Bruno Caruso: A challenge to Coia


Journal-Bulletin Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- With its marching bands, its laser shows and its morning-in-America videos - starring Arthur A. Coia in the presidential role - this year's convention of the Laborers Union looked and sounded like a mainstream political pep rally.

Then Bruno Caruso took the stage at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Coia's lone challenger conjured up the spirits of Laborers confabs past, where mobsters in the front rows buffered the dais from the rank-and-file, and a reform candidate was once rewarded with more punches than votes.

Boasting of his nerve at one point, Caruso uttered a barnyard term rarely heard from presidential pulpits.

Mocking Coia's piety later on, Caruso folded his hands and intoned theatrically: "Hail Mary, full of grace . . ."

And railing against the anti-corruption deal that Coia cut with federal prosecutors, Caruso griped about the telephones at union headquarters in Washington.

Union people in the field hate to call headquarters now, he said. "Now when I call, we have to talk in codes, we have to answer in codes," Caruso said. "There is fear and concern that phones are being tapped."

Most of the 2,100 delegates were silent during Caruso's presidential nomination acceptance speech, but a few hundred cheered wildly from Chicago's island on the convention floor.

Through images like that one, some outsiders read the Laborers election the way Kremlinologists once studied the May Day parades in Red Square - viewing Caruso's candidacy as an elaborately-coded protest campaign from Chicago - the traditional seat of Laborers power and, allegedly, of mob influence.

Caruso is president of Laborers Local 1001 and of the Chicago Laborers District Council.

Caruso's alleged Mafia lineage is laid out in the same 1994 federal racketeering draft that accused Coia - and his father before him - of mob associations.

The document said his late father, Frank "Skid" Caruso, was a member of La Cosa Nostra.

His brother Frank, President of Local 1006, is described as "an associate of the Chicago LCN family," and a cousin, Leo Caruso, as Frank's second in command.

Caruso has denounced media suggestions of "guilt by association." Asked in an interview in Las Vegas about the allegations against his father, Caruso said, "My father has been deceased for 13 years. Maybe in my younger days I wasn't too understanding of these things in life, but I just remember him as a loving father, who has given me my values."

Attorney Coia, who has likewise denied mob ties and wrongdoing, made a convention speech full of references to his efforts to prepare the union for the 21st century and to the reforms undertaken on his watch.

Caruso answered back in his speech.

"I am not opposed to reform. I am not opposed to change, innovation. I am opposed to people controlling this union who are not elected," he said, referring to the battery of lawyers and ex-FBI agents under contract to purge the union of corruption, and the federal prosecutors monitoring the cleanup process.

Coia's forces buried Caruso's package of proposed constitutional changes, which would have watered down the powers of the internal investigators, possibly triggering a federal takeover of the Laborers.

But Caruso portrayed his efforts as a campaign for democracy in the Laborers.

"Union democracy 'crapped out' in Las Vegas," Caruso says in his campaign literature. The vote between him and Coia "is the final roll of the dice!!!"

Copyright © 1997 The Providence Journal Company
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