Brown tries end run around labor chiefs ON POLITICS


April 21, 1992|By Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

PHILADELPHIA -- Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, sporting a shiny silver union jacket with black letters across the back that said "Transport Workers Union Local 2013," stood on a makeshift platform in the sprawling waiting room of the 30th Street Amtrak station.

"The only issue is jobs!" Brown shouted into a microphone as early morning travelers walked hurriedly toward their train gates or stood and listened, killing time while awaiting theirs.

Any who heard Brown might have wondered, hearing this, what had happened to the other issues he had been pushing all through this primary season, especially the corrupting influence of money in politics that supposedly was the centerpiece of his campaign.

He would get back to that theme, in fact. But for the moment, at the train station, Brown's focus was on the working stiff, such as those local Amtrak workers who had presented him with the resplendent silver jacket -- one of dozens of various hues he has received since he started working union halls with special zeal this year.

Appropriate to the locale, he mentioned a favorite proposal to build "B-2 bullet trains" that could travel at super speeds rather than building more B-2 Stealth bombers, thus putting thousands to work in the process.

Brown's elevation of "jobs" as the prime issue in Pennsylvania as he campaigns for its April 28 primary is not surprising in that the state remains one of organized labor's strongest in an era when its political clout has been generally diminished.

Coming out of Michigan, perhaps the nation's strongest labor state, where he ran second to Gov. Bill Clinton and ahead of still-campaigning former Sen. Paul Tsongas, Brown could look forward to Pennsylvania with some hope, especially when Tsongas then suspended his campaign.

But two things happened that took the air out of Brown's aspirations to become labor's candidate in Pennsylvania. The first was the New York primary, where he ran a dismal third behind Clinton and a non-campaigning Tsongas. The second was the decision of an AFL-CIO Executive Council political committee to recommend endorsement of Clinton before the Pennsylvania voting.

It might have been expected that the labor leadership would have waited a few more weeks until this important labor state had been heard from. But AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland spoke for the others in saying Clinton was the only Democratic candidate who could now win a majority of delegates before the national convention, and it was time to get on with the business of preparing for the campaign against President Bush.

Even absent the AFL-CIO leaders' action, Brown had to be rated a supreme long shot in Pennsylvania, but their move was a crusher. So here he was at the 30th Street Station trying to end-run them to reach their members.

Charles Little, president of Local 2013, says his members are sticking with Brown because he is the only candidate who understands the plight of the rank and file. Mike Bourbeau, Brown's state coordinator, reports that a number of other local unions are also staying with him in the face of the AFL-CIO national action, to be formalized on May 5.

Although labor's clout is not what it once was here as elsewhere, it was credited with playing a role in the upset Senate election last fall of Democrat Harris Wofford over former Republican Gov. Dick Thornburgh. Wofford has endorsed and is campaigning for Clinton and the two strategists of his victory and also that of Democratic Gov. Robert Casey in 1990, James Carville and Paul Begala, are now on the Clinton team.

Brown, when he is not declaring "jobs" as the only issue here, has taken to noting that Wofford campaigned as an advocate of universal national health insurance -- an issue of prime concern to labor rank and file -- but hasn't delivered on it. That pitch underscores how Brown is trying to pry labor votes away from labor leadership's grasp in a state where such votes could breathe life into his gasping campaign -- but very likely will not.

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