Though he doesn't necessarily get along with the Obama administration, Gerald McEntee, heads of one of the nation's most politically active union, remains the chair of the AFL-CIO's political committee. He's held the post for years and is directly responsible for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to elect Democratic candidates and for managing the maturation of labor's political machine.
His name is Danny Donohue. More on him below. First, the background.
McEntee, who learned the trade as an organizer in Philadelphia, acquired quite a few enemies along the way, including Andy Stern, the SEIU's influential president and a man who has President Obama's ear. Serving alongside McEntee in the high command of AFSCME was long-time Secretary-Treasurer Bill Lucy -- a person with whom McEntee did not get along. Lucy has retired. And that means that his coveted and powerful position is open. Whomever occupies it will be on deck to become the next AFL-CIO political scion -- and the next head of AFSCME, if McEntee decides not to seek another term as president.
Despite all the battles labor has fought and lost this year, labor will likely remain the main source of financial and human capital for Democratic causes. The person who occupies the Secretary-Treasury position at AFSCME will be one of the most powerful labor leaders in the land.
Donohue, a Vietnam vet, is the president of the Civil Service Employees Association, 300,000 members strong, and one of the key labor power brokers in New York. Donohue wants the job; his campaign message is aimed directly at Democrats in Washington: "we won't let them take us for granted," he said. "He have to hold these politicians accountable."
And that means, Donohue says, more AFSCME involvement in primaries. It also means a new approach to member organizing. Rallies don't work -- Donohue knows this -- they're a relic of a time when the media was easier to attract. Donohue was one of the first leaders of large locals to put in-progress contracts online, allowing members to see, in real time, how negotiations are proceeding. The other thing Donohue is known for is his ability to work with Republicans. And he's good at organizing in the private sector too. He put together a program to help local government budgets and save jobs by importing prescription drugs from Canada for members. ($6 million saved in Schenectady County alone.)
Donohue faces one potential opponent: Lee Saunders, who is McEntee's current chief of staff who is expected to announce his candidacy soon. The campaign might be nasty; it'll be over in June, at the AFSCME convention, when members vote. Donohue is favored to win.
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.