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Organized Labor Does It Again On Election Day, Plays Major Role In Underdog Democrat & Labor-Endorsed Candidate Mark Poloncarz Sending Incumbent Republican & Anti-Union/Anti-Worker Erie County Executive Chris Collins Back To The Private Sector

County Executive Race Only One Of Many Successful Victories Realized By Labor Unions & Their Members Whose ‘Get Out The Vote’ Effort Made All The Difference - Union Members In Chautauqua & Niagara Counties Also Win Their County Legislature Races

Published Wednesday, November 9, 2011 12:30 pm
by Tom Campbell/Editor-Publisher

(WESTERN NEW YORK) – It was déjà vu all over again on Election Night for Organized Labor as underdog Democrat Erie County Executive Candidate Mark Poloncarz defeated incumbent Republican Chris Collins – just several months after underdog Democrat Kathy Hochul defeated her Republican Challenger in a heavily-populated Republican District to capture the 26th U.S. Congressional District Seat.

The common thread in these two races was the major role Organized Labor played in assisting both Poloncarz and Hochul in winning their respective campaigns.  And that fact was not lost on Poloncarz, who unabashedly thanked Labor - not once, but twice - for all it had done during his acceptance speech that was made on live TV in Downtown Buffalo: “To my friends in Organized Labor, and I think there’s a few of you here in this room tonight, I want to thank the Western New York Area Labor Federation and the Buffalo Building Trades (Council) – ‘Thank You’ for standing up with me.  There are so many of us - White Collar, Blue Collar.  We must never be ashamed of our backgrounds and we’ll always be there to protect the Middle Class and the Working Class from people who would like to destroy our way of life.”

Erie County Comptroller Poloncarz - who now becomes only the second Democrat to win the Erie County Executive’s race in the 51-year history of the office - defeated Collins by a margin of 53% to 47%, which equated to a general vote tally of 115,877 to 103,743 (that was with 98% of the vote in, according to published reports).  Businessman Collins, who had won election four years ago on the premise he’d “run Erie County like a business,” was targeted by Labor for his many anti-Worker/anti-Union positions.  Collins, meanwhile, was also his own worst enemy, alienating a number of factions across Erie County, from those in the Arts & Cultural Community to those who patronize the County Library System, to single, African-American Working Mothers in the City of Buffalo to suburban taxpayers upset over the great amount of money spent on what many viewed as frivolous lawsuits to get his own way.

While Poloncarz could never match Collins’ overall monetary campaign war chest, he had what Collins never had – boots on the ground.  A massive and intense Get Out The Vote (GOTV) Effort was spearheaded by Organized Labor and proved to be the difference.  Going door-to-door, making connections with Working People, and educating them on the issues and the importance of the Erie County Executive’s race was paramount in making the campaign a real race and pushing Poloncarz past a finish line that many - in the beginning - just did not anticipate him even coming close to.

Western New York AFL-CIO Area Labor Federation (WNYALF) Political Action Council (PAC) President Richard Lipsitz of the Teamsters Union was ecstatic over the Election Day results, saying Poloncarz’s victory was “better” than what Labor was able to achieve by assisting Hochul in capturing the 26th District Congressional Seat.

“We did wonderfully,” Lipsitz told WNYLaborToday.com, adding the only disappointment Labor had last night was that Democratic Candidate Maria Whyte did not win election as Erie County Clerk.  “This was more of an organized effort, better than Hochul’s.  Labor worked hard and built alliances with people we never knew across the entire community, including young people and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”

In regards to Labor’s GOTV Effort, Lipsitz said it was the greatest mobilization of area Labor Unions and their Members in his memory, and that the 2008 mobilization to help elect President Obama was the closest to it that he’d ever witnessed.

“From just Thursday of last week up until Election Day on Tuesday, there were more than three dozen Labor Unions and Organizations” involved in the GOTV Effort, said Lipsitz, singling out the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), 1199 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Workers East and the Buffalo Building & Construction Trades Council for a job more than well done.

“Everyone heard Mark (Poloncarz), who made it very clear during his acceptance speech.  He mentioned the Western New York Area Labor Federation and the Buffalo Building Trades by name and the room erupted.  I think Mark will be a tremendous County Executive because he will help ordinary people, unlike the present County Executive,” Lipsitz said.

Just several months earlier, Hochul - with the strong help of Organized Labor - also accomplished the unthinkable, defeating heavily-financed Republican Candidate Jane Corwin, a Collins protégé, in that heavily Republican-populated Congressional District.  Hochul’s victory was heralded as a shot heard round the political world and showed that despite an extremely heavy Republican population, a Democrat – with the right message, much like the message delivered by Poloncarz in the Erie County Executive’s race – could achieve victory.

Meanwhile, Poloncarz’s public tip of the hat to Organized Labor comes at a time when Working People and Labor Unions are fighting back against the Republican Party and those in power who have wealth who are continuing to try to eradicate Workers’ Rights across the United States. 

While Erie County’s Unions and their Members reveled in Poloncarz’s underdog victory over Collins – whom many Working People had likened to anti-Worker/anti-Union Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin – Organized Labor racked up another huge and important victory in the State of Ohio as Buckeye State Voters resoundingly overturned the anti-Worker agenda pushed by Republican Governor John Kasich, Republican State Lawmakers and outside interest groups that had taken away the right of Public Employees to Collectively Bargain for a Middle-Class Life.  Voters said “No” to Issue 2 by a 63% to 37% margin to repeal Kasich’s S.B. 5 that eliminated the Collective Bargaining Rights of some 350,000 Public Employees, including Teachers, Nurses and Firefighters.

National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Issue 2′s defeat was a “major victory for Working Families in Ohio and across the country.”  “Ohio’s Working People successfully fought back against lies pushed by shadowy multi-national corporations and their anonymous front groups that attempted to scapegoat Public Service Employees and everyone they serve by assaulting Collective Bargaining Rights.  Ohioans from all backgrounds and political parties rejected the crazy notion that the ninety-nine-percent - Nurses, Bridge Inspectors, Firefighters and Social Workers - caused the economic collapse, rather than Wall Street,” Trumka said.

Back in Western New York, Organized Labor’s GOTV Effort helped Democrats retain a slim majority in the Erie County Legislature, which will benefit Poloncarz when he takes office in January.  It also helped propel a number of Labor-Endorsed and Democratic Candidates to victory across the region where the Buffalo, Niagara-Orleans, Dunkirk, Jamestown and Cattaraugus-Allegany AFL-CIO Central Labor Councils and their affiliated Unions and their Members got involved.

On another front, the GOTV Effort also played a tremendous role for a number of other Western New York candidates who happened to be Union Members themselves, and who either won re-election or election to office, some running for the first time ever:

  • Incumbent Councilman Mark Manna, a Union Administrator and Pension Trustee (since 1983) with the United Food & Commercial Workers, won re-election to the Amherst Town Board in Erie County.  Manna is getting ready to serve his second consecutive four-year term in office.  “Being in the Labor Movement provides you with a good background to be a public servant,” Manna told WNYLaborToday.com.  “And my career in the Labor Movement has helped me be a better public servant.  It also sent a strong message that staying on point to deliver that message was very important.”
  • Niagara Falls Firefighters Local 714 Union Member Jason Zona (pictured below), running for public office for the first time, won election to the District 5 Seat in the Niagara County Legislature.  Zona won his race by a 58% to 41% margin.

  • IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) Local 106 President Robert Whitney, Jr. of Jamestown (pictured below), who also ran for public office for the first time, won election to the Chautauqua County Legislature’s District 15 Seat by a margin of 53% to 47%.  “We all came together and it’s exciting,” Whitney told Your Regional, On-Line Labor Newspaper.  “I let every voter know that I was a Union President and a Union Member and maybe the voting public now has some more confidence in Unions in light of (the attack on Workers’ Rights that) started out in Wisconsin.”

  • Labor-endorsed Town of Lancaster Councilwoman & retired Teacher Donna Stempniak, a Member of the Buffalo Teacher Federation, was also re-elected in Erie County.

Meanwhile, Amherst Town Councilman and UFCW Union Representative Manna said he thought it was “great” that more and more Union Members across the Western New York Region are getting involved in the political process and making a decision to run for public office, adding that “you just can’t be on the outside on a picket line.”

“You have to be on the inside, working ‘with’ your constituents and stakeholders and you have to ‘work with them’ to get better results,” Manna told WNYLaborToday.com.  “We all have to make tough decisions, but when you work with them you get better results.  And this concept of ‘shared sacrifice’ and ‘reform’ must not come just with Workers, it must be across the board.”

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