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Second Opinions: Big Labor Blackballs One of its Own 

Wednesday, Aug 14 2013

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is a simple enough concept. And yet, applying it to on-the-ground situations often leads to profoundly unintended consequences — there's a reason you won't be visiting Afghanistan on a pleasure trip anytime soon. So, imagine how awry things could go if you based policy not only on your enemies' enemies, but their clients or consultants.

It's a situation Supervisor David Campos now finds himself saddled with. The progressive politician earlier this month hopped a 49-Mission bus and rode to City Hall, where he filed paperwork to run for the state Assembly. A bevy of adorable children outfitted in highlighter-yellow Campos T-shirts came along for the ride.

Jim Stearns did not.

Stearns, Campos' longtime consultant and the go-to campaign operative for San Francisco progressives, has been declared persona non grata by none other than one of the largest progressive groups: the California Labor Federation.

The powerful consortium of more than 1,200 unions represents 2.1 million workers — who vote. Along with six other Democratic operatives, Stearns finds himself on the "Do Not Hire" list for taking part in a pair of 2012 campaigns that "directly attacked labor unions and caused damage to the labor movement. ... [We] encourage all unions, labor councils, allies, and candidates seeking our support to not hire these consultants until further notice."

Campos is a progressive stalwart and favorite of labor. Yet he is being denied the services of Stearns — who got him elected twice and has consistently won for progressives in this town — by decree of labor. "It's explainable how you got here, but it's nothing if not ironic," says University of San Francisco political science professor Corey Cook.

Steve Smith, the labor federation's communications director, says his group is merely "providing information we think is important." There's no "enforcement mechanism" against politicians who disregard that information.

Those politicians would merely be publicly and consciously blowing off 1,200 unions representing 2.1 million workers — who vote.

Smith said there isn't any standing offer of penance for Stearns et al. And Stearns adds that he and the labor federation aren't in communication. "I'm just gonna keep working for progressive candidates and causes and I'll deal with situations that are impacted on a case-by-case basis," he says.

It remains to be seen if Campos remains one of those cases. The candidate says he'd rather not ponder hypothetical questions about hiring a consultant off the do-not-hire list. Right now, he's focusing largely on fundraising; which consultant to eventually direct some of those funds to "is a bridge we'll cross when we come to it."

Hopefully, that bridge won't be on the California Labor Federation's "Do Not Cross" list.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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