The quadrennial election for Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee (MCDCC) doesn’t usually attract much attention from Primary Day voters. The 24 committee members receive no pay and little glory, albeit these positions can serve as a springboard to a future run for public office.
But the MCDCC found itself in an unwanted spotlight last May, when labor groups organized a boycott of the committee’s “Spring Ball” that kept a number of state and local Democratic officeholders away.
The flare-up did, however, lead to renewed discussions between the two sides.
Now, with the filing deadline for committee slots just 10 weeks away, a peace initiative of sorts is underway involving MCDCC Chairman Gabriel Albornoz and representatives of several of the county’s leading labor groups.
Taking advantage of a larger than average turnover in the central committee next year – due to retirements and several members seeking public office — the apparent goal is to produce a unity slate of MCDCC candidates who are palatable to local labor groups, while representing something of a youth movement for the local party.
“At the end of day, what we’re trying to do is put together a slate that is representative of the entire party,” said Albornoz, citing recent demographic changes in the county. He acknowledged, “We are moving forward to try to repair some of the challenges we have had with labor, since they are such an important partner on so many different levels.”
Albornoz is forming a screening panel—consisting of outgoing MCDCC members, along with a few party veterans—to interview applicants for the central committee, with an eye to producing a slate of candidates by mid-January. Two-thirds of the committee’s 24 seats are divided among the county’s eight state legislative district; the remaining members are chosen at-large.
Playing a major role in the effort is Dave Kunes, president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats, who is himself planning to seek a seat on the MCDCC and has recruited as many as 10 colleagues in the Young Democrats to apply during the slating process. (One of those tentatively recruited by Kunes may have other political plans: Scott Goldberg, a 2010 contender for state delegate, is under consideration as the campaign manager for County Executive Ike Leggett’s bid for renomination.)
“I don’t think it necessarily had to turn to conflict,” Kunes said of last spring’s rift between local Democrats and labor. “I think it could have been mediated.” Going forward, he added, “I think there’s a path that new people can help to find.”
The immediate cause of the boycott of last spring’s dinner was a decision by local Democratic officials to endorse a ballot question that repealed so-called “effects bargaining.” The latter had allowed the union representing county police officers to bargain over the effects of management decisions; the repeal was adopted in the 2012 election.
But the effects bargaining controversy was also the boiling point of what several insiders said had been mounting tensions between local Democrats and labor – notably the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization (MCGEO), along with the county’s police and firefighters unions.
“We all shared a belief that the [party] had drifted too far to the right, was not supporting as vigorously as they should progressive initiatives, pocketbook issues that affect working families,” MCGEO President Gino Renne said of the labor position.
Sources said labor groups remain prepared to invest money and effort to run their own candidates for the MCDCC if not satisfied with the outcome of the forthcoming slating process. But all involved in the effort – which also includes a “summit” of Democratic party leaders and precinct officials next April, centered around “economic justice” issues – appear hopeful that peace is at hand.
“I’m extremely optimistic that we are going to be able to develop a partnership that will strengthen the party,” said Renne, adding, “We older bulls in the movement have a…true appreciation of the need to mentor young future leaders. That’s why we are actively partnering with the Young Democrats, because we see a pool of future elected leaders there.”
There is praise from all sides for Albornoz, who has chaired the MCDCC since 2012 and hasn’t made a decision about another term. “It’s been been a pretty intense year,” he said, softly chuckling.