Wednesday October 25, 1995

Coia brings support back to challenger Sweeney


Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

Arthur A. Coia, the Laborers union leader who publicly flirted Monday with a switch of allegiance in the battle for the presidency of the AFL-CIO, was back in challenger John J. Sweeney's camp again yesterday.

In fact, Coia was slated to make the second nominating speech for Sweeney barely 24 hours after portraying himself as a gutsy "kingmaker" who was weighing an offer to throw his support in the historic contest to incumbent AFL-CIO President Thomas R. Donahue.

It is "a safe assumption" that Coia will back frontrunner Sweeney today when the delegates elect a new president of the 13-million member federation of labor unions at their convention in New York, said Coia spokesman Bert L. Rohrer. Coia, a Providence native, is president of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

If Coia supports Sweeney, he will have wound up where he started at the beginning of the first contested AFL-CIO election campaign in almost a century, but only after he helped to fuel speculation about his loyalty to the Sweeney ticket.

As late as Monday, Coia joined other members of the Sweeney bloc in signing a letter that asked Donahue's camp to "cease calling into question our loyalty" to Sweeney.

But shortly afterward, Coia said Donahue representatives sweetened an offer that he was refused earlier: to take the third-ranking leadership slot in a Donahue administration, in return for his support.

On Monday, several union leaders confirmed that the offer had been made to Coia but expressed some doubt about whether he could personally change the outcome of the election - in which Sweeney claims 55.3-percent of delegate support.

Sweeney's camp never acknowledged that there was any softening in their support.

"We were writing the nominating speeches" for Sweeney, including Coia's, on Monday, "so I doubt seriously whether anyone was considering" abandoning the Sweeney ticket, Sweeney campaign spokeswoman Deborah Dion said.

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