UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO, whose membership includes about 5,500 permanent employees in the Montgomery County government and other local public agencies, announced Tuesday its endorsement of state Sen. Jamie Raskin of Takoma Park in the contest for the 8th District Democratic congressional nomination.
The MCGEO endorsement marks the second time in recent weeks that a union with a major Montgomery County presence has lined up behind Raskin. The backing of the National Education Association (NEA) last month put the 12,000-member Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA)—which represents teachers in the county’s public schools—in Raskin’s corner as well.
Raskin’s campaign “has inspired our members by engaging in real grassroots organizing and substantive policy discussion,” UFCW Local 1994 President Gino Renne, whose organization represents a total of 8,000 workers in Montgomery and nearby counties, said in a statement. “We are excited to be supporting his campaign and will be using our local strength to get out a big vote on April 26”—the date of this year’s primary.
Raskin is among nine candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is vacating the District 8 seat he first won in 2002 to run for Senate. The heavily Democratic district is centered in Montgomery County, but also includes portions of Carroll and Frederick counties.
Among those workers represented by MCGEO are about 350 employees at Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control, whose future has recently been enmeshed in a debate in Rockville and Annapolis over whether the county should remain in the business of distributing and selling alcoholic beverages. Possible action in the Maryland General Assembly on this matter was put off recently until at least next year, pending further study.
While knowledgeable sources said this issue played no direct role in MCGEO’s decision on who to endorse for Congress—which does not have jurisdiction over the county’s liquor control system—one of Raskin’s leading rivals for the District 8 Democratic nomination is Total Wine & More co-owner David Trone of Potomac. Trone, whose business enterprise is the largest privately held retailer of alcoholic beverages in the nation, has been sharply critical of Montgomery County’s public liquor control system. MCGEO has lobbied hard in recent months to preserve the current structure.
To date, Raskin has not taken a position on whether the county’s liquor control system should be privatized. Asked for comment Tuesday, he said, “I hope there will be further modernization over the next several years in the county’s [Department of Liquor Control], and greater consumer choice and access.”
He added, “I am a champion of competition who fought the liquor industry for years to establish the right of Maryland consumers to have direct shipment of wine to their homes and to give Maryland wineries the right to ship their products out.”
In a press release, Raskin welcomed MCGEO’s endorsement, adding, “Given that it is a vibrant union…that knows how to organize and win, this is a significant step forward in our campaign. I’ll always stand up for public employees in Congress and will resist attempts to demonize public sector workers and undermine the important purposes they serve.”
According to sources, neither Raskin nor Trone was present for a Feb. 11 private candidate forum in Rockville with MCGEO officials. Both cited scheduling conflicts in missing the event, as did a third invited candidate, former Obama White House aide Will Jawando of Silver Spring.
Five of the other candidates seeking the District 8 Democratic nod—state Dels. Kumar Barve of Rockville and Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase, former Marriott International executive Kathleen Matthews of Chevy Chase, former State Department official Joel Rubin of Chevy Chase and David Anderson of Potomac, an official of a Washington-based seminar and internship program—did attend the Feb. 11 forum. Another candidate, former biotech industry official Dan Bolling of Bethesda, entered the contest just a week prior to the MCGEO forum, and was not present.
In addition to MCGEO and MCEA, there is a third major Montgomery County-based union of public employees—the 14,000-member SEIU Local 500, the large majority of whose membership is comprised of the support staff in the county’s public schools. SEIU Local 500 has yet to make an endorsement in the District 8 congressional race, and remains undecided as to whether to do so, sources said.
The MCEA endorsement is among the most coveted in local races, because the group publishes the so-called Apple Ballot—distributed by several hundred MCEA members outside the polls on primary and general election days, as well as beforehand at early voting sites. MCEA members lined up behind Raskin early in an endorsement process that also included units representing teachers in the Carroll and Frederick county portions of the 8th District.
The Apple Ballot has particular influence in off-year elections, when it carries endorsements in numerous down-ballot races—such as for County Council members and state delegates—in which many voters have a limited knowledge of the field of candidates. Whether it will carry similar influence in a higher profile contest such as the District 8 congressional contest remains unclear.
But, with voting for most state and county offices not taking place until 2018, Raskin’s name will be the only one on the Apple Ballot for the April 26 primary, given the MCEA’s decision last week to make no endorsement in a five-way contest for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Board of Education. The teachers’ union earlier opted not to make an endorsement in this year’s hotly contested Senate Democratic primary between Van Hollen and Rep. Donna Edwards of Prince George’s County for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
Previous union endorsements for Raskin have included the American Federation of Government Employees, which claims about 80,000 members residing in District 8; the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers; the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 2, which represents about 6,000 workers throughout Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia; and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400, whose membership includes about 1,600 grocery store workers in District 8. In addition to urging their own members to get out to vote, Local 400 officials said some of their members would be assisting the Raskin campaign in identifying sympathetic voters and getting them to the polls on Primary Day.
Raskin does not have a monopoly on union support in the contest: UNITE HERE, which represents about 15,000 workers in the hospitality industry in the Baltimore and Washington area, opted in early February to endorse Barve. UNITE HERE has a membership of about 1,200 in Montgomery County, largely working in the Silver Spring area.
While Barve has struggled to keep up with Raskin in fundraising over the last year and is seen as facing an uphill battle for the nomination, UNITE HERE officials indicated the union was swayed by Barve’s effort to become only the fourth Indian-American ever elected to Congress.
“Our union is made up of a majority of immigrants, women and people of color. As the first Indian-American elected to a state legislature in American history, Kumar Barve is an
inspiration to our members,” Roxie Herbekian, a union vice president, declared when the group announced its endorsement.