AFL-CIO backs O'Malley, Cardin

Baltimore mayor overcomes expected regional split between city and D.C. locals


Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley overcame an expected regional divide among hundreds of local labor groups yesterday and beat out his Democratic rival for governor for the endorsement of the state's largest umbrella union organization.

The Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO voted overwhelmingly in Annapolis to endorse O'Malley over Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. The group also backed Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin over Kweisi Mfume in the Democratic primary race for Senate.

The group's endorsement came earlier than in past state elections because its leaders felt the two races are too important to wait until the September Democratic primaries to put their money and manpower behind candidates.

"We believe that Mayor O'Malley will be good for the hard-working men and women of Maryland," said Fred D. Mason Jr., the group's president. "We are going to start now to make sure he is the next governor."

Mason said all of the Democratic candidates have excellent public records regarding union issues, but that the group believes the mayor and the congressman have the best chance to win their elections.

The endorsement of the statewide organization, which represents 290,000 members from 500 locals, can be elusive because it requires candidates to score a two-thirds' majority of its selection committee.

Of the 64 eligible voters on the group's endorsement committee, which represented union leaders from across the state, O'Malley won 52 votes, or 81 percent. Cardin won 48 votes, or 75 percent.

Before the vote, Mason and other union leaders had said that winning the group's gubernatorial endorsement would be especially difficult because locals were expected to split along Baltimore-Washington loyalties to O'Malley and Duncan.

O'Malley and his lieutenant governor candidate from Prince George's County, Del. Anthony G. Brown, had a slight advantage with early support from the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO -- which, with 15 votes, has the largest representation on the statewide group's endorsement committee. The Metropolitan Washington affiliate has 14 votes.

O'Malley and Brown, like all of the candidates, lobbied hard for the group's endorsement, Mason said. He added that the organization was impressed that the unions representing Baltimore city workers were solidly behind O'Malley despite their past differences with the mayor on pay raises, privatization and health care costs.

Tensions between city unions and O'Malley culminated in his 2003 re-election bid when city worker unions forced the Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO to issue no endorsement for mayor. But in 2004, the mayor smoothed out relations with long-term contracts that offered favorable pay raises. O'Malley also gained momentum among unions by securing approval for a $305 million city-owned downtown hotel for the convention center that will generate 500 construction jobs.

Mason said leaders from city worker unions said O'Malley and his administration were always accessible and open to their needs.

"Clearly this endorsement is so very important to the dynamic of this race because it represents the hopes and aspirations of the working families of our state," O'Malley said. "At the end of the day, it was about getting the governor's office back on the side of the working families of Maryland."

Political experts said it is hard to gauge whether endorsements have a measurable impact at the polls, but that the backing of such a large labor organization can only help O'Malley and Cardin.

"While the AFL-CIO is not the only union out there, by any means, it is still the most visible and influential," said James G. Gimpel, a University of Maryland, College Park political science professor. "This now also means that there will be AFL-CIO activists who can now get involved in those campaigns."

Donald F. Norris, a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said not all union members will follow the endorsement, but that, "on balance, it's a good thing."

"Is it going to mean [O'Malley] is the nominee presumptive? No, it doesn't," Norris said.

O'Malley has led Duncan in recent polls, and January's state campaign finance reports showed that he had raised more money and had more cash on hand -- factors that were not lost on the union leaders.

"We see the same polling numbers that everybody else sees," Mason said. "We also know from our own experience how much money it takes to run a campaign."

Late last year, O'Malley won the endorsement of 1199 SEIU, a health care workers union based in New York City that boasts 260,000 politically active members. Both Duncan and O'Malley lobbied hard for the group's backing.

Duncan has won his share of endorsements from smaller locals, including several from the Baltimore area. His biggest came in December from the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland, an endorsement O'Malley had hoped to land.

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