The Chief
August 3, 2001

Saunders Feels the Pinch

Some District Council 37 officials suffered bouts of apoplexy last week after news stories-including one in this paper-highlighted the divisions that existed in key locals of the union about its decision to endorse Peter Vallone for Mayor.  The union's attempt to downplay the significance of the internal opposition was exposed as pure spin, however, when the largest local in DC 37, Board of Education, Workers Local 372, voted to give its own endorsement to Fernando Ferrer.

Such a move is not unprecedented within DC 37.  In fact, Local 372 President Veronica Montgomery-Costa could be said to be following in the tradition of her since-disgraced predecessor, Charlie Hughes, who more than once bucked the DC37 party line in making endorsements for key elected offices.

What apparently dismayed DC 37 Administrator Lee Saunders more was that some of the disagreements about the endorsement have an undercurrent of tension concerning his running of the union and the fact that it has been under administrator ship for 32 months now as the result of the financial and vote-rigging scandals that shamed and nearly bankrupted it.

The one prominent DC 37 local president who voted against endorsing Mr. Vallone,  Helen Greene, is under indictment by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for  alleged misuse of her union credit card and was forced from her post as DC 37 secretary by Mr. Saunders.

Ms. Montgomery-Costa, who took over arguably the most scandal-plagued DC 37 local, was forced by Mr. Saunders to relinquish a $36,000 pay raise she was awarded by her board early in her tenure after embarrassing publicity in this newspaper.  And the other contender for biggest scandal local, Clerical-Administrative Employees Local 1549, abstained on the Vallone endorsement, which came shortly after its new president took office.

Another key abstention vote came from Motor Vehicle Operators Local 983 President Mark Rosenthal, who has grown increasingly impatient with the pace at which Mr. Saunders is bringing reform to DC 37.  And so the DC 37 administrator finds himself wedged between scandal-plagued locals whose presidents resent any incursions upon their powers and a vocal reformer, making it tough for him to flex the muscles he believes DC 37 should exercise as the largest municipal union.