Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Liberal Soul of Virginia's 11th Congressional District

Who would have thought, even five short years ago, that two major congressional candidates would be fighting to claim the position as the most progressive candidate in Virginia's 11th CD? And if somebody had suggested that Gerry Connolly would be duking it out with Leslie Byrne for the "liberal soul of the district," as the Washington Post's Amy Gardner said in this article about that race, political pundits would have suggested that they needed to take a breathalyzer test. Yet here is what Gardner wrote today.
In a matter of months, Northern Virginia's 11th Congressional District has morphed from the home court of popular Republican Tom Davis to a left-leaning battleground in which two major Democratic candidates are spending most of their time trying to outdo each other's liberal credentials.
And this is even sweeter.
"It is clear that Fairfax County has turned blue and has had a great series of elections," said Del. James M. Scott (D-Fairfax), who has endorsed Connolly. "Democrats are gaining ground at all levels, and I think we have a real good shot at picking up this House seat. Clearly, both candidates are going after the folks who have been Democrats a long time and believe in a substantial amount of the Democratic values."

That dynamic has produced a series of attempts at left-leaning one-upmanship between Byrne and Connolly, who have traded comments questioning their opponent's progressive credentials and highlighting their own. Just this week, Byrne accused Connolly of misappropriating the logo of the National Organization for Women in a mailing. The group has endorsed Byrne. Also this week, Connolly cited two major union endorsements as evidence that Byrne's hold on the labor movement is not as strong as she states.
Yes, they're even contending for union support.
"She's got the steamfitters and the steelworkers," Connolly said. "That's great; they're rewarding her. But the dynamic unions that are growing and that have a different take on things have endorsed me."

"The bottom line is that both have good records on labor and are splitting those votes down the middle," said Daniel Duncan, president of the Northern Virginia Central Labor Council. "People have friends on both sides," said Duncan, whose organization is staying neutral in the June 10 primary. "Leslie has walked many a picket line with us and shown up at many an event. And Gerry, after working with him and lobbying him, did help get the living wage and the big box ordinance."
Both candidates have a claim on labor and liberalism.
Byrne, 61, has a long history of liberal activism on such issues as women's rights, labor, health care and the environment. In Congress, where she served for one term before Davis defeated her in 1994, she voted for the landmark Family and Medical Leave Act and pushed such issues as protection of federal wages and increased federal oversight of energy pipelines. She promoted a similar agenda during her seven years in the Virginia House and four in the state Senate.

As a result, Byrne has a list of endorsements from such large and influential groups as NOW, Emily's List, the Communication Workers of America and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "Leslie has been there and has sought us out over the years," said Marj Signer, president of the Virginia chapter of NOW. "We don't have to ask her where she stands on our issues. She has defined many of those issues."

Connolly, 58, does not concede that point. A popular politician in Fairfax who overwhelmingly won reelection as board chairman in November, Connolly has built a progressive record by promoting energy conservation, fair wage policies and a county rule sought by a grocery workers' union to restrict Wal-Mart and other "big box" stores in Fairfax.
To my mind, Leslie is still the most progressive. She has a history of fighting for women's rights, workers rights, and consumer protection laws. Gerry's done some good things but his ties to developers and the business community go deep. He's always positioned himself as the moderate centrist and he's now trying to reinvent himself to compete in a newly liberal distict.

Still, it's worth rejoicing that mainstream candidates are now rushing to join the liberal bandwagon. Could Virginia's 11th CD be the bellwether?




"She's got the steamfitters and the steelworkers," Connolly said. "That's great; they're rewarding her. But the dynamic unions that are growing and that have a different take on things have endorsed me."

I see that Gerry Connolly has decided to be dismissive of the local unions that chose to remain neutral in upcoming primary and those that refused to go along with his current wish and whim. My only question is why did he fail to mention that Leslie Byrne has the endorsement of the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council, of which, Steamfitters Local 602 is but one of its members?

The council also represents the Asbestos Workers Local 24, Boilermakers Local 193, Bricklayers & Allied Crafts Local 1, Electrical Workers Local 26, Elevators Constructors Local 10, Iron Workers Local 5, Construction & General Laborers’ Local 657, Operative Plasterers & Cement Masons 891, Painters District Council 51, Plumbers Local 5, Reinforced Rodmen Local 201, Roofers & Waterproofers Local 30, Sheet Metal Workers Local 100, Sprinkler Fitters Local 669, and Teamsters Local 639.

The county chairman also failed to mention to the Washington Post that former US Congresswoman Leslie Byrne has also garnered the labor support of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Va. AFSCME), the Communication Workers of America, the Operating Engineers, the United Auto Workers (Va.), International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Teamsters Local 922 & Local 67, and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America.

The county chairman’s claim of widespread labor support suffers when properly appraised. The Washington Post needs to further investigate and properly report on the labor support of the two leading candidates. And as a follow up, they should ask Gerry what exactly did he mean by his remark. Many local unions are disturbed by his divisive language.

I can not speak for any of the other local and international unions who are supporting Leslie Byrne but I will defend Steamfitters Local 602 against the inferences made by Gerry’s quote. We are a vibrant, dynamic and growing local union. We have a proud past and a promising future.

Washington area steamfitters received their first local union charter in 1889 (IA Local 10). We merged with the AFL-CIO 95 year ago as a member of the United Association (Steamfitters Local 602). Our local union today has over 3400 members. Our five-year training program currently educates over 500 apprentices. We are growing at a rate in excess of 5% per year. How many of Gerry’s labor supporters can stake the same claim?

Throughout our history we have continued to not only grow but to evolve. We have refused to be limited by our humble beginnings. Yes, we are proud steamfitters but we are also welders, HVAC and refrigeration mechanics, control technicians and much, much more. Our jurisdictional claim and our diverse history is too vast to explain in one column. Let it suffice to say that, if there is a pipe of any type or description with fluid flowing through it, we help to construct, install, maintain and service it and every piece of equipment that is tied to it. Look for our bumper stickers. We are everywhere.

And yes, we do reward our friends with our support. And contrary to Gerry’s insinuation, Steamfitters Local 602 has not asked for or received personal favors for our specific support for either for him or for Leslie Byrne. If Gerry thinks otherwise he should state his case for the public to judge. Lacking that, Gerry’s comment borders on slander and he should apologize for making it.

I served on Gerry Connolly’s first campaign staff during the Providence District special election for supervisor on March 28, 1995. Our members were urged to support Gerry then and once again in the general elections in 1995 and 1999. In 2003, our members were urged to support Gerry in his run for County Chairman. Again in 2007, our members were asked to support his re-election bid for Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. I know this to be true because I wrote all of the columns and letters of support.

The members of Steamfitters Local Union 602 have also been urged to support Leslie Byrne in her past county, state, and federal races. Leslie has always been in labor’s corner even when faced with unpopular votes, which cost her dearly. She has shown courage and true grit when it comes to working family issues.

As a member union in the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council and at the urging of our International, the United Association, we have decided to support Leslie Byrne in her bid to retake her 11th District seat in the US Congress. Steamfitters respect the three international and two local unions that have chosen to support Gerry. We also respect those that desire to remain neutral in this primary race. We only wish that Gerry would do the same.

I invite the Post to send their reporter to the Central Labor Council’s Awards Dinner on Friday, May 2nd at the Sheraton Premier at Tysons Corner (reception at 6:00, dinner at 7:00). It is billed as, “the largest gathering of local union leaders and activists in Northern Virginia”. I understand that Gerry and Leslie will both be there. I have two extra tickets. Come dine with the Steamfitters and our family of union friends.

John Patrick Sullivan
President, Steamfitters Local 602

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Welcome John! Well said.