Embattled mayor buys union support on taxpayer dime
Amayor rocked by charges of pay-for-play politics, a House investigation and a federal probe into his 2010 campaign is losing friends fast. To stem the tide, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s strategists are employing politicians’ usual method for regaining allies: using tax dollars to enrich special interests.
City revenue estimates in February came up with millions extra in anticipated income, which the mayor is handing over to unions. Mr. Gray doubled down on a January $44.7 million fiscal 2012 supplemental budget request by asking for an additional $34.8 million in March. Of this, $19.9 million is to “restore” furlough days “taken” from city employees in fiscal 2011. To help close a then-$188 million budget gap, nonessential workers weren’t paid in 2011 for four public holidays: Presidents Day, D.C. Emancipation Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day.
An email sent by City Administrator Allen Lew to the heads of all city unions made no bones about the payoff: “The mayor’s decision to submit this request to the Council is further evidence of his commitment to our employees, and their representatives, for their diligent efforts and shared sacrifice in difficult times and rewarding our employees for their diligent efforts when circumstances permit him to do so.”
This commitment is questionable, considering the furloughs Mr. Gray is “repaying” were his idea in the first place. “Furloughs as an option to help save costs were first introduced in December 2010 by then-chairman Gray,” the 2011 press release announcing the measure bragged. It also noted that the act was introduced by council Chairman Kwame R. Brown at the request of Mr. Gray. “The furloughs are the first of several costsaving measures we will have to implement to ensure that the city is financially solvent,” Mr. Gray explained at the time. A year later, it’s unclear how spending instead of saving taxpayer money is financially responsible.
Some union representatives see Mr. Gray’s new tune as a step in the right direction after getting off on the wrong foot. Geo T. Johnson, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) District Council 20, told The Washington Times, “He had a marred beginning; he’s trying to turn things around.” Mr. Johnson, who says he supports Mr. Gray “110 percent,” stood in for labor in March 9, signing agreements with the District, but he only represents 40 percent of the city’s unionized employees.
Unions representing teachers, firefighters and police weren’t invited to participate in the event, heralded by city hall as part of an “effort to reestablish positive relations with organized labor,” because they don’t support the mayor. “The idea that this is some bridging [of] the gulf with labor is disingenuous,” one union official who requested anonymity told The Washington Times. “They needed some support from somebody somewhere. Gray is such a mess, nobody trusts him right now. They don’t trust Gray; they don’t trust Lew.”
Apparently, money can’t always buy love. Mr. Gray will need to earn the support of his constituents with means other than your hardearned dollars.