By JOHN E. MULLIGAN
Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- With its marching bands, its
laser shows and its morning-in-America videos - starring Arthur
A. Coia in the presidential role - this year's convention of the
Laborers Union looked and sounded like a mainstream political
Then Bruno Caruso took the stage at the Las
Vegas Convention Center.
Coia's lone challenger conjured up the spirits
of Laborers confabs past, where mobsters in the front
rows buffered the dais from the rank-and-file, and a reform
candidate was once rewarded with more punches than votes.
Boasting of his nerve at one point, Caruso
uttered a barnyard term rarely heard from presidential pulpits.
Mocking Coia's piety later on, Caruso folded
his hands and intoned theatrically: "Hail Mary, full
of grace . . ."
And railing against the anti-corruption deal
that Coia cut with federal prosecutors, Caruso griped about
the telephones at union headquarters in Washington.
Union people in the field hate to call headquarters
now, he said. "Now when I call, we have to talk
in codes, we have to answer in codes," Caruso said. "There
is fear and concern that phones are being tapped."
Most of the 2,100 delegates were silent during
Caruso's presidential nomination acceptance speech,
but a few hundred cheered wildly from Chicago's island on the
Through images like that one, some outsiders
read the Laborers election the way Kremlinologists once studied
the May Day parades in Red Square - viewing Caruso's candidacy
as an elaborately-coded protest campaign from Chicago - the traditional
seat of Laborers power and, allegedly, of mob influence.
Caruso is president of Laborers Local 1001
and of the Chicago Laborers District Council.
Caruso's alleged Mafia lineage is laid out
in the same 1994 federal racketeering draft that accused Coia
- and his father before him - of mob associations.
The document said his late father, Frank "Skid" Caruso, was a member of La Cosa Nostra.
His brother Frank, President of Local 1006,
is described as "an associate of the Chicago LCN family,"
and a cousin, Leo Caruso, as Frank's second in command.
Caruso has denounced media suggestions of
"guilt by association." Asked in an interview
in Las Vegas about the allegations against his father, Caruso said,
"My father has been deceased for 13 years. Maybe in my younger
days I wasn't too understanding of these things in life,
but I just remember him as a loving father, who has given me my
Attorney Coia, who has likewise denied mob
ties and wrongdoing, made a convention speech full
of references to his efforts to prepare the union for the 21st
century and to the reforms undertaken on his watch.
Caruso answered back in his speech.
"I am not opposed to reform. I am not
opposed to change, innovation. I am opposed to people controlling
this union who are not elected," he said, referring
to the battery of lawyers and ex-FBI agents under contract to
purge the union of corruption, and the federal prosecutors monitoring
the cleanup process.
Coia's forces buried Caruso's package of
proposed constitutional changes, which would have
watered down the powers of the internal investigators, possibly
triggering a federal takeover of the Laborers.
But Caruso portrayed his efforts as a campaign
for democracy in the Laborers.
"Union democracy 'crapped out' in Las
Vegas," Caruso says in his campaign literature. The vote between
him and Coia "is the final roll of the dice!!!"
Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal
Produced by www.projo.com