Labor council withholds mayoral backing

The Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, an umbrella organization of unions, declined yesterday to endorse a candidate in the mayor's race, spurning card-carrying carpenter and labor favorite U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

Though Brady and his supporters lobbied hard, he fell just short of the two-thirds vote required for a formal endorsement of the council, composed of leaders of 120 local unions.

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Patrick Eiding, president of the local AFL-CIO council.

"There's some good friends of labor running for mayor out there - it's really hard to separate when you get down to it," local AFL-CIO president Patrick Eiding said. He said the council's vote was "almost unanimous" to stay neutral after "a lot of debate and discussion" in a closed-door meeting.

Brady still has more support from individual unions than any of the other four candidates in the race for the Democratic nomination.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm for Bob Brady," said Pat Gillespie, president of the Building Trades Council, which has endorsed the congressman for mayor. "Labor is not a monolithic group," Gillespie said.

Local 98 of the electricians' union dissented from the building trades' endorsement. Leader John Dougherty was among those urging the AFL-CIO to stay out of the primary.

"The labor movement is bigger than any election," Dougherty said after the meeting. "This way, people in the labor community know that it's an open primary and they'll be able to make decisions based on their hearts and jobs."

Support from organized labor has symbolic value in heavily unionized Philadelphia, but it also brings phone banks, get-out-the-vote volunteers, and cash - even if some of a particular union's members live in the suburbs.

So far, in addition to the building trades, Brady has won the support of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, representing 14,000 active and retired Philadelphia police officers; Teamsters Joint Council 53, with 60,000 members in the region; and the Communications Workers of America, which has 20,000 members.

Another mayoral candidate, State Rep. Dwight Evans, has the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, with 19,461 members; Laborers Local 332, with 2,864 members; and Transport Workers Union Local 234, which which represents 5,110 SEPTA employees. The Guardians Civic League, an organization of black police officers, also supports Evans.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah has support from the 390-member Local 8 of the stagehands union.

Former City Councilman Michael Nutter and millionaire businessman Tom Knox have no labor endorsements.

Several large, politically active unions - notably those representing city workers - are undecided and supported AFL-CIO neutrality, according to Eiding and others.

Brady's campaign argued that the nonendorsement was not a blow, considering that he came close to mustering the two-thirds supermajority in a field of five candidates.

"Their decision will not stop us from fighting like hell to get every vote and endorsement we can," Brady spokeswoman Kate Philips said.

The AFL-CIO declined to take sides in the last two multi-candidate Democratic primaries in which there was no incumbent running, in 1999 and in 1991. In 1983, the council also refused to choose between W. Wilson Goode and former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, who was attempting a comeback in the Democratic primary.

According to participants in yesterday's meeting, Ed Keenan of the plumbers union; Gillespie; Teamsters representatives; and officials of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers argued for a Brady endorsement.

Arguing for no endorsement were Dougherty; Sam Staten Jr. of the Laborers; District Council 47 leader Thomas P. Cronin; and Boise Butler, president of the 500-member Longshoreman's Local 1291.

At times, the debate grew heated, participants said. "They're labor leaders, not ballet choreographers," Cronin said, declining to describe specific exchanges.

Dougherty also demurred. After the election, he said, "we'll all be back at the table together."

Butler said "everybody had an opinion in there" but the union leaders left on good terms. "We did the right thing," he said.


Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.