01 August 2011

Third Parties and Public Safety Unions: the beginning of an inquiry

Roger Hull's story is an intriguing one in its own right. Hull, the former president of Union College, is running for mayor of Schenectady, Union's college town. Avowedly an independent as the founder of an Alliance Party, Hull has secured the Republican line for the election before completing the signature-collection needed to earn Alliance its own line this fall. Hull isn't content with two lines, however. The Albany Times Union reports that he's filed petitions to contest the primaries of the Conservative, Independence and Working Families parties. Hull regards these independent primaries as part of a general insurgency against Democratic dominance in the Electric City. His goal is to be on as many lines as possible, which may seem to defeat the purpose of multiple lines if you expect a ballot to give you the most choices possible, though not if you allow each party to nominate whomever they please, even if someone else has already chosen that person.

The really interesting part of this story, however, comes when Hull weighs his chances in the several independent primaries. The intrigues involved in a Working Families primary are already well known to people in nearby Rensselaer County, but Hull (or the Times Union reporter) makes a significant observation

In Schenectady, Conservatives generally are police union members and Independence Party members are firefighters unions that have already thrown their support to the candidate who is running the city.

I hadn't been aware that political parties were so closely identified with specific unions, and this news got me wondering how widespread the phenomena were. While I couldn't immediately google any like linkage between firemen and the Independence party, I did discover a controversial association between policemen and the Conservative party in Suffolk County. According to two reports I found, the cops took the initiative to join the local Conservatives en masse, while some longtime partisans seem to regard the move as a hostile takeover against which they've fought back. Last year, some of the cops cried "voter intimidation" when party leaders threatened to take advantage of state laws that allow parties to de-register members who are somehow proven unsympathetic to party principles. In the Suffolk case, a jurisdictional dispute between cops and sheriff's deputies appears to have inspired the mass registration. Elsewhere, as the report from Schenectady hints, public-safety unions could easily colonize a third-party either to secure its line for the local dominant party leaders or to gain a little leverage against that party. The extent to which such efforts influence the character of a party probably varies depending on a union's agenda.

My curiosity persists. I wonder whether union-dominated third parties exist elsewhere and whether union dominance makes any noticeable and acknowledged difference in local politics. I'll welcome any news from readers, as well as any thoughts you might have about whether this is a good thing or not.


d.eris said...

That's an interesting find, on the union and third party connection, especially given the standard conventional wisdom according to which unions ALWAYS line up behind the Democrats. I'll have to look into this a bit more myself.

On the first point in the piece, has there been much coverage of the Hull campaign upstate?

Samuel Wilson said...

A fair amount, actually, thanks to Hull's standing as an academic leader and the only "real" alternative to the Democrats following his endorsement by the GOP. I'll have to check whether the Greens or Libertarians are offering other alternatives.