Union Yes! Jeff Thompson No?
So how did Ward 5 Councilmember-elect Kenyan McDuffie pull off such a convincing victory last night? If you were within earshot of union leaders (or on their email list) you might have heard (or read) that the strong support of organized labor made the difference.
"SEIU volunteers worked to support Kenyan McDuffie in the weeks leading up to the election, persuading voters and getting out the vote through advertising and direct mail, and having thousands of conversations with Ward 5 voters by phone and through a door-to-door canvassing operation," the Service Employees International Union bragged in a statement last night, right after the final votes were tallied.
McDuffie also had the support of the Washington Teachers' Union, whose president, Nathan Saunders, tells LL today that McDuffie's "friends in labor" are the reason why his victory was so lopsided.
"We want the candidates we support to know and feel it, and we want the candidates we don't support to know and feel it," Saunders says of his union's campaign efforts, which include putting up "high quality" signs, get-out-the vote efforts and sending out print mailers.
Victory, of course, has 1,000 fathers, and it's difficult to qualify and quantify just how much labor helped in McDuffie's win last night. Maybe McDuffie won so easily because his opponents ran poor campaigns, or because he's that good a candidate, or because Ward 6 Councilmartyr Saint Tommy Wells' endorsement carries such great weight in Ward 5 elections. (No, seriously, maybe that's why!)
Making it harder to judge how much credit unions deserve is the fact that they operate as independent entities apart from campaigns and don't post detailed figures on what they spend on politics. McDuffie says he didn't know the details of the union efforts to help him and would occasionally run into some of their canvassers while out knocking on doors. He's quick to say, however, that the unions clearly "provided a boost" to his campaign.
Saunders, citing the "litigious society" we live in, declined to put a dollar amount to what his union spends in a council race. But he did add that the value of well-financed union support "is now that much more valuable" since previously used "methods of fundraising have come under question."
When asked if he was referring to the fact that federal agents raided the house and offices of Jeff Thompson, one of the biggest campaign contributors to local pols, whose practice of giving money orders has come under question, Saunders said he wasn't going to get into that level of specifics, but that LL certainly could.
Even before the federal raids, LL noted how Thompson was sitting out the 2012 election cycle, a move that put a big dent in At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange's fundraising ability. Orange, by the way, just recently won re-election in a squeaker, with the help of Saunder's teachers union.
Screen grab via YouTube