In a convincing and somewhat unusual display of labor solidarity, leaders from four local unions stood outside Portland City Hall and announced their picks in two city council races next year: State Representative Mary Nolan and former U.S. Senate candidate Steve Novick.
The picks came from the Portland Police Association and the Portland Firefighters Association, and locals from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. The announcement, wrapped in language about creating middle class jobs in Portland, appeared to also come down to who would most support city workers (and pensions) at a time of big budget cuts and presumed layoffs.
"This is the first time these unions have stood together" and announced a joint pick like this, said Jeff Smith of ILWU's Local 8.
The unions pointedly did not offer an endorsement in the mayoral race and said they would still welcome a fourth candidate alongside New Seasons co-founder Eileen Brady, State Representative Jefferson Smith, and former City Commissioner Charlie Hales.
"We have yet to see any real tangible things we consider as strong evidence they support the working class," said Joe Esmonde, of IBEW's Local 48, later adding that the Columbia River Crossing remains the "number one" issue as the trade unions weigh that race. Without it, he said, there won't be tax revenue "to build all those bike lanes. There's a direct correlation." (Smith might otherwise be the labor darling in the mayor's race, but he refuses to toe the line on paying big bucks for a boondoggle like the CRC.)
The nods for Nolan and Novick—both of whom are working with super-consultant Mark Wiener—aren't all that surprising.
Novick, a star among the progressive political set in Portland, is the only major figure running in the race to replace the labor-friendly Commissioner Randy Leonard—and he's Leonard's handpicked successor. Nolan, meanwhile, has a long record of union support in Salem and unlike her rival, sitting Commissioner Amanda Fritz, also tried her best to serve up red meat during a labor forum for candidates last month.
Fritz has been a tireless advocate for budget responsibility in her three years on city council, but she has also been more willing (although not as much as popular myth would hold) to take principled, if unpopular, "no" votes on key city issues. And part of that approach means not always supporting the kind of massive spending projects popular with union leaders. (Interestingly, Fritz has the backing of two council colleagues: Dan Saltzman and Nick Fish.)
IBEW's Esmonde said Nolan has a more aggressive reputation. When someone asks Nolan for help, he said, "Damn it, it gets done. Other people haven't been... what' a good word ... so forceful."
Jim Forquer of the firefighters union said his people "don't feel we've gotten the support we expected from Commissioner Fritz."
Smith, of the ILWU, said candidates from all the races, and current city officials, need to stick up for jobs. "The city of Portland, perceptionwise, is not, maybe, open for business. I want them to get on the plan like Mayor Adams has done" and go out and recruit "middle class jobs with a good wage, and pensions and health care."
Asked if the unions might want to see Mayor Sam Adams reconsider his decision not to seek re-election, given his historic support of labor, only one union president decided to speak up. Daryl Turner, of the PPA, even grimaced at the prospect.
"It wouldn't hurt me at all," Esmonde said, bravely standing at the lectern. I asked if he'd put out any new feelers to persuade Adams. He put up his hands.
"I've done my best."