Unions burdened by excess political cash

Two major labor unions made rare endorsements of a challenger to a Democratic congressman yesterday, promising to make their choice matter through a vigorous effort to help lawyer Donna F. Edwards unseat eight-term Rep. Albert R. Wynn (Md.).

An official with the Service Employees International Union, which has 22,350 Maryland members, said getting Edwards elected is a top national priority for the group, a way to show Democrats that union support is not automatic.

Edwards is one of four Democrats who will challenge Wynn for the party's nomination in the Feb. 12 primary in the 4th District, which includes most of Prince George's County and part of Montgomery County.

"We do a good job holding Republicans accountable during general elections, but we need to do a better job holding Democrats accountable, too," said Terry Cavanagh, executive director of the SEIU Maryland State Council. "That's what this is about."

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 joined the SEIU in endorsing Edwards.

Wynn has received support from other major union groups. On Monday, the executive committee of the Washington Metropolitan Council of the AFL-CIO voted to recommend that its 176 member unions endorse Wynn.

But yesterday's endorsements for Edwards were significant because they indicate that longtime Wynn supporters think he is potentially vulnerable. The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 has backed Wynn in each of his previous runs. SEIU offered no endorsement before Wynn's reelection last year, when he held off Edwards in the Democratic primary by three percentage points, but has supported him in the past.

Leaders of the unions criticized Wynn for his support of a 2005 bill that made it harder for consumers to wipe out debt through bankruptcy. They also took issue with Wynn's votes to repeal the estate tax and to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

Each took place before last year's election, but Edwards said she had to show that she was able to get votes before unions would risk abandoning a longtime incumbent.

"I had to demonstrate that I had the tenacity and the capacity to run and to win," she said.

A lawyer from Fort Washington, Edwards serves as executive director of the Arca Foundation, which gives money to groups involved in progressive causes. Her race against Wynn has drawn national attention and support from liberal bloggers and progressive groups convinced that Wynn's voting record is too conservative given his overwhelmingly Democratic district.

Meanwhile, Wynn has received support from the Washington D.C. Building and Construction Trades Council and a Montgomery firefighters union.

"We are pleased with our endorsements so far," Wynn said in a statement. "We have overwhelming, broad based support within the labor movement and not just from the nationals or the locals, but from the rank and file membership as well."

Wynn has said he was humbled by his close call against Edwards in the last primary and has redoubled his efforts to reach all parts of his constituency. He has said that his Iraq war vote was a mistake but has otherwise defended his record, saying he has worked to promote entrepreneurship in his upwardly mobile district.

Rick Powell, legislative director of the Washington region AFL-CIO group, praised Wynn's record on issues he said are important to working families.

"Congressman Wynn has worked especially hard over the last year and a half to rebuild bridges with labor and to solidify his original base of support," Powell said.

The groups that supported Edwards yesterday pledged to mount an aggressive ground game on her behalf, including mailings, phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.

"She's a person who's going to help us lead the change," said Mark P. Federici, an official with the UFCW local, which represents 14,000 workers in Maryland. "The change is about progressive values and the value of people that work -- living wages, affordable health care, respect and dignity on the job."

Also running for the Democratic nomination are George E. McDermott, George E. Mitchell and Jason Jennings.


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