Mayoral endorsements cross political lines

Labor unions endorse Buscher, former mayor Houston endorses previous rival Langfelder

click to enlarge Mayoral endorsements cross political lines
PHOTO BY DEAN OLSEN.
Springfield Mayoral candidate Misty Buscher speaks Feb. 13 after she receives endorsements from unions representing Springfield police officers and firefighters. The event was at the Firefighters Postal Lake Club near Lake Springfield.

When it comes to campaign fundraising, Springfield mayoral candidate Misty Buscher's support from labor unions so far has been a factor in her lead over incumbent Mayor Jim Langfelder.

With about $204,500 available at the close of 2022's fourth quarter, Buscher, the current city treasurer, held an $86,334 edge in funds available compared with Langfelder, who had $118,202 available, according to reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Democrats in the General Assembly and those seeking statewide office traditionally enjoy more support from organized labor than Republicans in Illinois. But that's not the case in this year's race for the officially nonpartisan full-time job of mayor in Springfield.

Langfelder, who considers himself a moderate Democrat – he calls himself a "Kennedy Democrat" – is seeking his third four-year term against Buscher, who calls herself a moderate Republican, heading into the April 4 municipal election.

Buscher was endorsed over Langfelder by the Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council. And Buscher on Feb. 13 received the endorsement of the unions representing city police officers and firefighters.

Campaign contributions that Buscher received in the fourth quarter included $5,500 from the Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, $3,000 from Laborer's Local 477, $21,000 from the Plumbers & Steamfitters union, $7,000 from Sheet Metal Workers Local 218, and $7,500 from the Mid-America Carpenters Regional Council.

Langfelder did receive the endorsement of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union representing many city employees.

And Langfelder received the endorsement of the Sangamon County Democratic Party after rank-and-file members turned down a recommendation from the party's executive committee not to make an endorsement in the mayoral race.

Former Mayor J. Michael Houston also endorsed Langfelder. Houston is a Republican who served from 1979 to 1987 and then from 2011 to 2015, when he lost his reelection bid.

When asked about his sometimes chilly relationships with unions, Langfelder said many rank-and-file union members support him, though union leaders may not. He attributed much of the tension to the record that mayors establish when they play high-profile roles in the city.

It's a situation that challengers can exploit, Langfelder said. "Without a doubt, the challengers, they have that luxury," he said.

"You always do what's in the best interests of the city," he added.

Buscher said her support from unions have to do with union rules, the city's enforcement of prevailing wage on city-involved projects and "project labor agreements," or PLAs.

PLAs, according to the AFL-CIO, are collective bargaining agreements between building trade unions and contractors that govern terms and conditions of employment for all craft workers, regardless of whether they are represented by unions, on a construction project.

The AFL-CIO says PLAs protect taxpayers by eliminating costly delays related to labor conflicts or shortages of skilled workers.

Aaron Gurnsey, president of the Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, faulted Langfelder's administration for reportedly failing to enforce prevailing wage in City Water, Light and Power's 2018 demolition of the former Days Inn on Stevenson Drive.

Trade unions also want the city to agree to more PLAs – which are voluntary – for more city projects. Buscher said she would push for more PLAs as mayor, though the City Council – where the mayor can cast a tie-breaking vote – has final say on that issue.

"I do think that the unions want to see that the city supports them as they support the entire community," she said. "We need to believe in our working men and women."

Gurnsey said trade unions are supporting Buscher because she "talks about labor unions out loud."

Langfelder said he's open to more discussions about how PLAs should be used, but the trade unions decided not to interview him before making an endorsement.

Langfelder said he would like to see trade unions reflect the diversity of the community, and he has been frustrated by the City Council's lack of support for a pre-apprenticeship program that would be operated by Springfield resident Calvin Pitts, a union electrician and the owner of B.O.N.E. LLC, a construction and investment company.

Langfelder said it's no surprise that the police and fire unions endorsed Buscher because he hasn't received their endorsement in the past.

He said he suspects some of the opposition from the police union is designed to gain an advantage during ongoing contract negotiations.

Tami Russell, president of the Police Benevolent and Protective Association Unit 5, said Langfelder hasn't done enough to advocate for higher pay for police officers to improve recruitment and retention efforts.

"We are not being competitive" with comparably sized cities such as Bloomington, she said.

The police union wants a mayor "to have a fresh look at this and actually let the police department tell them what is needed," Russell said.

Langfelder said he and Police Chief Ken Scarlette have made major headway in replacing police officers who retired and weren't replaced because the training of police recruits was delayed earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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