By PHILIP TERZIAN
Sept. 1, 1996
--- DICK MORRIS is not the only Clinton operative who keeps some
interesting company. One of the President's closest allies in
the political wars these days is Arthur Jr., who succeeded his
father a few years ago as president of the Laborers International
Union of North America.
The close association of a Democratic President
with a union leader would not normally attract much attention,
especially in a year when the AFL-CIO, under new leadership, is
seeking to breathe life into a moribund labor movement. But just
as Bill Clinton is no ordinary Democratic president, Arthur Coia
is no run-of-the-mill labor statesman, either. For in addition
to running the 700,000-member LIUNA, taking out full-page ads
in major newspapers defending the President and first lady against
Whitewater allegations, and donating millions of dollars to Democratic
campaign war chests, Mr. Coia is a great and good friend of mobsters
Don't take my word for it, however; listen
to the Clinton Justice Department. In late 1994, Atty. Gen. Janet
Reno and associates delivered a draft civil racketeering complaint
against the Laborers, accusing the union of being controlled by
organized crime and asserting that Mr. Coia has "associated
with, and been controlled and influenced by, organized crime figures."
His father was a close chum of the late Raymond Patriarca, the
Providence-based chief of the New England mob; young Coia is a
lifelong buddy of Raymond Jr., now thankfully in federal custody.
For that matter, he reportedly learned much
from such family connections: The Justice Department alleged that
Mr. Coia and his colleagues "employed actual and threatened
force, violence and fear of physical and economic injury to create
a climate of intimidation and fear."
Accordingly, the Justice Department looked
upon the Laborers in roughly the same way as it had the Teamsters
and, before them, the Longshoremen: LIUNA has been in the thrall
of the mob for so long, and so pervasively, that the only solution
would be a wholesale government takeover of the union to restore,
by heroic means, some semblance of democracy.
The first order of business was to remove
Mr. Coia from office. But Mr. Coia declined to go. Moreover, he
employed a battalion of legal tacticians and publicists to argue
his case against the feds. That was smart thinking, of course.
Still, anybody can hire a lawyer and press agent. Mr. Coia was
shrewd enough to open the union coffers to President Clinton and
his party, and the battle was joined. Since that time, LIUNA has
spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in union dues to defend
the President, and contributed $1.1 million to the Democrats during
the 1994 elections. During last week's national convention in
Chicago, Mr. Coia's lavish hospitality was everywhere in evidence.
Indeed, one sparkling reception featured a cigar-chomping denizens
of the Chicago Mafia, attracting the attention of network TV cameras.
Mr. Coia has reason to be grateful to President
Clinton, for just a few days after first lady Hillary Clinton
had addressed the Laborers' annual conference in Florida, the
Justice Department staged a strategic retreat. Mr. Coia and the
Justice Department signed an unprecedented consent decree that
allows the stem-to-stern reform of LIUNA to be undertaken and
supervised by - well, Arthur Coia, along with a handful of lawyers
and bureaucrats with intimate ties to the union.
How did this happen? Undoubtedly, the connection
is Harold Ickes Jr., President Clinton's deputy chief of staff.
Mr. Ickes, too, has a famous father - Harold Ickes Sr., FDR's
Interior secretary - but he also has something approaching an
infamous past. During his years as a New York litigator, Mr. Ickes
was best known for his work defending LIUNA against the Justice
Department, and counseling other unions accused of violence, racketeering and Mafia control.
Mr. Coia, to his credit, is cheerfully candid
about relations with Mr. Ickes, and likes to tell reporters about
his dealings with the White House. Mr. Ickes, by contrast, is
suitably discreet: Sometimes, in lawyerly language, he denies
the Coia connection; most times he simply declines to answer questions.
The President's apologists, to be sure, are
quite content. Congressional Democrats argue that any misgivings
anyone might have about commissioning Arthur Coia and his colorful
associates to clean up a mob-run union are largely partisan. And
the Laborers' relentless PR machine has yielded some favorable
press: The most hilarious example of this was a recent column
by Thomas Oliphant of The Boston Globe extolling Arthur Coia and
characterizing LIUNA as "the most fascinating union in the
Fascinating, yes - and for many more reasons
than Mr. Oliphant could imagine.
Copyright © 1996 The Providence Journal Company