Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2008 | 8:30 p.m.
Culinary Union organizers have been working in earnest for the last week to
get the word out about the union's endorsed candidate, Sen. Barack Obama,
and to lock down member support in the run-up to Saturday's caucus.
But two Culinary members supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton say they watched today as two of those field organizers were overzealous in their efforts as
they collected pledge cards for Obama in the break room of a Strip casino. The Clinton campaign quickly tried to paint the incident as part of a broader pattern, though introduced no other evidence.
After the Sun worked the story for two hours, this much is clear: What exactly happened this afternoon at Paris Las
Vegas depends on whom you talk to. To hear Clinton's campaign and her
supporters tell it, the union intimidated a member into caucusing for
Obama, demanding that she sign a pledge card -- or face exile from the caucus.
To hear the alleged victim tell it, it was much more of a misunderstanding.
Marie Angers, a cook at Paris, and her son, Matt DeFalco, a kitchen runner
at the resort, told the Sun they saw two Culinary representatives intimidate
a coworker, Sylvia Antuna, by telling her that she had to support Obama if she wanted to caucus.
Both Angers and DeFalco are supporters of Clinton, whose campaign contacted
the Sun about this incident separately.
On top of that, Angers and DeFalco said, the reps handed Antuna an Obama pledge card, telling her she
had to sign it to participate in the caucus and that today was the deadline.
"The lady told all of us: Nobody can go to the caucus unless you’re voting
for Obama," Angers said. "They have no right to do what they did. This is
America. You should be able to vote for who you feel like. It doesn’t matter
who the union is endorsing. They can try to persuade us but it doesn't mean
people have to vote for them."
But Antuna tells a different story. She said she was filling out a voter
registration form when the union reps approached her about Obama. When she
told them she wasn't sure about caucusing for him, one rep took her
registration form, indeed telling her that she couldn't participate Saturday
if she wasn't supporting Obama.
At that point, Antuna said, Angers and DeFalco, who were sitting at a
neighboring table, engaged the union rep in a heated discussion. Antuna said
she sat silent while both sides swapped words. She doesn't recall the bit
about the pledge cards.
One key fact: The union reps spoke broken English.
"It's possible it was a miscommunication," Antuna said.
In fact, Antuna said the Culinary called her later to inform her the union
had received her voter registration form, spoken with her supervisor and
that she was clear to caucus during her shift on Saturday.
"I don’t even know what to think," she said. "This is totally new to me. I’m
just glad I can actually go and caucus."
Antuna said she's undecided on a candidate.
Pilar Weiss, political director of the Culinary, said she would try to find out
about the incident.
“I'm not belittling it,” Weiss said. “I'm taking it seriously, and I'm going to look into
It. But we’re conducting training all the time with our staff to
be respectful of other opinions. We would never engage in voter
She said that with just a few days before the caucus, many members have
become emotionally attached to Obama and other candidates, which can lead to
misunderstandings and miscommunications.
“We want our members to stick together and support Obama, but our organizers
are being trained to know some of our members and their families are
participating for other candidates. And we want them to participate,” she
Updated 8:30 p.m.:
The Culinary Union has investigated and says the source of the drama seemed to be about how one changes one's party registration three days before the caucus.
Antuna was a registered independent, and the union reps were talking to her about how she had to be a Democrat to participate on Saturday, Weiss said.
Hardly scandalous and certainly not intimidation, she added.
Weiss said she suspects the whole incident was drummed up by the enthusiastic Clinton supporters, who got heated when the union reps started pitching Obama.
— Sun reporter J. Patrick Coolican contributed reporting to this post.