Outside influence, inside knowledge

Outside influence, inside knowledge

A union with no office in Alexandria, or all of Virginia for that matter, and no clear operational presence in our city is attempting to influence our local election for mayor and City Council. Unite Here’s political action committee has sent paid workers into Alexandria armed with thick, glossy door placards endorsing a slate of seven candidates for mayor and Council.


Why are they spending thousands of dollars on behalf of current Councilor Alyia Gaskins along with four incumbent councilors and two newcomers? Why is it so important to them that this slate, rather than, say, the exact opposite slate of the seven unendorsed candidates, wins this local election? Everyone running is pro-union, so what’s the distinction that makes it worth pouring money into this race?

And, even more mysterious, who? Who chose the endorsed slate?

A city resident, who is a longtime Democratic Party activist and open supporter of current Vice Mayor Amy Jackson in the mayoral race, claims that one of those paid workers told her the union chose Gaskins and “ … she chose the Council candidates to be endorsed. Not the PAC.” The worker did not say why the union did this. See our page 1 story, “Mysterious election placards baffle residents” for more information.

When the Alexandria Journalism Project, which provided most of the research in this story for the Alexandria Times, checked the worker’s account with Gaskins, the Councilor vehemently denied having any say whatsoever in choosing the slate of endorsed candidates. Gaskins said she got to know Unite Here and other unions by attending the Alexandria Democratic Committee’s labor caucus prior to running for Council.

A spokesman for Unite Here also denied any involvement by Gaskins and said the union itself chose the candidates to be endorsed. The spokesman also said, “UNITE HERE met with numerous candidates, including several that we did not endorse.”

That last statement by the union spokesman appears to be incorrect.

The Times contacted all seven of the non-endorsed candidates and they all emphatically said they did not speak with, nor were they contacted by, Unite Here. Several were indignant, with the wife of mayoral candidate Steven Peterson calling the process “rigged.”

So Unite Here did not meet individually with any of the candidates they did not endorse, nor did they ask all candidates to fill out a questionnaire – and they made their endorsements before any candidate forums or debates took place. How, then, did they choose the slate?

While Unite Here might have simply stayed with incumbents with their endorsements of Canek Aguirre, Sarah Bagley, John Chapman and Kirk McPike, how did they decide to back Abdel Elnoubi and Jesse O’Connell without talking with their opponents?

Elnoubi is one of two current School Board candidates running for Council, along with Jacinta Greene. Why was Elnoubi chosen and not Greene, who served as vice chair of the Board while Enoubi did not hold a leadership position?

And while the union PAC spoke with and endorsed O’Connell, they didn’t even talk with James Lewis, who is chair of the Traffic and Parking Board and has been endorsed by several other unions. This choice, in particular, reeks of a personal preference.

The fingerprints of someone with deep knowledge of Alexandria are on this Unite Here slate. Gaskins claims they’re not hers. Current Mayor Justin Wilson claims they’re not his. The ADC has a longstanding practice of not endorsing one Democratic candidate over another in the primary.

Still, it sure looks like someone in Alexandria encouraged Unite Here to endorse this particular slate.