Washington Prowler

Servicing Dean

As witnessed by Bill Clinton, Howie Dean wins secret union adulation. Plus: A $35 million Democratic solution. Also: Kerry’s egg hunters.

By 10.24.03

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STERN FOR THE WORSE
The Service Employees International Union appears poised to endorse former Vermont Gov. Howie Dean, this after members of the New York Local 1199 of the SEIU invited Dean to a private pow-wow held "off site" in Baltimore last weekend.

Dean was the only presidential aspirant invited to the weekend gathering, which also featured former President Bill Clinton. "This wasn't about getting them all together, this was about mapping out strategy for 2004, and as far as we are concerned, Dean is our guy," says an SEIU Local 1199 member. "You see Clinton and then you see Dean and they both have that same vibe."

Call it a vibe, or a groove, or a kind of annoying itch, whatever, Dean and Clinton were hailed as conquering heroes at the closed-door, no-press-allowed-under-any-circumstances meet in Charm City. Dean was hugged, kissed and cheered by the union hacks gathered there. So was Clinton.

SEIU is viewed as one of the pivotal, base pieces to the 2004 Democratic Party election hopes. Not only is it a top-tier union with membership of more than 1.6 million, it has lots of money to toss around, and as part of the AFL-CIO, its membership has influence across the country.

SEIU national president Andrew Stern has been dangling his membership's endorsement for months, seemingly toying with Dick Gephardt, who months ago thought he had the union's backing in the bag. John Kerry made a play, as did John Edwards. But in a late summer conference in Washington, Dean stole the show, and has been meeting with rank-and-file SEIU members around the country to woo them.

Now it appears Dean is close to getting the SEIU's endorsement, putting less of crimp in Gephardt's hopes of a full AFL-CIO endorsement (which insiders say is still a pretty good bet) and more of a knot in his shot at the presidential nomination.

That is because besides the love-in in Baltimore, SEIU and Clinton and Dean sat down and mapped out a dramatic and drastic plan to help the Democrats win the presidency in 2004.

Under the plan laid out by SEIU Local 1199, $35 million in union money will be spent in the general election to help Democrats. More important is where much of that money will go -- in the pockets of about 1,000 rank-and-file SEIU members and staff who will take a one-year leave of absence from their jobs (under negotiated union contracts, such leave is allowed), and work in key Democratic battleground states for the party. Those states include Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and California. The SEIU workers will receive their full salary, plus travel and living expenses through the union.

"The Republicans can't match us in this regard," says a Washington SEIU official. "We have the shock troops that can go out there and work for our candidates in a way that Republicans can't. They aren't going to be able to touch us on this kind of plan."

AN OPPO EGG HUNT
Sen. John Kerry's campaign can claim all they want that they don't have an opposition research team working on Howie Dean, even if Dean is now admitting to having retained Gov. Gray Davis's crack opposition research guru as his own.

But Kerry's recent comments, and news releases from the Kerry campaign, would indicate that his people have been doing quite a bit of Dean-related dirt digging. When Dean recently attempted to ingratiate himself with farmers in Iowa, Kerry's folks shot back that Dean was no friend to family farmers, and had the evidence to back it up.

Seems Dean, as governor of Vermont, allowed a large Canadian egg producer to move into his state, forcing a number of family farmers to go under.

"It wasn't the kind of thing they could have simply pulled out of a clip file," says a Dean staffer. "They clearly have had an opposition research team working on us. Why they won't admit it is beyond me."

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