(left) NYS Assemblyman Joe Morelle with NYS Senator Joe Robach [Except where indicated, photos by David Kramer]
We’ve been to the Labor Day Parade in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, I marched with the RCSD’s social studies teacher Stefan Cohen that became How do union teachers teach about unions?
In 2016, I asked parade goers, including Stefan and Thomas Warfield, What is the Working Class? The answers were intriguing.
This year the new comer Jim Maxwell (R) running for Congress in the 25th district especially interested me.
In endorsing Maxwell, Lonsberry uses an effective rhetorical device. A very conservative Republican, Lonsberry supports Maxwell but says he is really too far to the center, if not occasionally the left, for Lonsberry’s tastes. Speaking to his “Democratic friends,” Lonsberry says they — if not himself — can feel comfortable enough to vote Maxwell. A shrewd strategy indeed.
In July, I heard Maxwell on Evan Dawson’s WXXI’s show: Connections: 25th Congressional District Candidate Dr. Jim Maxwell, July 9th, 2018. In the program, Maxwell acquitted himself well as a thoughtful man, but also displayed a tendency (mentioned by others) to not take clearly defined stances on some issues, like whether he would have voted for the recent tax cuts based on the effect on New York State.
Maxwell is an engaging, friendly man ready to talk. As our conversation began, my bicycle propped against a post across the street fell. Maxwell loped over to the fallen bike, and in ideal constituent services mode, set the bike straight again.
First, explaining the question from two years ago, I asked what class he is. It would have been disingenuous had Maxwell — a wealthy physician who has donated hundreds of thousands to his campaign — said working or middle class. Instead, he said he was from no class. At least politically, he represents no specific group, especially, not as some might think, wealthy physicians like himself. Fair enough.
When we got to union issues, Maxwell said unions pursuing their economic well being was fundamental to democracy. He sees a vibrant future for the labor movement. He would not state he was pro-union, but said he is definitely not anti-union. My personally important issue was the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME that allows public workers to reap union benefits but not pay for them: the free rider. I explained I might be rejoining the New York State Teachers Union and would have to decide on union membership.
Maxwell knew of the decision and its importance, but said he still needed to learn more. Maxwell mentioned that as a Congressman he would have no direct influence over Supreme Court rulings.
In general, he does not like coercion of any sort, i.e. being forced to join a union. I agreed, but also think free riderism is a kind of theft. He did not disagree. Ultimately, Maxwell said that to join or not join a union — even if it means free riderism — is a personal moral decision I should make. As for that decision, he wondered if everyone knows who is in the union and who is not. I imagined everyone knows. He suggested social consensus would make the decision easier.
I enjoyed our philosophical discussion. Maxwell has an authentic concern with ethics and fairness. At the same time, I would like a clearer position from him. Maxwell does not seem to want to be pinned down as to whether, in principle, the Janus v. AFSCME decision was good or if the negative consequences (if he sees them) require legislation to remedy.
Later, I saw Harry Bronson, a labor lawyer, who we’ve met before on the electoral trail. I was surprised that Bronson does not think Janus v. AFSCME is a disaster as it forces unions to rethink old strategies that might not be working. More so, Bronson informed me that, in April, New York passed a law, backed by the AFL-CIO, that public sector unions no longer have to provide representation to non-members in disciplinary hearings, grievances, or arbitrations, something I — and presumably Maxwell — did not know. I wish I had had the chance to ask Maxwell if he supports that law signed by Cuomo.
Later, I met two Maxwell’s supporters that highlight some of the electoral issues he faces. Maxwell is running in a predominantly Democratic district; a recent poll has him behind Joe Morelle by 24 points. At the same time, many of Maxwell’s supporters are staunch Trump supporters.
I met two Maxwell supporters who lavished praise on him for being an outsider or at least a non-politician who could harness his intelligence and abilities to address government dysfunction.
And, they are very pro Trump. (Actually Trump was their third choice after Ben Carson and Ted Cruz.) Ultimately, they would prefer Maxwell to move closer — and more forcefully — towards Trump. They find Trump’s style new and exciting, while Maxwell does not.
In a predominantly Democrat district, pro-Trump expressions do not play well. I do not think Maxwell is cynical, but some of his equivocation is driven by his desire to maintain a conservative base while siphoning off independents and Democrats.
I also saw Joe Robach who represents me in Brighton. Joe was happy to talk about his union/labor bona fides. His mother was a member of the Civil Service Employees Association. His daughter is a member of the Rochester Teacher’s Association. His son is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Ever enthusiastic, Joe said unions are as American as apple pie, motherhood and church. Robach would tell WXXI that “organizing labor is as American as apple pie, baseball, hotdogs. Everything American.” Truisms with which I can agree.
I also spoke with the front runner Joe Morelle who represents me in Brighton. Although Robach is a Republican and Morelle a Democrat, Joe said he and Robach are not that dissimilar on labor issues.
I asked Morelle what he thought of Maxwell’s labor positions. Morelle swiped back that he didn’t know because Maxwell hasn’t laid them out. Morelle characterized Maxwell as a “needle threader” who wants to have things both ways. Morelle proceeded to lay out with clarity his stated positions on labor issues, like the 15$ minimum wage. Joe does not come across as a needle threader. But, of course, it’s easier to not be a threader when you are ahead by 24 points in a Democratic district that generally agrees with you and doesn’t like Trump.
Also at the parade was the local Green Party and its candidate for New York governor, Howie Hawkins. I briefly marched with Alex White. As for labor issues, Alex says there are some differences between the major parties. He respects Bronson as a labor lawyer. But, ultimately, they all fall short. The Green Party is oriented against competitive capitalism or at least against corporate capitalism. As seen by Alex, the system invests corporations with the vast lion share of rights, while workers are left out. The system produces huge winners and many losers who are left on their own.
Also at the parade was a decent turnout of Cynthia Nixon supporters, Democratic candidate for governor running against Andrew Cuomo. I spoke with several Democrats who were voting in the September 13th primaries. A surprisingly high number said they had not yet decided. The ethical lapses of some of Cuomo’s associates seem to be taking a toll.
The day ended on a high note. Apparently, after Maxwell helped uplift my bicycle, I neglected to lock it as I moved on to talk with Robach, Morelle, Bronson and White. When I returned to the site at Locals Only on Alexander, the bike was unmolested. The waitress at Locals said a good Samaritan had seen it again fallen and moved it closer to the restaurant.