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In an unusual move, the Sacramento Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO began its endorsement process for upcoming Sacramento City Council races four months earlier than in previous election cycles – this time, eight months ahead of the June 2012 elections.
“The redistricting process stirred up a lot of interest in people, especially about who is running the city,” said Bill Camp, labor council executive secretary. “If people are interested, that makes this the best time to endorse (candidates).”
As part of the labor group’s stated goal of “promoting a voice for workers through active participation in the political process,” the labor council endorses candidates for office in every election year, according to labor council office manager Georgie de la Huerta.
The labor council represents 107,000 union members from 90 unions, de la Huerta said.
The labor council’s decision to start the process early is not common in Sacramento politics – particularly since the filing period for candidacy doesn’t open until Feb. 1.
Rich Schmiedt, president of Sacramento Area Firefighters Local 522, said his organization has not yet started its campaign endorsement process.
“We don’t see any benefit to starting as early as October,” Schmiedt said. “It’s too early for us – we don’t even know who all the candidates are at this point.”
Schmiedt said that Local 522 will begin discussing a timeline for considering candidates in late November.
For Camp and the labor council, however, people who are “serious” about running for a city council seat will not wait until the filing period to make their intentions known, Camp said.
“If you’re taking a lot of time fooling around about making a decision to run, then you’re not serious,” Camp said. “If you’re not serious, then (we) don’t want to interview you. We only want to talk to (candidates) who need and want support.”
The endorsement process begins with a 13-page candidate questionnaire sent to all incumbents and potential candidates that the labor council becomes aware of, according to Camp.
“We make it as public as possible,” Camp said. “We’ve done the best we can to reach out to everyone who has surfaced, but we can’t find people that hide.”
Labor council staff confirmed Thursday that, so far, invitations to participate in the endorsement interview process were sent out to City Council members Sandy Sheedy, Rob Fong, Kevin McCarty and Bonnie Pannell – the incumbents for Districts 2, 4, 6 and 8, which are the four council seats open in 2012.
Questionnaires have also been sent to Kim Mack, a candidate for District 2, and Allen Warren, a potential candidate for District 2 who has not yet made a formal announcement of candidacy.
Once candidates submit a completed questionnaire, the labor council schedules an interview between the potential candidate and the labor council’s committee on political education.
The 20-member committee sits as a panel to interview one candidate at a time. With four City Council seats open in the 2012 election, Camp said interviewing potential candidates for four seats will be an all-day event for the reviewing committee.
After all interviews are finished, the committee sends recommendations for endorsements to labor council union delegates for consideration.
The number of delegates each union sends to Sacramento is determined by the size of the union membership. De la Huerta said the delegate group averages between 60 and 80 members.
For any candidate to receive labor council endorsement, a favorable vote of two thirds of the delegates at the meeting is required, de la Huerta said.
McCarty confirmed Thursday that he is running for re-election in 2012, and he will be participating in the labor council interview and endorsement process.
McCarty received labor council endorsement in previous races, however, there’s no guarantee that the group will support him again this year.
“In past elections, I have received their endorsement,” McCarty Said. “But also in a past election, I did not receive their endorsement.”
McCarty said that, although it’s still early in the game, he has several campaign endorsements – including State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, several District 6 neighborhood association presidents and several current City Council members.
Pannell, the current District 8 representative, said Thursday that she has received the labor council questionnaire and she also plans to participate in the endorsement interviews.
Pannell said she already has other endorsements for her 2012 re-election campaign, but will wait to announce them at a fundraiser she’s hosting in November.
Calls for comment from other incumbents and potential candidates were not returned by press time.
De la Heurta said that none of the candidate questionnaires the labor council sent out have been returned yet.
The labor council will conduct candidate interviews Oct. 17 in Sacramento. Union delegates will meet Oct. 18 to make their endorsement selections.
Endorsements will be announced at the labor council’s Annual Salute to Labor dinner Oct. 27. Camp said approximately 600 to 700 people are expected to attend the private event.
Melissa Corker is a Staff Reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.