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By Janie Har April 24, 2012

Can Portland City Council candidate Mary Nolan count 8,000 supporters?

Campaigns like to highlight the number of donors and volunteers on board. The numbers can be a great gauge of a person’s grassroots support, although the figures may not have much bearing on whether that candidate wins.

State Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, is no different in her campaign to unseat incumbent Amanda Fritz from the Portland City Council. On Nolan’s campaign website, she lists heavy-hitting endorsements from former Gov. Barbara Roberts and former Portland Mayor Vera Katz.

And this: "Over 8,000 people have supported her campaign as volunteers, donors and advisors and endorsers."

More than 8,000 individuals support Nolan? The number seemed a bit suspect for a City Council race. It’s a small matter, but if it’s meant to reflect broad support, we figured it was ripe for a fact check.

First, we checked with other Portland city candidates to get a ballpark feel. We started with the three main mayoral contenders.

Stacey Dycus, campaign director for candidate Jefferson Smith, said the campaign has 2,000 individual donors, 850 volunteers, and endorsements from 500 people. Of course, those numbers probably overlap.

Campaign manager Jessica Moskovitz said Charlie Hales’ campaign probably has about 4,000 people in the category of endorsers, volunteers, supporters and donors. We checked the list of supporters on his website and found at least 800 individual names.

Neel Pender, a spokesman for Eileen Brady, said such numbers can be fuzzy -- it’s all in how you count them after all -- but that "8,000 seems high unless you count all the members of your endorsing organizations." Brady’s website lists more than 700 individual names as supporters.

Again, we’re looking at magnitude, not exactitude. But it appears that 8,000 individual supporters is a big number for a citywide race.

KJ Lewis, Nolan’s campaign manager, cleared up the mystery behind the numbers pretty quickly for us. She explained that the campaign included the individual members of unions that have endorsed Nolan -- even if the individual might not support Nolan.

Is that fair?

"I think so, because they all contribute to their union so they have a collective voice; they have a process to decide who they are endorsing," Lewis said. "I think a case could be made that the union members can be counted as supporters.

Let’s see which unions back Nolan, according to her website: International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW Local 48); American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME Local 189, AFSCME Local 328, AFSCME council 37); International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU Local 8 and state council); Service Employees International Union (SEIU Local 49).

Also, Portland firefighters and police. That’s a hefty list. Did the unions care that she was counting some of their members as individual supporters to boost her number?

"My members know she’s been a friend of the IBEW for many, many years," said Joe Esmonde, political director for electrical workers. "I get elected and chosen to make these decisions and put it to the membership, and I’m down in the Capitol a lot and she has a 97 percent rating from the AFL-CIO, and she’s always been good to the building trades."

Sure, he acknowledges that all 1,600 active members in Portland may not vote for her -- or vote at all -- but he’s OK with Nolan counting his people. So were other representatives we called. Of course, you’re probably thinking, what else would they say?

Fritz makes the point, rightly, that not all members of a union will support the endorsement. Nolan’s campaign website states that more than 8,000 people volunteer, donate, advise and endorse her. (By the way, the last time we checked Nolan had at least 280 individuals named as supporters on her website; Fritz had 480. We heart you Excel!)

Unions are valuable when it comes to campaigning on behalf of a candidate -- making phone calls, knocking on doors -- and donating political action committee money. But a union endorsement is not the same thing as getting support or money from the individuals who make up that union.

The statement is partially accurate in that certain unions with their memberships have endorsed Nolan. But the statement takes things out of context, in that the members have not all individually cited support for Nolan. We find her statement Half True.

Our Sources

Mary Nolan for City Council website, "About Mary Nolan"
Interview with Stacey Dycus, campaign director, Jefferson Smith, April 18, 2012
Emails from Jessica Moskovitz, campaign manager, Charlie Hales, April 18, 2012
Interview with Neel Pender, spokesman, Eileen Brady, April 18, 2012
Emails from Amanda Fritz, April 18-19, 2012
Interview with KJ Lewis, campaign manager, Mary Nolan, April 19, 2012
Interview with Jeff Smith, president ILWU Local 8, April 19, 2012
Interview with Joe Esmonde, political director, IBEW Local 48, April 19, 2012
Interview with Felisa Hagins, lobbyist, SEIU Local 49, April 20, 2012

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Can Portland City Council candidate Mary Nolan count 8,000 supporters?

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