Providence Journal-Bulletin

Labor Leader Coia Shows Party Clout With Ferraro Bash

Geraldine Ferraro discounts the hearings into corruption in the Laborers' union headed by Arthur A. Coia.


Journal-Bulletin Staff Writer

August 28, 1996

CHICAGO --- Labor leader Arthur A. Coia co-hosted an elegant birthday party for Geraldine Ferraro at the Democratic National Convention Monday night, one month after the Republican-led Congress held hearings into his alleged ties to organized crime.

Coia, a major Democratic Party fund-raiser and supporter of President Clinton, has been the target of a wide-ranging Justice Department investigation into mob control of his Laborers' International Union of North America.

After initially calling for Coia's ouster and a government takeover of the union, federal prosecutors agreed last year to allow Coia to implement internal reforms, aided by former federal investigators hired by the union and monitored by federal officials who could oust Coia if not satisfied with his cleanup.

On Monday, Coia presided over a 61st-birthday bash at the Field Museum for Ferraro, Walter Mondale's running mate in 1984. As Coia smiled and schmoozed with guests, Ferraro stood a few feet away, discounting last month's hearings by the House Judiciary Committee' s subcommittee on crime. "It seems any time there is an Italian-American in a position of prominence there are these allegations," Ferraro said. "I'm delighted to see Arthur. This Republican Congress, if they had anything they could use against him, they would."

While Coia's party in the City of Broad Shoulders showed that he still has broad shoulders in the Democratic Party, one of his goals - a speaking role at the convention - never materialized. In a handwritten note released by congressional investigators, Democratic National Committee national chairman Donald L. Fowler wrote Clinton adviser Harold Ickes last November that Coia would like to speak at the convention. "He has been a very good supporter of the Pres and the Demo Party, " Fowler wrote Ickes.

Coia is not on the schedule to speak. Democratic organizers could not be reached to explain the exclusion.

On Monday night, no White House aides or top-ranking congressmen were evident at Coia's party. The party drew hundreds of delegates, union representatives and convention hangers-on who were treated to pastries and desserts, fresh fruit, drinks from several open bars and music by the Ken Arlen Orchestra.

The logos of the Laborers' and the International Association of Fire Fighters, the two unions which paid for the event, were flashed in a massive light display on one of the museum's walls.

Taking a break from circulating among the guests, Coia acknowledged that the union had "some pockets of corruption" in the past, but asserted it is well on its way to cleaning itself up under its agreement with the Clinton administration's Justice Department.

The congressional hearings, Coia said, were purely political, motivated by the Republican Party's fear of a rejuvenated labor movement nationally and the electoral clout the Laborers' wield on behalf of Democrats. "It is a Republican fabrication to undermine the Bill Clinton effort in 1996," said a relaxed Coia as the band played swing music in the background. "They pointed to the Laborers' International Union and myself because we are strong advocates for the President and the Democrats. We're the target because we are strong, we raise a lot of money and we educate our members and we turn them out to vote . . . Newt Gingrich understands our efforts."

Coia added that it's too early to judge the success of the Justice Department agreement. "We had pockets of corruption, we admitted that. The government gave us the opportunity to institute the process of reform and it is effective, "Coia said." It is a difficult concept, but it is an effective concept. Now we need the time to let it work. (This) is a good example of government and the union working together, which is no different than labor and management working together, which we do in many areas."

Several members of the Rhode Island delegation were on hand for the party.

Sen. William V. Irons, D-East Providence, chairman of the Senate Corporations Committee, said he attended because he was invited and because he has forged a good working relationship with Laborers' union leaders in Rhode Island.

The Laborers' union, Irons said, was particularly helpful in drumming up support in the General Assembly for the package of tax breaks that smoothed the way for the Providence Place Mall project. "I don't know Arthur Coia, I've never met Arthur Coia," Irons said. "I can say that the Laborers' in Rhode Island were very helpful during the mall legislation, we have a very good relationship with them."

Sen. Charles Fogarty, D-Glocester, said he attended because his district includes state-run Zambarano Hospital, which has 350 employees represented by the Laborers' union.

Myrth York, the Democratic Party's 1994 candidate for governor, said she was there because she wanted to honor Ferraro on her birthday. As far as the Laborers' organized crime links and the deal with the Justice Department, York said: "There are a lot of questions. I don' t know what the truth of any of the allegations are." I know that we are not going to find out the truth from this Congress."

Asked yesterday what he thought of the Judiciary Committee hearings into the Laborers' union, White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said he didn't know enough about the issues to comment but because of the way congressional Republicans have hammered away at the "character of the first lady and President," he is skeptical about GOP hearings.

The only discordant note Monday was six protesters outside the event holding placards saying "Mobsters for Clinton." Maureen K. Hogan, the protesters' spokeswoman, said they were members of the Clinton Investigative Committee, which pursues what she said were "ethical questions" surrounding the Clinton administration.

Copyright © 1996 The Providence Journal Company

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