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So the first one took the jump, huh? The Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees local union endorsed Steve Francis for mayor today. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that hotelier Doug Manchester and the hotel employees union would join together behind someone for mayor.

I suppose wilder things have happened. But let’s do something first. I’ve been asked recently why I was so interested in unions’ support of Francis over the incumbent. Why does the endorsement of the hotel workers or the Labor Council matter so much?

Labor unions can give three major things to a candidate and only one of them matters in this case. A union can give monetary support in the form of independent expenditures in favor of a candidate. The firefighters union was once a prolific force in this effort, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of people like former Mayor Dick Murphy.

Unions can also, of course, provide countless volunteer hours on behalf of a campaign. Their members can walk districts, man telephones and hand out fliers.

Finally, they can just endorse and the power of the message might be enough to resonate with people who look to them for guidance.

This last one is usually the least valuable to a candidate — and, conversely, it’s the easiest for the union to give.

But it’s the most valuable part of the endorsement for Francis. Why? He doesn’t need money and his dollars should do enough work for thousands of volunteers.

He needs the nod. He needs the nod because his list of endorsements is still rather bleak.

Now, I do not believe that endorsements matter all that much in the effort to attract voters. To unseat an incumbent, however, Steve Francis will need to create the impression that a major movement is underway — that diverse interests are uniting in a coalition against a common enemy. I’m not saying that’s happening. What I’m saying is that it’s vital for Francis to make it seem like it is.

Endorsements help make that happen. And that’s why it’s such a big deal to imagine unions giving them to him.

SCOTT LEWIS

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