Friends Like These Business types may come to regret their Schwartz ouster.

Dis Kapital: Brown’s latest bill takes aim at construction moguls.
Darrow Montgomery

Without much fanfare, a startling anti-business measure surfaced on the docket of the D.C. Council last week. The bill would essentially require union labor for any “government-assisted or government subsidized construction project” worth $200,000 or more.

Yet more startling than the measure itself was the politician who had co-authored it: Michael A. Brown. Demanding union staffing at taxpayer-funded construction projects is, at this point, classic Brown. As is raising questions about tax breaks for developers. As is stumping for a low-income property tax credit, and expanding food stamps, and so forth. He’s turned into a stalwart municipal populist, a reliable foil to business interests.

And the Chamber of Commerce can thank itself for putting him on the dais.

Less than two years ago, business leaders of the Nation’s Capital—the folks who build our buildings, run our restaurants, and fix our streetlights—succeeded in a remarkable coup d’état, ousting Republican Carol Schwartz from the at-large council seat that she’d held onto for four terms.

Her sin? Schwartz pushed through a piece of legislation, the “Sick and Safe” act, that guaranteed paid sick leave to most D.C. employees, putting our fair city on the vanguard of employment law and royally pissing off employers forced to shell out for absentee workers. As a punishment, a number of business leaders led a behind-the-scenes insurrection, financing the GOP primary challenge of upstart Patrick Mara, who knocked Schwartz off in the Republican primary by attacking her business bona fides.

Mara, a young, white Republican unknown, got no further. With virtually no citywide appeal and Schwartz running as a write-in, he bombed in the general election. His showing opened the door for Brown, the scion of prominent Democrats who’d renounced his partisan past for an independent candidacy, running on small-business issues and his expertise in municipal finance.

Since taking office, Brown’s hardly become a Jack Evans clone. Ed Lazere of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, an organization that advocates for equitable city spending, says Brown’s “shown a real concern for making the tax system fair, making sure the city’s getting a fair deal on economic development projects, and making sure we’re preserving important programs that serve residents hurt by the recession.” Not exactly the Board of Trade agenda right there.

The union-labor-mandating provision, says the first-termer, is part of a broader package designed to staunch rising unemployment in recessionary times. Other portions of the bill beef up so-called “first source” requirements that contractors hire D.C. residents before suburbanites.

“It’s not a labor bill; it’s not a business bill—it’s a jobs bill,” Brown says of the legislation, which he co-introduced with Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. “When you’re looking at 31, 32 percent [unemployment],” he says, “these are significant historical numbers and sometimes you have to do some stuff that people may not exactly like.”

The city’s been through this battle before. Back in 2005, city officials were engaged in a crash deal to build a stadium and thus lure a Major League Baseball team to the District. And in order to grease the political wheels, that deal as negotiated required union-affiliated contractors to do the job, via what’s called a “project labor agreement,” or PLA.

That acronym rubbed a powerful constituency the wrong way. Builders hate, hate, hate PLAs. The local chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), the primary trade group for local construction outfits, to this day calls eliminating the agreements its “priority issue.” But the ABC mustered only three votes against the stadium agreement—from Vincent Orange, then the Ward 5 councilmember; Ward 8’s Marion Barry; and Schwartz.

The new bill requires PLAs on myriad new projects, though the impact of the bill depends on who you ask.

Eric J. Jones, the ABC’s chief D.C. lobbyist, estimates that the bill would cover “90 to 95 percent of all projects in the city,” and with less than 20 percent of the city construction workforce by his count belonging to a union, any union-only stricture could be devastating to local jobs.

“There’s no way the local construction industry could survive,” Jones says. “Companies just could not work in the city.”

Sam Brooks, the former D.C. Council candidate turned green-building entrepreneur, calls the bill’s effects “potentially devastating” to job creation. “I do understand and respect that organized labor is trying to represent their members’ interest,” he says. “I just hope that everyone realizes this is moronic.”

Union leaders have a less apocalyptic perspective. Rick Powell, political director for the Metro Washington Labor Council AFL-CIO, says any talk of lasting damage to the construction industry is “an absolute lie.” The bill was written to apply to private developers who lean on city financing to get their building projects off the ground, he says—a standard that shouldn’t apply to the vast majority of city construction projects.

“If they use their own money, they can do whatever they want to do,” Powell says. “But if they want to use the city’s money to make millions and millions of dollars, then we have to protect the city’s money.” By “protect,” he means protecting city-financed projects from any bouts of labor unrest. “If they don’t want to deal with this, fine, go to the traditional financial institutions and have them finance your projects.”

Here’s what makes the irony especially delicious: A PLA requirement especially stands to rankle two of the key members of the coalition behind the Schwartz ouster. That would be M.C. Dean and Miller & Long, both non-union contractors that do tons of business in and with the District. Those companies, and their principal owners, pumped thousands into independent political committees that bombarded District households with anti-Schwartz mail. And now her replacement’s slugging them right in the gut.

Brown, true to his glad-handing nature, says he’s tried to reach out to the business community with an eye toward “middle ground” and “honest discussion.” But that may be hard to come by; all it has produced thus far is an honest discussion with construction-lobby and Chamber of Commerce types about how much they don’t like it. “That may have been a tactical mistake on his part,” Powell says. “As a result of him reaching out to them, they slapped him on the hand.”

The political stakes are sky-high—especially in an election year. Labor will be whipping their votes hard, Powell says. “This is the No. 1 priority for labor in 2010,” he says. “We’re judging everybody based on where they come down on this bill.” And for the business types, this is “Sick and Safe” Part II—a choice that will come with consequences.

The votes aren’t counted yet, but it’s clear that the unions—much more conscientious than the construction lobby in courting political favor—have a solid majority. Question is, with a Fenty veto on the table, could they have the nine votes for an override? With Schwartz rather than Brown on the council, the task would have been harder.

Jones declined to get into the political implications of the Schwartz ouster. “We haven’t even looked at that aspect of it,” he says. “At this point we have to look at who’s in office and deal with it.”

Barbara Lang, the CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and another key Schwartz opponent, says Brown’s support of a PLA requirement leaves her “concerned.” She says of Brown, “I appreciate that he has a constituency that he needs to support.”

Who Says Education Doesn’t Pay?

Last week, Fenty unveiled another choice campaign fundraising haul, gathering more than $800,000 over six months to push his total take to $3.6 million.

Much of that money has been raised out of town. Where his last report, filed in July, featured big-time New York money—from the likes of moguls Ronald Perelman, Stanley Druckenmiller, and Jonathan Tisch—his latest report shows some serious left-coast dollars. Fenty took in big bucks from Lost creator J.J. Abrams, agent Charles King, and poker superstar Phil Ivey, among other entertainment-industry notables.

But what has also been notable about his out-of-town fundraising is the dollars he’s netted from stalwart supporters of education reform. While a recent Washington Post poll found that D.C. residents are increasingly skeptical of Hizzoner’s reform efforts, big-time donors are standing by their man. No names loomed larger on the Jan. 31 report than those of Eli and Edythe Broad, the Los Angeles mega-philanthropists who have taken a particular interest in urban education reform. Add to that Lowell Milken, brother of infamous ’80s bond broker Michael Milken—the two run a foundation devoted to education reform efforts. In New York, Fenty picked up donations from philanthropist Julian Robertson and media mogul Mort Zuckerman, plus New York City chancellor Joel Klein.

That’s in addition to the money that’s flowed locally—from philanthropists such as the CityBridge Foundation’s Katherine Bradley, AOL moguls Jim Kimsey and George Vrandenburg, and real-estate financier Joe Robert.

Fenty’s campaign chair, Ben Soto, says education’s been a boon for Fenty 2010’s bottom line. “There are a lot of people enjoying what the mayor and [Michelle Rhee] are doing to reform the D.C. Public Schools,” he says, “and because of that they’re contributing to the campaign to continue that reform.” But Soto sees the biggest impact not among the high-dollar crowd, but in smaller donations from supportive average citizens.

All told. Fenty’s collected, by LL’s count, upward of $40,000 from big-pocketed supporters of school reform. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of thousands his campaign has raked in from builders and developers, but it goes to show: School reform can be good politics in many different ways.

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Our Readers Say

All the money in Hell is not going to get Fenty re-elected. This fool and his WAPO "twin",Rhee wanted to open school one day after the 1st blizzard. Then to add insult to injury, DCPS a.k.a Michelle Rhee put out yet another nasty commentary on DCPS teachers. Are Fenty/Rhee and their big donors anti-teachers? It seems to me that they don't like teachers (certain teachers). If anyone is interested in teaching in DC you will be mistreated, disrespected, and led by two of the biggest Ivy League educated-fools ever.
That is called cutting of your nose to spite your face.

And, Mike Brown is a dummy. This isn't just contruction moguls getting hammered. It is a small business killer. Small business will have to be union to get a job. It will drive costs up significantly. It will reduce the number of people able to do business in the District in half.

That goes to show you. If you over-react to small can bring yourself big problems.

I think Unions have a great place in our country. Education and emergency rooms aren't the place for it though. The consern of the student and/or patient rise above that of the worker. I am ok with them in long as they don't drive costs thru the roof. Which, 9 out of 10 times they do.

So, we think Fenty has a big ego. Ok. Well, what are you going to put in his place. Imbeciles that are so pro-organized crime (you don't have unions without it) that the District goes down the drain again?

All politicians are arrogant. Everyone of them. Some just fake it better. Some of them are as arrogant as the leaders of unions and rich city lobbists. The cliche to remember is... Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Sometimes it is best to stick with the devil you know.
The devil we know is still a devil. Only a coward would sit on the sidelines and accept a corrupt egomaniac as Mayor of this city.

Such attitudes is why citizens are just as responsible for this King with no clothes as is the King himself.

They are satisfied with corruption. So long as it comes at the hands of the official they voted for.
All the commenters who are Soooo Convinced that Fenty will not be returned to the Mayor's office, I'll take that action. Wanna bet. Who will know him off? No body currently on the scene.
@close, a contender will surface, and one with city-wide name recognition. Right now, Fenty is campaigning against himself. Why spend the money when you don't have to. I would bet that in the coming week or two, an announcement will be made. AND, they won't need to do any mud-slinging. Just enunciate a vision and demonstrate how different from the incumbent they really are.
@citizen sane, AMEN! God will make this Right! Fenty is running scared. All of the so-called money people you need to take your campaign money back, that you think will support your Puppet-Fenty. The people will be heard this September!
As ab Independent myself, I like and respected what Carol Schwartz did for DC and the various neighborhoods that she rallied ot support with various buisness interprises.

As for the Mayor's race, I "know" that a candidate "will" announce their candidacy in the first week in March, and yes, the name recognition is there, and so is the vision.

In this city, because of the Anit-Fenty sentiment, it won't take much to unseat Hizzoner however, this candidate that I speak of has vision and a big business respect them.

As a close friend of mine has stated DC residents would vote for "Muppet for Mayor" at this point to get rid of Fenty.
Peebles is in. But then he's out. But then he'll be in, if he doesn't decide to stay out. Maybe.

Gray is thinking about the possibility of considering whether it may be a good idea to pursue an exploratory campaign that will research whether it makes sense for him to ponder whether he should announce he might run for mayor. And he's doing all this while trying to figure out how to tone down that ethics report on Council shenanigans that was supposed to be issued months ago.

Kwame Brown is thinking about running and wants to waterboard reporters to find out which of his advisors is telling the media that Kwame's insane to think that he can run an effective campaign.

Michael Brown would like to run for something because he doesn't know what else to do with himself. Besides, he's got a bigass Hummer, which shows he keeps it real when he rolls through the tough hood of Chevy Chase.

Leo Alexander doesn't like illegal immigrants. Or maybe all immigrants. Or maybe just the Great Pumpkin.

With this cast of clowns pretending to be competent to be mayor, there's no doubt Fenty will win re-election.
@sally: well said...
Sally please go take you medication. You sound retarded!
Sally please go take your medication. You sound retarded!
Sally there's a difference between illegal aliens and immigrants. I am sick of liberals and their socialist bullshit. Leo Alexander doesn't support illegal aliens/illegal immigration as do the majority of U.S. citizens both black and white.
@Ward4: You do realize the irony of you taking 3 postings to make one response to my "retarded" message?
Sally please go take you retarded. You sound medication!
A possible adaptation of the construction legislation might require union wages, but not membership. There is a big difference between requiring that workers be union members -- which is a fat gift to unions and a big restriction on both employers and job seekers -- and simply requiring that contractors pay prevailing union wages to all workers, whether they are members or not. The latter policy takes away a primary reason that contractors might have for discriminating against union members and ensures that all workers earn a fair wage, but doesn't subject workers to union dues and discipline. Seems like setting pay standards for government projects would be a more reasonable use of government power than mandating union membership.
First I will say that while I am close to Chairman Gray and both Councilmen Kwame and Michael Brown and I honestly hope that none of these three individuals run for Mayor, I just don't think they are ready. As for Mayor Fenty, I originally said that he would be a one term mayor and right now I stand corrected because he will be re-elected. As someone who didn't vote for him last election, I'm not sure how the majority of the city can say that they are upset when this is what we told them he was in the beginning.

Lastly, I will speak on the comment of high paid city lobbyist, I happen to be close to two of the city lobbyist mentioned above and know first hand that they are not rich money people. They are hard working middle class folks who have a love for this city.

Areader - your comments sound really nice, but they highlight the fact that you have did no research and know nothing about the construction industry or our local government. Because DC is not a state, under our municipal code on any project receiving government funds in any form (does not have to be direct cash) the contractor is required to:

(1) Pay prevailing wage according to the Davis-Bacon Wage Standards which were set up according to union wages

(2) Sign a first source agreement which requires a minimum number of new employers for the job to be District Residents

(3) Agree to use a certain percentage of Certified Business Enterprises (formerly Local, Small and Disadvantage Business Enterprises).

The fact still remains that our city has failed to educate and train generations of residents which is a contributing factor to our high unemployment, especially in certain wards.
Mike that is a great article/report...Just the tip of the iceberg....Our unemployment rate shows our reliance on labor only training programs(DOES is owned and operated by Unions) that do not work for our kids...Why? ..because Unions as the only trainers is not sustainable...Residents and Commercial owners of property much rather go to MD/Va/Wv/Pa to get their work done cheap...of course that means no taxes to pay DC!!.... and other than Labor Union and Hospitality union..all others are located outside of the District. Our kids can not go to far off places to attend training programs...Phelps Cordozo and Roosevelt are great but they are only for school students . As big a problem as this is there is no one in the City who is passionate and knowledgeable to tackle unemployment...It truely is doable...Chairman Gray needs to make this his number 1 priority and not running for Fenty's job...Need one good implementor!!
Wendy Glen,

You know that a major candidate will announce the first week of March. Kwame or Vincent?

I just want to know because I was told the same thing about Gray in the second week of November. Still waiting. And, Kwame will get dusted. Ain't no cat named Kwame going to take enough of the white vote to stop Fenty. His name sounds like a holiday that they don't celebrate. And, the Black vote isn't enough.

When someone does announce, it will be interesting to see what happens when two people are the focus of media scrutiny.

I am telling you. Attack campaigns often back-fire on candidates. You have to have more than...I am not him. Fenty has a very strong platform. Other than personality and jobs (recession is a reasonable responce), not much to swing at.And, there ain't that much money around to do it with.

Once the election starts, the post and other outlets will start slamming that candidate just like Fenty. There approval ratings will drop. If they have any surface.

Fenty isn't running against himself right now. The lack of an opponent has focused all eyes on him. His base has no reason to rally yet.

As bad as he has been attacked, every poll has him within the margin or error to gray. And, he is ahead of everyone else...including Kwame.

Blacks are mad at Fenty. But mathmatics are not. He doesn't have to win every precinct again. He just needs one more vote than the next guy. 90% of the white vote and 30% of black vote gets it done for him.
Sally is retarded. LOL LOL LOL LOL
I can assure you, Adrian Fenty will not get elected. I can't tell you why, but you all will see and understand by 2010. Voters are tired of both Democrats and Republicans and sooner or later, the citizenry will run all these bums out of office.
@Columbia Heights - So we have to wait until 2010 to understand why Fenty won't be re-elected?
Yes Miss Sally, you will have to wait until September 2010. Everyone will be surprised!!!!! Adrian Fenty is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Once upon a time, I enraged one of my siblings by telling her that I would vote for our dead grandmother as President of the US before I would vote for Obama or McCain. It was a moment of satire for me...but my little sister was livid, especially when I explained with a straight face that our grandmother had superior experience with: domestic and foreign policy, balancing a budget, race relations, taxation, and other socioeconomic issues that found their way on to the leading contenders' platforms. She was still angry when I told her that I was just joking.

The DC mayoral race is pretty much like the 2008 presidential election...a field of contenders shouting, "Pick me! I'm the best one for the job!" At this point, Fenty has left so many flaming bags of crap around DC (on the doorsteps of many Fenty 1st-term supporters no less), Marion Barry could probably throw his hat in the ring again. Scary thought, eh? If you think that's scary, think about another 4 years of Fenty and Rhee...
I seriously think AD was trying to show President O how tough he is by opening the schools. The Pres. thinks that we are soft on weather. But instead of using the kids, he should have had his neighbor's streets plowed and left his own for last. A little goes a long way.

As for reelection, unless he bows out he's back in. There is no viable name recognition candidate that anyone 'trusts' out there. His arrogance can be irritating and his pettiness even more so but is it enough to put votes on another candidate?

And who are we fooling, ain't no honest, squeaky clean Pols out here...this a dirty business and we all know it. Even squeaky clean Truman dropped bombs on Japan right?
Am intrigued by this idea of Fenty having a nervous break down. Could it be the DL haunting him? Is that why Sam Brooks is back on the scene. Sam is the perfect Fenty type.

Will Fenty pull out and let Brooks ram his way in? Can Sam sustain an election?

Brooks has a tremendous following in the gay community. He was always the most popular gay's candidate and could always count on his supporters there to deliver cash. I remember him campaigning night after night after night at the gay bars and clubs, hot, wet, and shirtless, people just shoving cash at him.

Good to have Sam back, maybe we can get Alex Evans back too. We need a little sizzle!

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