PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Organized labor is throwing its weight behind General Treasurer Seth Magaziner in the Democratic primary to replace Congressman Jim Langevin, as his campaign tries to establish an early advantage in a crowded field.
The state’s largest union organization, the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, announced Monday it had voted to endorse Magaziner for the 2nd Congressional District — more than six months before the primary. They also voted to endorse Congressman David Cicilline for re-election.
“Treasurer Magaziner is the type of leader Rhode Island needs in Congress,” Rhode Island AFL-CIO President George Nee said in a statement, singling out the treasurer’s work on school construction. (Nee’s daughter, Katie Nee Zambarano, is Magaziner’s campaign manager.)
The AFL-CIO statement came hours after Magaziner’s campaign announced an endorsement from the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 51, the fifth union endorsement he has received in recent weeks. He has also disclosed support from the Ironworkers Local 37, Unite Here Local 26, the Carpenters Local 330, and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 11.
None of the other seven Democrats who have kicked off campaigns or filed to run in the 2nd District have announced a union endorsement so far.
The decision by key labor leaders to quickly rally behind Magaziner stands in contrast with Rhode Island’s other big Democratic primary this year, the five-way race for governor pitting incumbent Dan McKee against four challengers.
Only one major union has issued an endorsement in the gubernatorial primary so far — the United Nurses and Allied Professionals, which had backed Magaziner before he ended his gubernatorial bid and pivoted to a run for Congress.
Patrick Crowley, the AFL-CIO’s secretary-treasurer, told 12 News the group currently has no timeline for endorsing in the race for governor, but felt an urgency to weigh in regarding the 2nd District.
“In our opinion, it’s so important to keep this seat in the Democratic Party that we needed that extra time to make sure we are as organized as possible,” Crowley said.
Crowley said the AFL-CIO reached out to all the announced Democratic and Republican candidates earlier this month asking whether they were interested in the group’s endorsement. A nonnegotiable for the group, he said, was that a candidate supports the PRO Act, labor’s top congressional priority.
The PRO Act — short for the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — passed the House last year but faces Republican opposition in the Senate. It includes provisions aimed at shoring up unions’ ability to launch organizing campaigns, penalizing employers who misclassify workers, and weakening state “right-to-work” laws.
AFL-CIO leaders wound up interviewing five candidates, according to Crowley: Magaziner and Democratic rivals Omar Bah, Joy Fox, Cameron Moquin and Ed Pacheco. (Two other Democrats — Sarah Morgenthau and David Segal — have since joined the field, which also includes Michael Neary.)
Some local Democrats remain concerned about the possibility that Republicans could take the 2nd District seat for the first time in roughly three decades amid a dismal national environment for President Biden’s party. They are particularly concerned about the candidacy of former Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who faces two opponents in the GOP primary, former state Rep. Robert Lancia and state Sen. Jessica de la Cruz.
12 News political analyst Joe Fleming said he was “a little surprised” to see the AFL-CIO get behind Magaziner so early. “I think they want to try to get a candidate who’s strong, and I think they believe at this point Magaziner would be the strongest candidate,” he said.
“At the same time,” he added, “I think Magaziner’s always had a lot of union support, and this is a continuation of that.”
Fleming noted that endorsements could be more beneficial in a crowded field since relatively few votes will be needed to come out on top, depending on how many of the announced candidates stay in through the Sept. 13 primary election.
The Magaziner campaign has also been seeking to establish a financial edge over the other Democrats. While the candidates are not required to file their next fundraising reports until April, a Magaziner spokesperson said as of last week he had raised roughly $750,000 in campaign contributions since entering the congressional primary.
The other Democrats have not been sending updates on their fundraising numbers. But appearing on last week’s taping of Newsmakers, former state Rep. Ed Pacheco said he had secured a combination of donations and pledges for future contributions in the six-figures.
“I never expected to be the most well-financed candidate,” Pacheco said, adding, “Voters are not looking for someone who can raise the most amount of money. They’re not looking for someone that’s independently wealthy. They’re looking for someone who they can identify with and understands the struggles and challenges that they face each and every day.”
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook