The Montgomery County employee union that counts about 7,000 local government workers among its members on Wednesday endorsed Democrat Marc Elrich for county executive in the 2018 race.
UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO also endorsed at-large County Council candidates Brandy Brooks, Will Jawando and Chris Wilhelm in a crowded field of more than 30 candidates running for four at-large seats. All three are Democrats.
The union represents workers employed in about 400 different types of jobs ranging from bus drivers and crossing guards to Department of Liquor Control employees and park maintenance workers.
The union also endorsed state Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Chevy Chase) in her bid for the Bethesda-based District 1 council seat.
County Council candidates Will Jawando, left, Brandy Brooks, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Chris Wilhelm
Union President Gino Renne said Wednesday the organization also plans to endorse incumbent council members Nancy Navarro and Tom Hucker in their respective District 4 and 5 races. He said union members continue to debate whether to endorse Ben Shnider or incumbent Sidney Katz in Gaithersburg-based District 3.
He said members have expressed their support for the “young progressive” Shnider, but also believe Katz has done important work on behalf of workers during his first term in office.
Renne said the union didn’t plan to make an endorsement in the upcounty’s District 2 race, where incumbent Democrat Craig Rice is facing one Democrat and three Republican challengers.
The candidates who received the union’s backing were cheered on by about three dozen union members wearing their signature yellow MCGEO t-shirts at an afternoon event at The Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville.
Renne said union members would be operating phone banks, canvassing and distributing mailers for the endorsed candidates as well as supporting them financially, possibly through an independent expenditure committee. Such a committee can support candidates, but can’t cooperate or consult with the candidates on its efforts.
“We’re going to turn out every possible vote that we can find and drag them to the polls,” Renne said. “This is going to be one of those old-fashioned union campaigns—knock and grab.”
Renne said the union would focus much of its resources on the Gaithersburg and Germantown area where the union has determined the highest density of workers and union members live.
Elrich, a current at-large council member, told the union members he would reform government operations to make sure the county’s finances are sustainable into the future. He plans to include the union in that process if he’s elected.
“I promise you this—we’re going to start a new day in Montgomery County,” Elrich said. “We’re going to work as a team to make this the best damn county in the country.”
He added he would do it “not by jacking up the taxes, which no one will let us do,” but by doing a better and smarter job as county executive.
The union endorsement adds to Elrich’s previous endorsements that include the immigrant group CASA In Action, Progressive Maryland, the county’s firefighters’ union and the service workers’ union Local 500 SEIU.
Elrich is running against council members Roger Berliner and George Leventhal as well as state Del. Bill Frick (D-Bethesda), former county planning department deputy director Rose Krasnow and Potomac businessman David Blair for the Democratic nomination for county executive. Incumbent County Executive Ike Leggett is retiring and must step down due to term limts.
The MCGEO endorsement is one of the bigger local organizations that is expected to back candidates in the crowded 2018 field. Other prominent organizations such as The Sierra Club and the county’s teachers’ union—the Montgomery County Education Association—have announced their endorsements.
The Sierra Club backed Berliner in the executive race. The teachers union is observing the council’s budget review process before it chooses an executive candidate to back. The teachers’ union did, however, also choose to endorse Brooks, Jawando and Wilhelm for at-large council seats.
Like the teachers’ union, MCGEO didn’t choose a fourth at-large candidate as it watches the budget process play out. That move enables the unions to possibly later endorse incumbent Democrat Hans Riemer, who is the only at-large council member running for re-election in 2018.
Wilhelm, a teacher at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, and Brooks, an organizer for Progressive Maryland, both have ties to labor. Wilhelm serves as a union representative for his school, while Brooks has trained community organizers, according to her website.
“I know that we will leave a tremendous legacy for the people we love and for the generations to come that Montgomery County just isn’t about liberalism and having the right ideas,” Brooks said. “It’s about liberty, equity and justice every single day.”
Jawando is a former Obama administration official. On Wednesday, he said it was “appropriate we’re here getting endorsed by you” while celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy on the 50th anniversary of the day King was assassinated.
“You all represent working people in the county. You are working people in the county,” Jawando said. “I see my job as getting elected and taking care of working people. Special interests, people with a lot of money, they’ve had good representation for a long time. It’s time we get incomes back rising and the middle class growing. That’s a challenge in Montgomery County, but I think we have a unique opportunity right now with this election.”
Maryland’s primary election is June 26.