SEIU has plans for Empire State GOP

No group has been more loyal or financially helpful to state Republicans than the powerful hospital workers’ union, 1199 S.E.I.U. United Healthcare Workers East. In recent years, the union, which was once a favorite of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., has struck an unlikely but fruitful alliance with the Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, pouring millions of dollars into the Senate Republican war chest to help the party retain its control.

In turn, Mr. Bruno has defended 1199 against cuts sought by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat. But recent campaign finance filings raise an intriguing question: Is the politically astute union now quietly hedging its bets?

In recent weeks, 1199 has been shoveling money into the Working Families Party, a labor-backed organization that has been mobilizing support for the Democratic candidate in a crucial State Senate special election in upstate New York on Tuesday. At the same time, the union has not contributed to the central campaign account maintained by Mr. Bruno’s Senate Republican operation in about six months.

Any signs of cracks in the alliance between 1199 and Mr. Bruno would set off tremors in Albany, where the governor and Mr. Bruno are waging a fierce battle for control of the Senate; Republicans currently have a two-seat majority, but all legislative seats are up for election in November. Republicans have their work cut out for them in a state that is continuing to lean Democratic.

The battleground is the 48th Senate District, which stretches across three counties along Lake Ontario. In December, State Senator James W. Wright, a Republican, said he was resigning. While 1199 endorsed the Republican candidate, Assemblyman William A. Barclay, at the urging of Mr. Bruno, the union has kept an uncharacteristically low profile in the race and has not contributed to Mr. Barclay’s campaign.

At the same time, 1199 has poured $257,000 into the Working Families Party this year, nearly three times what they gave to the party in all of last year and more than in any year since 2003, according to state campaign finance records. In 2006 and 2007 combined, 1199 gave about $150,000 to the party, records show.

The Working Families Party has taken a leading role on the ground for the Democratic candidate in the race, Assemblyman Darrel J. Aubertine, and in providing money for his campaign.

“This isn’t a token, tentative contribution,” said Russ Haven, the legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It could represent the margin of victory in a short-track winter contest in the north country that will turn on which side will get their voters to the polls.”

Some state Democratic officials, speaking privately because they did not want to ruffle improving relations with the union, said they were aware of the money provided by 1199 and attributed it to a deliberate shift in strategy by 1199; others said they had no knowledge of it.

Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for the governor, declined to comment.

People on both sides of the aisle say there is a real possibility that Democrats will take back the Senate this fall for the first time in more than four decades. Senator Serphin R. Maltese, a Queens Republican, is facing what many observers see as his most formidable challenge in years in a district that is overwhelmingly Democratic. Beyond that, Democrats are mounting credible challenges in as many as half a dozen other races and the governor has assembled a formidable fund-raising organization to rival that of the Senate Republicans.

Patrick Gaspard, the recently named executive vice president for politics and legislation at 1199, denied that there was any effort to channel support to Mr. Aubertine, which would essentially be two-timing Mr. Bruno’s political operation.

“Joe Bruno has been a forceful and thoughtful ally on health care issues when hospitals and nursing homes and home care workers have been threatened,” he said, adding, “our support for him is as strong as it has ever been.”

He said the contributions reflected a recent change of leadership at 1199 and an effort to help the Working Families Party expand its operations in other states and to support their efforts in holding Democratic Congressional seats.

Dan Cantor, the executive director of the Working Families Party, echoed that assessment.

“I think it reflects the new leadership’s excitement about our grass-roots work across the state,” he said. He adamantly denied any notion that 1199 was working through them to help Mr. Aubertine.

But, despite the denials, another trend is clear: 1199 has taken a noticeably softer tone with the governor. Last year, it led a multimillion-dollar campaign against Mr. Spitzer’s budget cuts and exchanged hard-hitting television commercials with the administration, reinforcing its alliance with Mr. Bruno.

This year officials at 1199 have taken a much less aggressive tone — perhaps due in part to a change in leadership after Dennis Rivera, the longtime head of 1199, moved up to another job within the union.

John McArdle, a spokesman for Mr. Bruno, said, “The only thing we’re going to say is they’ve endorsed Will, they’re working to help get him elected, which we will on Tuesday, and they remain our strongest supporters going forward.”


No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails