Members bring union perspective to local campaigns in East Metro suburbs

Don Mullin, a member of the Painters and Allied Trades, talks with a volunteer on his campaign for White Bear Lake School Board.

Don Mullin, a member of the Painters and Allied Trades, talks with a volunteer on his campaign for White Bear Lake School Board.

At least three union members are running campaigns for local office in the East Metro this fall, a positive sign in an odd-year election cycle for those who believe union members naturally make the best advocates for working families’ issues.

Don Mullin, a second-generation trade show decorator and member of the Painters and Allied Trades, is running for White Bear Lake Area School Board with the endorsement of organized labor.

Project1_Layout 1Two union members are seeking spots on the New Brighton City Council: Mary Kunesh-Podein, a member of the Robbinsdale Federation of Teachers, and Graeme Allen, a member of Teamsters Local 120.

All three candidates agree that being a union member lends a unique and valuable perspective to their campaign, and all three appreciate the support they’ve received from the labor community as well.

“It’s been amazing. I’ve had support from Education Minnesota and teachers in New Brighton, and teachers from other school districts have reached out to me too,” Kunesh-Podein said.

[Election Day is Nov. 5. For more information on voting, visit the Secretary of State’s website.]

Running for his family

Mullin is the father of three children. One graduated from White Bear Lake in 2009, and two are currently enrolled in the district’s schools. A first-time candidate for office, he says he entered the race out of concern for the future of his children and their classmates.

Mullin wants to see the school district increase its embrace of technology that will drive tomorrow’s economy. “Technology is that critical piece for us to compete in the global economy,” he said.

His background in the Trades provides him with insight into the skills young adults need to be equipped with when they enter the workforce. While he would like to see all students go to college and get four-year degrees, “that’s not a reality for every student,” he said. “We need to offer and promote other opportunities, like vocational schools and apprenticeship programs.”

Mullin supports the district’s levy referendum, although he says the school board must be “held accountable for making sure the funds go into classrooms, music programs and technology.”

The primary job of school board members, Mullin added, is to equip teachers and other professionals in the district with the tools they need to do their jobs. “People should be thanking teachers,” he said. “There is a teacher out there today teaching the next president of the United States, the next congressperson, the next senator. I entered this race because I believe in teachers.”

Mary Kunesh-Podein

Mary Kunesh-Podein

Fresh faces in New Brighton

Both union members seeking spots on the New Brighton City Council say they bring a fresh voice to the job, and both pledge to keep the northern suburb a great place for middle class families to put down roots.

Allen, a community and political organizer for the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, moved to New Brighton five years ago.

“I was looking for a place to put my roots down and raise a family, and New Brighton was the perfect place for me,” he said. “I’m running to present a new vision and fresh energy to decisions the council is making.”

Kunesh-Podein has seen a need for new leadership on the council while serving on the city’s Parks, Recreation and Environmental Commission for the last two years.

“We’ve got a council that has been there for a while, and we’re seeing some of the same old, same old things,” she said. “Mostly, I think it’s just a fresh face, a fresh idea, fresh approach to some of our decisions that we need most.”

Allen and Kunesh-Podein pointed to recent reductions in city staff as troubling developments for New Brighton’s standard of living. From the Parks, Recreation and Environmental Commission, Kunesh-Podein has seen firsthand the effects of those cuts.

“We lost a forester,” she said, “and I would like to see that position come back. You can kind of tell when somebody is there to protect the trees and parks and green spaces. I’d also like to see us hire back someone to implement kids programming and summer programming in our city buildings.”

Graeme Allen

Graeme Allen

Allen said the city is expected to receive a significant amount of state aid to local governments, funds he’d like to see restore some of the personnel cuts.

“I think we can not only lower property taxes, but also restore some of the programs that have been cut – programs that were serving kids and seniors, programs out of our Parks Department,” he said. “You can’t cut your way to prosperity.”

Union perspectives

All three candidates, meanwhile, point to assets they will bring to public office that stem from their experience as active union members. For Kunesh-Podein, it’s a background in labor-management relations.

“Having been in a union, I’ve gone through those negotiations and that whole process,” she said. “It’s made me a little more aware and experienced.”

Allen points to his track record of political activism and the relationships he’s built over time with elected officials in the region. “Our current city council doesn’t work with state House and Senate members on issues that affect the region and the city,” he said.

For Mullin, it’s a work ethic he learned as a union member.

“I’ve been knocking on doors, talking to people every week,” he said. “If I lose this election, it’s not going to be because somebody outworked me.”

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