Washington Post

Hoffa Says He Is Gaining Support of Ex-Foes

Teamsters Candidate Vows to Keep Current Slate for Vote Dispite Shift

By Frank Swoboda
Washington Post Staff Writer

January 17, 1998

James P. Hoffa said yesterday he was picking up support from former backers of Teamsters President Ron Carey, but that he was sticking with his original slate of candidates in the union's upcoming elections.

Citing what he called a "sea change" in the political climate within the union since the disqualification of Carey as a candidate for the union's presidency, Hoffa told a breakfast meeting with reporters that he was actively seeking the support of local union leaders who previously backed Carey. "We're talking to Carey people right now," Hoffa said.

Carey narrowly defeated Hoffa in a reelection bid in December 1996, but a new election was ordered by the government after financial irregularities were discovered in the Carey campaign. Carey subsequently has been disqualified from running in the new election.

Before Carey's disqualification, U.S. District Judge David Edelstein ruled that no one who ran in the 1996 election could switch slates. With Carey now disqualified, however, members of his team cannot switch to the Hoffa slate or form a new slate unless Edelstein changes his order.

Federal officials are reviewing their position on Edelstein's ruling. Other groups representing candidates in the election are expected to ask Edelstein to modify his ruling.

Ken Paff, leader of Teamsters for a Democratic Union, has said he would not be willing to support a unity slate that included Hoffa supporters, and will form a new slate of his own if Edelstein changes his ruling. TDU is a Detroit-based union reform group that was instrumental in Carey's elections in 1991 and 1996.

Complicating the political situation is the fact that federal officials overseeing the Teamsters elections are now investigating the finances of the Hoffa campaign.

Political handicappers inside the union predict that if both Hoffa and Carey are disqualified from running in the new election, there could be as many as four slates of candidates, which would make it almost impossible to predict a winner in a union where barely a third of the members vote.

There have been discussions between some members of Hoffa's slate and those who ran with Carey in the 1996 election about forming a unity slate if Hoffa is disqualified, in the expectation that Edelstein would be forced to change his position. But leaders of that movement said yesterday they would wait until after the election officer rules on Hoffa's campaign before making any public moves.

Asked if he thought he might be disqualified, Hoffa said "No. Anything's possible, but I don't foresee it."

Hoffa said he thought the investigation into his campaign finances by federal election officer Michael Cherkasky would be completed by the end of February, a timetable government sources said they agreed with.

If Hoffa is cleared, he is believed to be the favorite to win the Teamsters presidency in a government supervised mail ballot election to be held in the fall. The government hopes to have the election results certified by the end of the year.

Hoffa said that as far as he was concerned Carey was "almost a government operative," the reformer the Justice Department had pinned its hopes on for cleaning up the union. As a result, he said, "I think the government is going to encourage someone to run against me."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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