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Mayor Faces Off With Activists

McCollum took the chanting in stride, even joining in. Then picketers gathered around him and began asking him questions, and they were joined by Marty Jewell — McCollum's opponent for the 5th District council seat and a supporter of the living-wage group.

Soon, "people got to shouting," Straub says. "Rudy got ticked off by it, got curt with us and then left. … It was wonderful to see."

Coalition members are upset with McCollum because, they say, he supported the living-wage campaign when running for office three years ago, but since then has stopped returning their phone calls. Proponents of a "living wage" define it as the wage necessary to provide an individual who works 40 hours per week with food and housing.

When asked about the coalition's complaints, McCollum points out that he was instrumental in increasing wages for full-time city workers to at least $8.50 per hour. He says he remains in contact with coalition spokeswoman Mary Lou DeCossaux.

The mayor cites staggering state deficits and the limping economy as the reasons he's reluctant to endorse the coalition's campaign. The city could be forced to lay off people in the near future, he says, so it's not the right time to increase salaries. "A living wage is good," he says, "but no wage is worse."

Coalition activists say they expect more. "He's no longer helping out, which is a real frustration for us," Straub says. "Now that he's the mayor, that extra bit of power could really help out the 540 families" of the people hired by the city through temporary staffing agencies.

Still, McCollum says there's nothing wrong with exercising one's First Amendment rights. "I've been there myself," he says of the picketers. "I just am glad that they took the time to listen to me."

Coalition member Jason Guard agrees. "It's good that someone elected by the people gets to hear from the people. Even angry people." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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