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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation’s capital
by the editor of The Common Denominator

LOOKING FOR THE UNION LABEL: Major party candidates for elective office have long known that gaining endorsements and campaign foot soldiers from organized labor requires acknowledgement of the labor that goes into printing their campaign materials. That's why it's become the norm to see either the words "Labor Donated" or what's known as a "union bug" at the bottom of political candidates' brochures and flyers. The "union bug" signifies that printed materials were produced by a commercial printer who operates a union shop or by workers who are individual members of a printers' union.

A union bug appears at the bottom of commercially printed materials currently being circulated by Elizabeth A. Davis and Rachel E. Hicks, two of the four candidates seeking to become president of the Washington Teachers Union. Hicks also is circulating a photocopied brochure that contains the words "Labor Donated." A third candidate, Cleopatra H. Lawton, told The Common Denominator's Stephanie Brinson that her campaign volunteers are photocopying her campaign flyers at a local Staples office supply store, rather than using a commercial printer.

None of this would cause much of a stir if not for the glossy, color, photo-laden campaign brochure promoting the candidacy of George Parker for WTU president. Parker's six-panel mailer contains neither a union bug nor any other acknowledgement of the labor that produced it.

Parker running mate Nathan Saunders, who is seeking to become the WTU's general vice president, refused to identify the campaign's printer and points to a statement on the campaign's web site that generally acknowledges the campaign's volunteer labor.

"It appears to be a hot topic, about how we're financing our campaign," Saunders said, adding that the Parker-Saunders slate would be willing to disclose its financials if all of the other candidates' campaigns also did so by "mutual agreement."

Jerome Brocks, who leads the WTU's Political Action Committee, told The Common Denominator that recent changes to the union's constitution – intended to protect rank-and-file members against a repeat of the massive embezzlement that occurred under former president Barbara Bullock, who is now jailed – did not go far enough. Candidates for the WTU's leadership are not required to disclose their campaign finances.

"We must have financial statements – there has to be accountability," said Brocks, who is backing Hicks for president.

MANY THANKS: It's mighty unusual for a community's political and civic leaders to pull together a fund-raising party in support of a struggling local newspaper, but that's exactly what this community did for The Common Denominator on Dec. 2 at Phish Tea Café on H Street NE. Many thanks to lead organizers Bonnie Cain and Elinor Hart and to the approximately 200 well-wishers who turned out to say how important the paper has become them. We still need help, but the visible show of support was much appreciated.

Copyright 2004, The Common Denominator