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Labor’s Political Action Proves Formidable in NY Races

November 5, 2013
By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—On the eve of the New York City mayoral election, Bill de Blasio seems to be on the verge of becoming the first Democratic mayor of New York City in 20 years. Mr. de Blasio has picked up numerous union endorsements while his Republican rival Joseph Lhota’s union support is nil, which might explain de Blasio’s wide lead in the polls.

The healthcare workers union, 1199SEIU, was among the first big city unions to endorse de Blasio for mayor. George Gresham, 1199SEIU’s president, said on the steps of City Hall back in May when de Blasio was vying for the Democratic nomination that the union was backing him because they believed him to be the real progressive candidate in the race.

Kevin Finnegan, 1199SEIU’s political director, seconded that by saying in an interview that the union decided easily upon de Blasio.

“We essentially went with the progressive voice in the campaign. That was the primary motivation. Bill was the voice of working people in that campaign,” said Finnegan.

Even with a Super PAC funded by one of the brothers of the Koch Industries, David Koch, to support Lhota’s Republican mayoral bid, Finnegan isn’t worried about that Super PAC making a big impact on the mayoral race in New York City. In fact, he’s found the PAC’s efforts to be incompetent.  

“They hire incompetent firms to do their work and rely on messages that just don’t resonate with New York City residents,” Finnegan said.

With The New York Times/Sienna College Poll of October 28 showing de Blasio leading Lhota by a 68 to 23 percent margin, Finnegan is hopeful that de Blasio will emerge victorious by Tuesday evening.

“We’re very confident he’s going to win, but at the same time we’re not going to let up on our efforts to make sure that all our members get out to vote,” said Finnegan said. 

The Mason Tenders District Council, the union that represents building laborers, endorsed one of de Blasio’s Democratic rivals for mayor during the primary but didn’t follow up with an endorsement of de Blasio following his nomination as other unions did such as the United Federation of Teachers and SEIU 32BJ.

Mike McGuire, political director for the Mason Tenders, said the union supported Christine Quinn because they believed she best understood the importance of economic development.

“We supported Quinn in the campaign because as a speaker [of the City Council] she definitely showed that she understands economic development,” said McGuire. “That’s what is always most important with our guys. We’re construction workers. We work ourselves out of job everyday and so there’s always a project that’s got to be ready to go.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s economic development policies were a boon for the construction industry, but not necessarily for the union building trades.

“His policies were good for us, but they weren’t good to us. What I mean is that he spurred a lot of construction but he did nothing to make sure it was built by responsible contractors paying fair wages and benefits,” McGuire said.

He believes that Quinn would have done both—created jobs but also made sure they were good paying jobs—but he’s confident about de Blasio’s economic development policies.

“What does get built under Bill de Blasio I’m pretty sure will be built in a responsible manner,” said McGuire.

The union was also busy supporting multiple candidates running for City Council seats. McGuire noted that the union’s political action strategy focuses more on the City Council rather than Albany because it’s the City Council that reviews any zoning changes and urban renewal plans. He said the union was quite pleased with the outcomes of numerous races where it supported candidates. 

 “We won 31 out of 36 races, so we’re pretty happy with the results,” McGuire said. 

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