Gurney's Inn
June 20, 2007

In East Hampton: Bill McGintee Endorsed By Union . . . Sort Of

The membership of the town employees' union never voted to endorse Bill McGintee for another term as town supervisor. Union president J.J. Kremm never made the comment attributed to him in a press release from People for McGintee heralding the endorsement. And the regional chapter of the Civil Servants Employees' Association never screened McGintee's opponent, Bill Wilkinson, before making its pick.

According to labor relations specialist Stephanie Teff, it is not unusual for CSEA officials to skip screening opponents if they have a "special relationship" with a candidate. "We very often do screenings, but when we have a special relationship, a good relationship, we'll forego screening in favor of that candidate." The regional CSEA, Teff said, worked with McGintee on the current union contract negotiations and was pleased with a "good amicable settlement." UpIsland negotiators found McGintee "very accessible," Teff said.

As with certain third parties, such as the Independence Party, localized chapters are not authorized to make political endorsements. Teff said the regional political action committee does take the recommendation of local members into account.

In East Hampton's case, that might be local member – singular, not plural. Kremm said he did recommend McGintee and described him as "fair" and "a man of his word." However, on Friday, he also said he'd received 20 irate phone calls that day alone regarding the endorsement. Union members were displeased to see news of an endorsement they felt they hadn't been polled about.

Kremm characterized conversations he's had since he became union president several months ago as key to his decision. He said he'd spoken with union members for weeks, and "no one had any complaints." He also admitted that in hindsight he wished he'd taken a formal vote of the local CSEA's 200-plus members to ensure the recommendation reflected the true feeling of the majority.

The endorsement was in the works before Kremm took the helm, the union prez revealed. His predecessor Bob Pease stepped down when he was promoted to department head recently. Coming soon after the employee contract was negotiated, the promotion raised brows around Town Hall. Skeptics surmise Pease reaped a reward in exchange for the promise of an endorsement.

This is not the first time a McGintee endorsement caused controversy. During his last campaign, insiders said his endorsement by the local police union came about after a passionate fight among the membership. Opponents cautioned colleagues not to trust promises of contract perks from the candidate. They were overruled by members who felt McGintee would be more sympathetic in negotiations than his opponent Len Bernard.

Rumblings of regret and "I told you so" circulated when the cop contract was subsequently completed. The only person who seemed to get the lion's share of rewards was the union president, Tracy Griffiths, who has since retired.

Reading "his" statement in the press release during a visit to The Independent last Friday, Kremm admitted it had been ghostwritten, but did reflect his general sentiments about McGintee. Lynn Ryan, who distributed the release on behalf of People for McGintee insisted Kremm approved the quote before the release went out.

In fact, she claimed the union approached McGintee. "They contacted us and said they want to give Supervisor McGintee CSEA approval," Ryan said. McGintee affirmed Ryan's comments. He said he was informed by the CSEA about two weeks ago of the pending endorsement. He didn't solicit it and said he accepted it gladly.

Throughout his entire corporate life, Bill Wilkinson has dealt with labor unions, the GOP challenger said on Monday, "I always believed when the president speaks, he speaks for the entire union membership. This is a case when the membership was not consulted." Wilkinson said he was disappointed the membership wasn't given the opportunity to vote on the endorsement. Since the press release was first publicized, he's gotten numerous comments from union members who were "visibly upset," because the announcement suggests a vote occurred. People are stopping him on the street to express dissatisfaction, he added.

Both Wilkinson and McGintee screened before the Working Families and Independence Parties. Wilkinson received the endorsement from both, as well as support from the Conservative Party. That means that come Election Day, the challenger's name will appear on four lines.

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