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Labor to Bolster Hahn Endorsement

March 11, 2005|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

Labor leaders backing James K. Hahn's reelection attributed the mayor's tepid support from union members on Tuesday to ongoing devotion to Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa among much of the rank and file and limited efforts by some unions on Hahn's behalf.

Just 27% of union members voted for Hahn in the March 8 election, according to a Times exit poll, while Villaraigosa won 35% of the labor vote -- despite the fact that the mayor has the vast majority of union endorsements, including that of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

Union leaders said the results demonstrate the lingering impact of their 2001 campaign on behalf of Villaraigosa and show that they have to do a better job of informing members about Hahn's pro-labor record before the May 17 runoff.

"All that says to me is that I have not done the job in terms of educating and motivating my members," said Marvin Kropke, business manager of Local 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents 7,600 workers.

"It's a communication process, an education process," Kropke added. "We had a long time to do that for Antonio and we're going to do that for Hahn, and I think you're going to see different results."

Four years ago, Villaraigosa won the widely sought backing of the federation, an influential umbrella organization that represents 345 locals around the region. Under the federation's direction, unions poured $1.4 million into a massive effort to bolster the mayoral bid of the former labor organizer, the vast majority in the first round of the 2001 election.

In December, the federation's political board voted to endorse Hahn for reelection instead of backing Villaraigosa, citing the importance of standing by a pro-labor incumbent. But at the time, federation head Miguel Contreras warned that he could not guarantee the rank and file would follow the endorsement.

But labor also mounted a more limited effort on behalf of Hahn than it did for Villaraigosa in 2001.

In the weeks leading up to the March 8 election, local unions spent a total of $512,500 on radio ads, lawn signs, bumper stickers, automated phone calls and newspaper ads on Hahn's behalf. The federation spent an additional $135,400 on mailers and a phone bank operation, according to reports filed with the City Ethics Commission. (As in all elections, the federation relies on local unions to contribute money for individual campaigns.)

"I've seen a better job done for other candidates endorsed" by labor, said Tyrone Freeman, president of Local 434B of the Service Employees International Union, which has launched one of the most vigorous efforts for Hahn. "Unions have got to spend more in efforts for the candidates that do the job we ask them to do. Otherwise, what does it mean to have labor's endorsement, if the people of labor don't support it?"

Some labor leaders whose locals spent significant resources backing Hahn were frustrated by the federation's effort this year.

"It certainly wasn't the effort that was put in for Antonio four years ago," said Jim Hilfenhaus, public affairs director for Laborers Local 300, which spent $45,000 on a Spanish-language radio ad for Hahn.

"When you observe what went into it the last time, that kind of effort would have brought us in stronger," Hilfenhaus said.

Contreras declined to comment on labor's strategy until after he meets with other union leaders next week to plan for the runoff campaign.

But in interviews before the election, Contreras said the unions were planning to devote the bulk of their resources to the second round of the election.

He added then that Hahn, as a well-funded incumbent, did not need the same kind of financial backing that Villaraigosa did in 2001, when he had a lower profile.

"You have to do a lot more work for an unknown," he said in mid-February.

On Thursday, Hilda Delgado, a spokeswoman for the federation, said the unions were committed to ensuring Hahn's victory.

"We're going to do everything necessary to help this mayor win the runoff election," Delgado said.

Freeman warned that labor's reputation as an electoral powerhouse could be damaged if the unions don't mount a more forceful effort to secure Hahn's reelection.

"I think the integrity of our endorsement is questioned" without a more substantial campaign, he said. "There's a detrimental cost to labor by not having an endorsed candidate win this race."

Others disputed the notion that organized labor did not do enough.

"I think the response from labor has been amazing," said Julie Butcher, general manager of Service Employees International Union, Local 347, which represents city employees.

Butcher noted that unions like Local 11 of the electrical workers and Local 1877 of the service employees that strongly backed Villaraigosa in 2001 have put just as much energy into advocating for his opponent this year.

"I know how hard it was to do something different than four years ago, but they came through and did everything they said they would," Butcher said.

But some officials said it may be hard to win over a sector of the rank and file who remain loyal to Villaraigosa, a former organizer for the teachers union.

"Antonio has a lot of friends in labor," said Marshall Goldblatt, assistant business manager for Local 11 of the electrical workers union. "It's a tough decision for a lot of people."

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