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Wednesday, June 29,2011

Washington, Wilkes nab critical labor nod

by Kyle Melinn

Political neophyte Jody Washington was just another
candidate running in the Lansing City Council’s 1st Ward alongside
former Rep. Lynne Martinez and former Council President Harold Leeman.
That was five weeks ago.


The backing of the Greater Lansing Labor Council and the
UAW CAP Council has changed everything. Now, with only five weeks before
the August primary, Washington needs to be considered a front-runner
with Martinez in the only real competitive race on Lansing’s August
ballot.


Washington, a member of SEIU Health Care, wowed the union
brass at a candidate cattle call earlier this month with her deep union
roots and a vision that stood out, according to Mike Green of the UAW
CAP Council.


Her family is the United Nations of
organized labor. Her parents and grandmother were all both UAW stewards.
Her son and his wife are schoolteachers and members of the Michigan
Education Association. Her husband was a union representative when he
worked with the Michigan State Police. Her daughter works with the MEA
spin-off organization that handles health insurance for school
districts, the entity known as the Michigan Education Special Services
Association, or MESSA.


It also didn’t hurt that Washington’s daughter is engaged
to Thomas Morgan, a political consultant for Byrum Fisk Communications,
which does work for just about every union in the universe. Remember,
Morgan came inches away from winning a seat on the Lansing Community
College board against the far better known Larry Meyer, a notable
accomplishment in its own right.


Morgan downplayed the significance of his involvement,
however. From his very biased vantage point, Washington is kicking butt
and taking names at the door, her job and community volunteer work
aside.


"I cracked open a few doors for Jody, and she opened them
the rest of the way," Morgan said. "It’s my understanding that folks in
labor — much like the people she’s been meeting at the doors — have been
very impressed with her dedication to siding with regular people
instead of corporate special interests. 


How significant is the backing of the Labor Council and the UAW CAP Council for the Lansing City Council?


"I’d rather have them with me than against me," said Todd Cook, political consultant for Main Street Strategies.


The unions bring a lot of things to the table — money,
organization, volunteers and some bragging rights. Lansing is still a
union town, and the UAW endorsement, by itself, is worth a few hundred
votes in the 1st Ward.


With six candidates on the ballot, a few hundred votes
puts her in pole position. One union official modestly told me about the
unions’ backing, "Yeah, we’ve won more than we’ve lost."


"Clearly, it will come down to her and Lynne Martinez unless things change dramatically in the next four weeks," Cook said.


It should shock no one that Derrick Quinney and Carol Wood
got the union’s nod in their respective at-large seat re-election
efforts.


Unions actually should erect a statue in Quinney’s honor
for holding the line on his "no" vote against the City Market project,
where he stood tall for project labor agreements. Head chef Virg Bernero
and his allies were roasting Quinney over an open fire for that vote.


A’Lynne Robinson went the other way on
that vote. As such, the unions are going the other way on her
endorsement. Tried-and-true union guy Jason Wilkes is getting the
union’s support in their mano-a-mano showdown in November in what is
quickly looking to be a complete setup.


Wilkes, a UAW member, has carried the organized labor flag
for years, having helped organize a City Hall rally for the Fraternal
Order of Police during contract negotiations a couple years ago.


"Show support for our Lansing police officers," Wilkes
wrote on the Facebook organizing page Team Lansing. "Lansing can not
afford to lose any officers as crime is rising!"


And that’s only Wilkes’ most recent trip to the well to carry water for organized labor. His efforts have not gone unnoticed.


"We keep track of who is doing what," Green said. "We want
to make sure that if they’re talking the talk, they’re walking the
walk."


In other words, Wilkes could have shown up to the Labor
Council screening in a tutu and a clown nose and walked away with its
enthusiastic backing. 


Was it coincidence that Wilkes and
Washington were the among those attending the neighborhood-led Coalition
looking to slam the breaks on the medical marijuana shops in town?
Could they be showing up a lot more events together?


It’s hard to say. 


It’s easy to see that with labor backing W-2, both could be putting a hand on the Bible come Jan. 1.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. His column appears weekly. He’s at melinn@citypulse.com.)

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