MCGEO President Gino Renne is a lightning rod. Love him or hate him (some manage to feel both emotions at the same time), he doesn’t mince words, he pulls no punches, and he only knows one speed – 200 miles an hour into a wall.
Nobody works harder or cares more about his union members than Gino. He never backs down, never apologizes, never reconsiders his words. Admirable, but yet maddening at times when he digs himself a hole and then decides to sit down in the hole and roll around in the dirt rather than climb out of it and try a different approach.
Gino dug himself a really big hole last week with a letter to the Montgomery County state delegation and the County Council excoriating Delegate Charlie Barkley for taking campaign contributions from David Trone and others affiliated with Total Wine & More, the liquor behemoth.
In a letter sent to local elected officials, UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO President Gino Renne says state Del. Charlie Barkley’s (D-Germantown) acceptance of campaign contributions from the co-owners of Total Wine & More is no different than the alleged acceptance of bribes by Prince George’s County officials facing corruption charges.
Renne sent the letter Feb. 2 to the Montgomery County state delegation and County Council. He notes Barkley, who chairs the House of Delegates’ Alcohol Subcommittee, accepted a total of $6,000 each from David and Robert Trone in the past six months, as well as another $3,000 from a Total Wine & More subsidiary.
At the same time, Barkley has sponsored state legislation that would allow Total Wine & More to open a store in the county. The company, which is headquartered in Bethesda, is the largest family-owned retailer for fine wine and beer and has 149 stores in 20 states, including two in Maryland.
The letter is a mistake, an overreaction that is simply not justified by the facts. First and foremost, the donations to Barkley are legal. Second, the gratuitous comparison to Prince George’s County is unwarranted, as in that situation an elected official was soliciting cash bribes for votes and for steering public money to particular entities. Third, the bill at issue, while one that the Trone family could take advantage of, is also one that any number of other liquor licensees could benefit from. Finally, the bill is not one of vital interest to MCGEO or its members. Despite its superficial similarity to last year’s debate over liquor privatization and the county Department of Liquor Control, the bill has nothing whatsoever to do with that situation.
But more than anything else, the letter is not a well conceived one. It comes across as a hit piece, and reflects poorly on Renne and his union. If he was trying to stir up a political fight with David Trone in advance of the 2018 campaign in MoCo, he did it in a ham-handed and clumsy fashion. Charlie Barkley did nothing wrong in taking money from David Trone, and Trone did nothing wrong in making the donation. Barkley’s bill (approved by the House county delegation on a 16-5 vote last Friday, is not a bad bill.
What Renne has done is alienate his friends, enrage his enemies, and irritate those who would otherwise give his views a serious and fair hearing. I’m all for labor, and I stood up last year when few others would and took MCGEO’s side on the issues regarding the DLC. But I can’t defend either the tone or the substance of this letter. As MCGEO and other labor organizations move forward into what is shaping up as an enormously significant 2018 campaign in Montgomery County, I very much hope that their message is better conceived and executed than this one.