Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder is poised for a boost in his race against fellow Councilman Kevin Kamenetz for the Democratic county executive nomination, as several labor unions prepare to throw him their support in coming days, union officials said.
More labor support could help Bartenfelder stretch his resources in a closely contested primary election. He trails Kamenetz in fundraising, and the two have essentially split the labor endorsements announced to date.
That might change. Two officials who attended meetings in May and June said that a number of locals affiliated with the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO — an umbrella group of some 180 union locals and thousands of members — are prepared to lend their support to Bartenfelder. The metropolitan council is due to announce its choice Thursday.
Michael F. Day Sr., president of the Baltimore County Professional Firefighters Association and Tim Goins, executive vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 27 — both of which have endorsed Bartenfelder — gave similar accounts of meetings attended by representatives of about 20 locals, most of which are affiliated with the AFL-CIO council.
Goins said that with the exception of the Laborers International Union of North America, which has endorsed Kamenetz, the consensus among AFL-CIO council affiliates "unofficially" was pro-Bartenfelder.
Day went further, saying, "I'm confident that with the exception of the Laborers, the majority of organized labor will be for Joe Bartenfelder for county executive."
Kamenetz said that while he has been contacted by the Metropolitan Baltimore Council to submit a questionnaire and conduct an interview, the locals had not tried to talk to him separately.
"I'm sorry certain groups feel the need to make endorsements without a process in place," said Kamenetz.
An endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 is not expected until late this month or next, said the union's president, Sgt. Cole B. Weston. The FOP — which is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO — is still gathering questionnaires and interviewing candidates.
A boost in manpower
Apart from whatever power the endorsements have to influence union members' votes, organized labor support means campaign workers. Unions provide volunteers to post campaign signs, staff phone banks, knock on doors, march in parades and work polling sites on Election Day.
"Organizational support, financial support, troops on the ground are big in primaries anywhere in the state," said David Carroll, an Annapolis lobbyist and former Democratic Party fundraiser. "Any and all support you can get from labor is important, especially in a Democratic primary."
This sort of help could make a difference in a close race and potentially help a candidate make up for a disadvantage in fundraising.
"Joe has a tremendous number of volunteers," said Bartenfelder's campaign manager, W. Michael Seganish. "Joe does not need to raise anywhere near nor does he need to match Kevin dollar for dollar."
He said the campaign now has nearly $700,000 in cash on hand, or about $50,000 more than was shown in the last official report in January. Charles E. Klein, Kamenetz's treasurer, said the campaign fund was higher than the $1.1 million reported in January, but he would not say by how much.
More than two months before the Sept. 14 primary, Bartenfelder has four union endorsements: firefighters, UFCW, Maryland United Auto Workers, the firefighters, the UFCW and most recently the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 486.
Kamenetz has two: the Laborers and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. Ron Harvey, a third Democratic candidate, and Kenneth C. Holt, the only Republican in the race, have no announced labor endorsements.
Union officials gave Bartenfelder points for "working class" credentials and a history of labor support; Kamenetz has been praised for showing "vision" and command of policy details.
Goins said the Bartenfelder endorsement was a first for the UFCW local in that it was made spontaneously by members. The endorsement was made in a general membership meeting at a Timonium hotel in mid-June.
During a discussion of county politics, one member made a motion to endorse Bartenfelder, which was seconded and voted unanimously by some 200 members. Usually, Goins said, he and the president recommend an endorsement to the 20-member executive board, which makes the final decision.
As Goins told it, the endorsement by the UFCW local had as much to do with a feeling about the two men as their positions on labor-related issues.
"We just think Joe is more suited for our members," said Goins. "Joe's personality, his being closer to the working-class people, ultimately helped us make a decision."
While Bartenfelder has been in politics since 1983 — first as a state delegate, then a county councilman — he has also worked the whole time on the farm that's been in his family for generations. Kamenetz is a lawyer in a small practice in Towson.
Goins' remarks are echoed by Day, although Day puts a bit more emphasis on policy, specifically actions taken by the County Council a couple years ago on the police contract.
Day, of the firefighters union, said Bartenfelder "knows working-class people. …His mom was a school bus driver, his father was a corrections officer."
As a delegate and councilman, Bartenfelder "always had an open door with us. He's not a candidate trying to reinvent himself," Day said.
Votes on arbitration
Day said he's particularly unhappy with Kamenetz's statements and votes in 2008 on negotiations with public safety unions, which were subject to binding arbitration. While serving as council chairman, Kamenetz was quoted at the time as saying the council's reluctance to approve police salary increases was because of the nature of binding arbitration, which made it necessary to "treat one group of employees differently than another."
Under the practice, negotiating parties in labor disputes must abide by the final decision of an independent arbitrator.
In that same session, the council voted 5-2 against several measures that were approved for the police in binding arbitration. Kamenetz voted with the majority, Bartenfelder sided with the union.
Representatives of the teachers and laborers mentioned none of this in talking about their reasons for endorsing Kamenetz. Both groups gave him high marks for his performance in their interviews.
Cheryl Bost, president of county teachers and a member of the six-member panel that interviewed the candidates in May, said the unanimous recommendation for Kamenetz was made on the basis of his more detailed answers and that "he had a plan. He has a vision of where he wants to go ... That's what seemed to set him apart."
Bartenfelder has complained that the decision was based on his discouraging answers about teacher salary increases. Bost contends that neither candidate held out much hope for increases, and the topic of salaries "was not key to our decision."
Jayson Williams, the Maryland political director for the Laborers, said union officials were impressed during their interview with Kamenetz
"Kevin's laid out a vision of how to put people back to work," Williams said. He said the union liked Kamenetz's stance on county purchasing policies and his support for including county high schools in a union apprenticeship program. Kamenetz has supported measures that allow the county to look beyond the low price in contract bids, and also consider the hiring of local workers and employee benefits.