It may still be four months away, but the election for control of Suffolk's largest public union -- the 6,300-member Association of Municipal Employees -- already has become an all-out war.
AME president Dan Farrell on Monday suspended four top union officers for insubordination, setting up a showdown meeting of the 38-member board of directors Thursday to determine whether the suspensions will remain in effect, according to high-level union sources and others with knowledge of the situation.
Farrell delivered suspension letters to vice presidents Sal Russo and Kevin Williams, and to union secretary Stephanie McCauley and treasurer Connie Lorenzen. Farrell threatened to bring in authorities if they did not immediately leave the Bohemia union headquarters, according to the sources.
Farrell in the last week also fired Wendy Zumpol, who had been his executive assistant and worked for the union for 23 years. Farrell also axed the union's law firm, Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein of Garden City, and labor consultant David Greene.
Farrell did not return telephone calls. When approached at the headquarters, he declined to comment.
Farrell's actions followed a union convention two weeks ago that curtailed what had been the president's unilateral power to strip top union officials of release time from their county jobs to do union work.
Under new rules, the president can only revoke release time for 72 hours until the board of directors can back or reject the action.
AME executive vice president Michael Finland has told Farrell he plans to run against him, along with five of Farrell's former running mates who are seeking other offices. Farrell suspended four of the five.
Two other contenders, Christopher Cuddihy and Brian Macri, say they plan to challenge Farrell's bid for a second two-year term. The election is in March and the new term begins July 1.
"This is way beyond destructive -- both Dan and [Finland] are hurting the union. They should both resign," Cuddihy said.
"The members aren't being represented because of all the turmoil and infighting," Macri said. "It's not supposed to be about personal agenda. It's supposed to be about helping members."
After Finland disclosed his candidacy, Farrell instituted new rules for officers, including requirements that they keep their office doors open at all times, except when consulting privately with members -- and that they not talk to the news media. Farrell stood outside the doors of some union officials using his cellphone as a video recorder to show officers' doors were closed, several union officials said.
Finland accused Farrell of "irrational behavior, pacing back and forth slamming doors with an enraged look on his face." He also expressed concern about how union members will get legal representation in disciplinary matters since Farrell has released no plan for replacing the law firm. The firm has a 30-day cancellation provision in its contract that ends Dec. 26.
Some have criticized Finland, saying the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association is orchestrating his candidacy. Finland said he is aware of the rumors but labeled them "a complete fabrication." Noel DiGerolamo, PBA president, said he does not involve himself in other unions' elections.
Finland said that while he has worked with Farrell in the past, "I don't think anyone will mistake we are on a different course."