By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The City of Plattsburgh’s largest union is backing James Calnon for mayor, setting off an angry reaction from its former president.
“What?” Denise Nephew, former president of the American Federation of State County Municipal Employees Local 788, loudly exclaimed when she was told about that.
“We’ve never endorsed a candidate before. This isn’t right.”
Union President Chris Bleaux said the union’s Executive Board decided to back Calnon at its Oct. 8 meeting. He said the board members felt that Calnon has treated them fairly during his time as a councilor and mayor pro tem.
He noted that Calnon, as a member of the city’s Health Insurance Task Force, has always been open and honest with union leaders.
“That’s all we ask for,” Bleaux said.
“We are not asking him to throw the checkbook at us.”
UPSET WITH BLEAUX
Calnon, the Ward 4 councilor, is running for mayor as the Republican and Independence Party candidate. Also running are Ward 2 Councilor Mark Tiffer, as a Democrat, and independent candidate Chris Rosenquest.
Calnon has served as mayor pro tem under Republican Mayor Donald Kasprzak and has worked closely with him since he joined the council in 2007.
Kasprzak has been in numerous public battles with Nephew over issues involving union work duties, health insurance co-payments and salaries.
Nephew was voted out as union president in April of 2012 when Bleaux was elected.
She was not happy to hear that the union was endorsing Calnon, who often shares similar views on issues with Kasprzak.
“He (Bleaux) is just making decisions on his own,” she said.
“He never notified anybody that this was happening. And in the past, he was one of the people who didn’t want to endorse anybody.”
‘PUTS PAST TO REST’
Nephew said there are many in the union who, like her, support Tiffer and other Democratic candidates for council seats.
“He (Bleaux) wouldn’t know that because he is too busy caring about everybody else except his union members,” she said.
Bleaux said the Executive Board knew Nephew and some of her followers would be upset, but they endorsed Calnon anyway.
“We have to continue to do business with the city, and we thought it was best to put the past to rest,” he said.
Bleaux said the rank and file was not asked to vote on the endorsement because many of them do not live in the city and cannot vote in the mayor’s race.
“Just because its (endorsement) never been done before doesn’t mean the time hasn’t come to take control of our own futures,” Bleaux said.
In addition to the endorsement, the union is also giving Calnon $500 from the local branch and $1,000 from the international branch.
“We want to put our money where our mouth is,” Bleaux said.
‘DOWN THE TUBES’
Calnon said he felt he had a good relationship with the union during talks about health-insurance plans and other issues, which he believes helped land him the endorsement.
“We had good exchanges and shared total honesty,” he said.
Nephew said such support has never been offered to a mayoral candidate from her union that she can remember.
“This union has gone down the tubes, as expected,” she said.
‘NO FORMAL INTERVIEWS’
Tiffer said he was a bit surprised at the endorsement since there was never any formal interviews by the union regarding a possible endorsement.
“I did reach out to them, but at no point was I ever given any indication that there would be an endorsement of any kind,” he said.
Tiffer said he knows Nephew and others in the rank and file still support him, despite the formal union backing of Calnon.
“It feels like this is something that the leadership did on their own, and I don’t think it represents the sentiment of the members,” he said.
Tiffer said he sees no difference between himself and Calnon when it comes to dealing with the union on contracts and other issues.
“I don’t think it (endorsement) will have an impact on the election.”
Rosenquest said he was told by union members that the endorsement was made with little-to-no membership input.
“If true, my concerns lie less with another candidate obtaining this endorsement and more with ensuring this endorsement is a true representation of what the membership wants,” he said.
“When it comes down to it, me and my campaign will continue to reach out to voters and address the issues they care most about: economic development, waterfront development and lowering taxes.”
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