had wanted to endorse her.
“I guess they can’t have more than one Latina from Montgomery County,” gibed Gutierrez, who faces off against Fani-Gonzalez and five other contenders – including Carr and Del. Jeff Waldstreicher – in a District 18 candidate forum tonight in Silver Spring.