Unite Here, a New York City-based union-funded political action committee, has spent $32,557 to distribute fliers in support of Vancouver City Council candidate Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Washington Public Disclosure Committee records show.
The fliers show a cartoon of a phone calling 911 ringing for a long time, followed by another scenario where help comes quickly.
“Our emergency response times are getting longer … thanks to bad budget decisions by the Vancouver City Council,” the flier reads. “Anne McEnerny-Ogle on the city council … for better basic services and response times.”
It also quotes the Vancouver firefighter and police unions, both of which endorsed McEnerny-Ogle. She is running against Bill Turlay for Position 6 in the Nov. 8 election.
The spending is another sign that this race, which many view to be the most difficult to call, is heating up.
This week’s mailings come on the heels of ads aired on TV and mailed out last week by anti-Columbia River Crossing activist David Madore on behalf of Turlay and Position 4 candidate Josephine Wentzel, calling for voters to “gavel down” “establishment” candidates. Turlay later denounced the ads as too negative.
Candidates legally cannot be informed prior to the independent spending made on their behalf.
“I can do this without $32,000,” said McEnerny-Ogle Monday, who sounded taken aback. “This is absolutely amazing. I have never seen anything like this, I’ve never seen money like this in a local campaign.”
She said she was glad the ad was positive, as she’s signed the League of Women Voter’s Code of Fair Campaign Practices pledge, which forbids negative campaigning.
‘An awful situation’
Unite Here is the workers union that includes employees of the Hilton Vancouver Washington. Workers there have been deadlocked with management over a new contract. Hilton General Manager Eric Walters said that workers have asked for a 53 percent increase in salaries, while management is offering 3 percent.
The Hilton has been struggling financially, with profits down 40 percent since the start of the recession.
McEnerny-Ogle said that she has met with the local Hilton workers, and that they have been distributing campaign information in some neighborhoods.
“When Hilton workers from Portland come over (to cover shifts at the Vancouver Hilton), they’re paid $3 more than Vancouver people are paid,” she said. “That is an awful situation — working next to someone who has same working conditions as you, but you’re making $3 an hour less than they are.”
Update: Walters disputed McEnerny-Ogle's statement by email Tuesday.
"When a Hilton Portland Banquet server works at the Hilton Vancouver they are paid the same amount as a Hilton Vancouver server, which is minimum wage plus a portion of the service charge generated from the event they worked," he wrote.
“Do we really need union bosses from New York influencing local elections?” Turlay said in a statement mailed by East County Citizens for Responsible Government, a PAC funded by Camas and Washougal businesses. “The fact that Unite Here is trying to buy another seat on the Vancouver City Council should be of great concern to Vancouver citizens.”
Unite Here also independently spent $51,513 on TV ads and mailings on behalf of Mayor Tim Leavitt’s race against Royce Pollard in 2009. Unions comprise all of McEnerny-Ogle’s largest donors, accounting for $3,700 of the $9,708 she’s raised thus far.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Unite Here — which represents workers in the U.S. and Canada who work in different industries, including the hotel, gaming and food-service sectors — mailed materials speaking about public safety.
It’s also far from clear how much influence a city councilor has in the negotiations between the Hilton’s workers and management.
“This kind of increase would certainly put Vancouver city taxpayers at risk, given the relationship between the city and the Vancouver Hilton,” Turlay said in the release.
But the city council has no direct control over the operations or decision-making process at the Hilton, said Lloyd Tyler, Vancouver’s chief financial officer.
The Downtown Revitalization Authority, a separate board appointed by the city council, approves the Hilton’s budget plans, but Hilton management is the only responsible party in negotiations, Tyler said.
Still, there’s “nothing stopping city councilors from picking up the phone,” said Liz Pike, spokeswoman for East County Citizens for Responsible Government.
If city councilors couldn’t do anything about contract negotiations, “they wouldn’t waste their money contributing to mayoral and city council elections, they wouldn’t waste time picketing City Hall,” she said. “That’s just the conclusion I draw.”
Pike said she was the most upset that Unite Here is based 3,000 miles away, despite having local representation.
“That always disturbs me,” she said. “I know a lot of people don’t like that David Madore is influencing local elections, at least he’s a local guy,” Pike said, adding his money was spent at print shops and other local businesses, while Unite Here hired a Sacramento, Calif. company to print its fliers. “I just hate it when that happens. I just don’t like it when outsiders try to influence.”
Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or email@example.com or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall