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Labor wants to make its mark on Council races

Friday, August 22, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Local labor leader Jack Kirfman reported that the union for local government employees, AFSCME, has interviewed candidates and decided on its choices for City Council. Kirfman said American Federation of State, County and Municipal employees would present their recommendations to the Central Labor Council Saturday.

In District 1, AFSCME picked Ora Houston, a front-runner in just about anybody’s book. District 2 candidate Delia Garza, an attorney and former firefighter, will go into the labor Council meeting with the backing of both the firefighters and AFSCME, Kirfman said. Both of these candidates also received the endorsement of the Austin Police Association’s political action committee.

In District 3, AFSCME is backing Sabino ‘Pio’ Renteria, who is running against his sister, Susana Almanza, and 10 other candidates. Selecting Greg Casar was easy for the labor group because of his involvement with the Workers Defense project. However, Kirfman also noted that AFSCME people liked Katrina Daniel in that race. Daniel has already gained the support of the Austin Police Association PAC. So that might be a difficult choice for some in the labor family.

Although several of the candidates running for the District 5 seat answered AFSCME’s questions the way the group wanted, it could only pick one, and that was Ann Kitchen, the best-known candidate in that race. The group is also recommending labor support for Jimmy Flannigan in District 6 and Ed Scruggs in District 8. Kirfman said there were several excellent candidates in District 7, including Jeb Boyt and Melissa Zone. However, the group is backing Leslie Pool.

The District 9 race between Council Members Kathie Tovo and Chris Riley put the organization in a difficult position. Kirfman said both candidates have voted 100 percent with the city employees’ union. It chose Tovo. Kirfman also noted that AFSCME is supporting Mandy Dealey in District 10.

Recommendations by AFSCME are nonbinding, and Kirfman said if the Labor Council chooses other candidates, his union will be obliged to support them. However, if no candidate gains a majority of votes in a particular race, AFSCME can support the candidate who has already been selected. It is unclear, of course, how important these endorsements might be, but very few candidates reject the chance to gain an endorsement.

There were some Republicans, Kirfman noted, who declined to be interviewed, indicating they could not support various programs of interest to AFSCME. Kirfman said he appreciated District 6 candidate Don Zimmerman’s candor in declining to be interviewed because, Kirfman said, Zimmerman had trouble with the idea of fully funding government pensions.

There was never any doubt that AFSCME would endorse Mike Martinez for mayor. The Labor Council will surely follow suit because of Martinez’ history as president of the Austin Firefighters Association and his continued loyalty to labor.

UNITE HERE, Local 23 Texas, Austin’s hospitality workers union, also endorsed Martinez for mayor Thursday.

 

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