Rick Brand is a longtime Newsday reporter who writes about politics and government on Long Island.
Dan Farrell, president of Suffolk's largest county union, is so embattled that he is facing a record five opponents to lead the 5,200 member Association of Municipal Employees in his bid for re-election next month.
Farrell said he couldn't be happier.
"It's great for me," he said. "It breaks up the dissident vote while I have a strong base that has supported me for years."
While foes say that the rank and file want "anyone but Farrell," some say a six-way contest represents Farrell's best chance to survive for a second three-year term. They cite Farrell's control over union operations and the fact that the crowded field drives down the number of votes needed to squeak in.
Among the contenders are his former running mate, union executive vice president Michael Finland, and Debra Alloncius, who cannot vote in the election because she is retired. Christopher Cuddihy from county information technology and Brian Macri from the medical examiner's office are seeking to capitalize on their outsider status, while former union vice president Brian Kelly is looking to make a comeback.
"Incumbents have a natural advantage because they are in charge, but they also have a disadvantage because the union is not being run properly," Macri said. "Our advantage is that our slate has no ties to the past -- we are the future."
Alloncius said she's "aghast" at the infighting, and accused Farrell of negotiating the worst contract since the union was formed. "Members are furious and we can't afford to be embarrassed anymore -- it's time for sanity," said Alloncius, who worked in social services.
Since late last year, factions within the union, which represents white- and blue-collar workers, have been embroiled in a war that has included repeated suspensions of board members, court battles and charges of misspent dues money and misuse of credit cards. Strafing on the Web has also included attacks on Farrell for domestic woes. Critics charge that Finland is aligned with the powerful Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, which he denies.
Finland said Farrell has been "reckless and irresponsible . . . to the point of exasperation," repeatedly canceling meetings and remaining "holed up in his office." He said Farrell spent more than $25,000 on mailings that Farrell claimed were informational, but "were nothing but campaign pieces."
Farrell countered that Finland and other board members "turned on me," disrupted meetings and made personal accusations "out of desperation." He said he has saved $1.1 million in union expenses over the last two years, got a no-layoff clause in the latest contract and won back dual health coverage for employees who are spouses.
Critics say Farrell and Finland are vulnerable because of the constant infighting and lack of results. "Neither guy can run on their record, they can only run away from it," Cuddihy said. "We're tired of the lies, lags [lag payrolls] and lousy contracts."
Election ballots will go out in mid-April and results will be announced April 28.
Three years ago, about 52 percent of the union's 6,200 members turned out. With 1,000 fewer county employees, some estimate that a candidate could win with as few as 750 to 1,400 votes.
But some worry that a scattered vote will only keep the union divided. Kelly, who works at Suffolk Community College, said the union has to re-establish ties to the county legislature and county executive and unite all union factions. "It's not about being president; it's about the membership and helping them."