Members beat the odds, win in tough campaigns
BOILERMAKERS LOCAL 28 (Newark, N.J.) has the distinction of having all three members of its legislative committee in public office. John Devlin, Woody Dooley, and Jay Brophy all mounted effective campaigns to win council seats in their New Jersey communities — and they did so despite stiff opposition.
Devlin, L-28’s legislative director, ran as a Democrat in the heavily-Republican Wall Township in 2005. He won, becoming the first Democrat ever to be elected to a second term on the council township committee. When he first won his seat, in 2000, he was only the second Democrat to be elected in 70 years.
Dooley also ran as a Democrat in 2005 and won a seat on the Westville council. Like Wall Township, Westville typically elects Republicans, even though the area has a largely blue collar population. In fact, Dooley was the first Democrat to win a council seat in Westville in the last 30 years, and he captured 80 percent of the vote.
Brophy faced off in Gloucester City, not against Republicans, but against other Democrats whom he described as entrenched “rubber stampers.” Brophy and his faction — running as Independents in the general election — captured two council seats and the mayor’s office last year. Their success was remarkable considering the opposition were incumbents, had a much larger campaign fund and had the backing of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who traveled to Gloucester City and campaigned for them.
Winning an election is hard work — Devlin, Dooley, and Brophy agree — and it requires a strong base of support. Their support includes a politically-active local union. Local 28 BM-ST Ray Cushing said that over the years his lodge has built important contacts with other unions, politicians, and community organizations. In fact, the New Jersey State AFL-CIO picked Local 28’s union hall as a staging area for grass-roots campaigning. Volunteers from area unions gather there and take buses to neighborhoods for Project Labor Walk, during which they visit union households, hand out voter information, and talk with voters face-to-face.
Cushing said another critical support element is the Brotherhood’s legislative program, which provides political education. Local 28 participates in the annual LEAP conference every March in Washington, D.C.
Bridget Martin, director of the government affairs department, said Local 28 is one of the more politically active Boilermaker lodges. Her department is often in contact with the local and has helped out with campaign funding. “It’s critical for us to put labor candidates in local and state offices,” she said. “After the next census, in 2010, state lawmakers will decide on how to draw up districts — and the party in power controls the process. The more pro-worker state legislators we have, the more we can shape the political landscape for years to come.”
Devlin, Dooley, and Brophy also benefited by attending the New Jersey State AFL-CIO Labor Candidates Program. This intensive, three-day training course teaches the basics, from campaign planning to fund raising to media relations. Candidates practice public speaking and develop the messages they will use during their actual campaigns. Graduates may receive financial support as well. According to the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, candidates who complete the course go on to win their races 75 percent of the time.
New Jersey State AFL-CIO President Charles Wowkanech said Devlin, Dooley, and Brophy did an excellent job not only in the labor candidates program but also in their races. “All three members of Local 28 were very impressive candidates. All overcame odds that most people would not even have attempted. That says a lot about the Boilermakers — their willingness to take on a tough challenge and see it through.”
The three Local 28 office-holders say that getting out and meeting people is crucial to success. “The residents came out in big numbers for me,” said Devlin, “because they knew me from PTA, soccer [he coached his daughters’ soccer team], and from campaigning for other candidates.”
Dooley, who said he was “a Democrat in the womb,” took advantage of Project Labor Walk for his own campaign. “We knocked on doors at union households. About 80 apprentices from all the building trades participated.”
Brophy also wore out some shoe leather. “I knocked on every single door in my ward — 1,200 doors,” he recalled. He said to get elected, “people have to know you, know that you care. For 15 years I’ve been a head coach of football and baseball teams, working with over 200 kids. You’ve got to get the youth involved. They have so much energy.”
Nationally, about 3,000 members of labor hold some kind of elected public office, according to the most recent AFL-CIO data. Only two state AFL-CIO federations — New Jersey and Washington — conduct regular, annual labor candidate training programs, although other states federations, along with the national AFL-CIO, do conduct training on an ad hoc basis.
Boilermakers who wish to learn more about running for political office are encouraged to call the government affairs department at 703-560-1493 or the Local 28 legislative committee at 201-339-2315.